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The Great Mental Models Volume 1: General Thinking Concepts

📅 2020-May-24 ⬩ ✍️ Ashwin Nanjappa ⬩ 📚 Archive

I was recommended this book by a colleague. I knew one of the authors, Shane Parrish from his blog Farnam Street, where I had read a few of his high-quality blog posts. The premise of The Great Mental Models Volume 1: General Thinking Concepts, co-authored with Rhiannon Beaubien, seemed enticing enough that I decided to dive in. This first book of a series, focuses on providing the motivation for mental models and describes general models.

The core idea is that the human brain works in models and that the quality of your thinking depends on the models that are in your head. A mental model is a representation of how something works. What successful people (apparently do) is to file away a large amount of knowledge in the form of models that they can bring to bear in a large number of unique scenarios. Almost a quarter of this short book is spent in convincing you that mental models are good to know and to employ in your daily life.

On to the general models then! There are 9 of them and each gets a chapter with illustrative examples from history.

There is no denying that these general models are useful and it is good to have a name for them to remember by and share with others. There is a fair bit of overlap between many of these models, that is to be expected. For example, Hanlon's Razor is quite simply a specialization of Occam's Razor. These models are pretty easy to understand and one must question the need to spend long chapters with several examples to motivate them. At the very least, I felt that was verbose and unnecessary.

All in all, the motivation for mental models was good in this book. I like that it provides a catalog of general mental models. However I cannot help but feel that all 9 of the models could have been summarized in a single long chapter. This is the feeling I get about most contemporary general non-fiction books: that they are essays that have been inflated to the size of a 150-200 page book because the publisher wants it that size in order to sell it as a book. Got to see if the verbosity will matter in the second book of this series which get into models in Physics, Chemistry and Biology.

Rating: 3/4