Can ‘smart thinking’ books really give you the edge?

Steven Poole in The Guardian:

The world out there can often seem as though it is hurtling to hell in a handcart: people are refusing safe vaccines for a dangerous disease, extreme weather events caused by global heating are on TV nightly, billionaires are shooting themselves into the stratosphere in penis-shaped spacecraft while record numbers of the precariously employed rely on food banks. Looked at from this perspective, humanity as a whole doesn’t seem very rational. Hence why, surveying the idiocies of his own age, Jonathan Swift amended Aristotle’s definition of humans as “the rational animal” to his own sardonic formulation animal rationis capax – the animal capable of rationality.

How, though, should we become more capable? Most of the time, thinking sounds like hard work, but add “smart” to the front and it sounds more attractive: hipsterishly mid-Atlantic, vaguely technological (like “smartphone”), and with an implied promise of some handy trick or shortcut. A person who is smart – etymologically “sharp” or “stinging” – rather than merely thoughtful or intelligent is someone endowed with a certain practical cunning, not a dweller in ivory towers. Hence the rise in publishing of the “smart thinking” book, an elevated species of self-help for the aspiring ratiocinator.

More here.