Book review

Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking

Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking
Read date: April 2018

Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking by Daniel C. Dennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Is this a good book? I struggled mightily with this question for more or less the whole book.

Yes, it’s extremely well written, with Daniel Dennett’s usual clarity of expression and vivid explanatory style. It’s stuffed with great examples and interesting concepts – indeed, that’s the point of the whole book, to show us a bunch of thinking tools, and to offer some worked examples of them in practice.

On the other hand, I spent much of the book frustrated with it. With the pacing, perhaps, required by demonstrating a whole bunch of tools before getting to the meat of the matter. With ultimately the fairly light treatment of many interesting topics – as each was really only used as a worked example of the intuition pumps being enumerated, rather than as a primary subject. With the (for me) fairly well-trodden ground being covered.

So in the end it depends what you’re after. If you want a survey of the field, and a bunch of entertaining glimpses, and an introduction to a broad range of tools for thinking about this field and many others, then this is a good book. That’s what it sets out to be, and by those lights it does it well. If you are after a substantial meal exploring a few topics in depth, rather than a tasting menu covering many items (tasty and well presented though they may be), then you may feel somewhat like I did.

In the end, I give it four stars: by the lights of what it sets out to do, it achieves it well, and the journey – even for me – was on the whole an enjoyable one.

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