My Favorite Books for TOK

There are many, many books that are very “TOK” but I’m going to limit this list to books that I have created readings and activities around. These are not the most sophisticated books but are accessible to students and easily adapted to the classroom. TOK textbooks provide some good background knowledge, particularly for the new teacher, but don’t provide as much utility as you would think.

Click on the image to go to each book’s amazon page.

From the book’s amazon page:

You believe you are a rational, logical being who sees the world as it really is, but journalist David McRaney is here to tell you that you’re as deluded as the rest of us. But that’s OK- delusions keep us sane. You Are Not So Smart is a celebration of self-delusion. It’s like a psychology class, with all the boring parts taken out, and with no homework.

Based on the popular blog of the same name, You Are Not So Smart collects more than 46 of the lies we tell ourselves everyday

Reason, Fallacies, Emotion, Intuition, Ways of Knowing

Really great book (also a great podcast) that discusses, through interesting examples, cognitive biases, reasoning fallacies, and the general limitations and challenges of knowing.

From the book’s amazon page:

You believe you are a rational, logical being who sees the world as it really is, but journalist David McRaney is here to tell you that you’re as deluded as the rest of us. But that’s OK- delusions keep us sane. You Are Not So Smart is a celebration of self-delusion. It’s like a psychology class, with all the boring parts taken out, and with no homework.

Based on the popular blog of the same name, You Are Not So Smart collects more than 46 of the lies we tell ourselves everyday

 

Reason, Emotion, Decision Making

Easy to read book that evaluates and discusses how we come to decisions. Easy to adapt student readings from this book.

The first book to use the unexpected discoveries of neuroscience to help us make the best decisions

Since Plato, philosophers have described the decision-making process as either rational or emotional: we carefully deliberate, or we “blink” and go with our gut. But as scientists break open the mind’s black box with the latest tools of neuroscience, they’re discovering that this is not how the mind works. Our best decisions are a finely tuned blend of both feeling and reason—and the precise mix depends on the situation. When buying a house, for example, it’s best to let our unconscious mull over the many variables. But when we’re picking a stock, intuition often leads us astray. The trick is to determine when to use the different parts of the brain, and to do this, we need to think harder (and smarter) about how we think.

 

Intuition, Reason, Emotion

This book is a perfect 1:1 translation of the work we do in TOK around intuition. I’ve used a loft of the ideas and stories here in the classroom.

Blink is a book about how we think without thinking, about choices that seem to be made in an instant-in the blink of an eye-that actually aren’t as simple as they seem. Why are some people brilliant decision makers, while others are consistently inept? Why do some people follow their instincts and win, while others end up stumbling into error? How do our brains really work-in the office, in the classroom, in the kitchen, and in the bedroom? And why are the best decisions often those that are impossible to explain to others?

 

Emotion, Reason

Really interesting work on the relationship between emotion and reason. There are some really great stories that are easily adapted to the TOK class from this book. This work is often cited in other articles and books about how we make decisions.

Since Descartes famously proclaimed, “I think, therefore I am,” science has often overlooked emotions as the source of a person’s true being. Even modern neuroscience has tended, until recently, to concentrate on the cognitive aspects of brain function, disregarding emotions. This attitude began to change with the publication of Descartes’ Error in 1995. Antonio Damasio—”one of the world’s leading neurologists” (The New York Times)—challenged traditional ideas about the connection between emotions and rationality. In this wondrously engaging book, Damasio takes the reader on a journey of scientific discovery through a series of case studies, demonstrating what many of us have long suspected: emotions are not a luxury, they are essential to rational thinking and to normal social behavior.

Reason, Emotion, Intuition

This is one of my favorite non fiction books of all time. This book is a compendium of all the groundbreaking work done by Kanheman and Tversky. Really thorough and insightful. Too long to be a text for students to use but would provide a teacher with lots of insight. Similar to Blink in its discussion of Intuition, this is far more thorough and detailed and creates an effective model for thinking about the brain: System 1 and System 2, or, the fast and slow brain.

The international bestseller, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman, the renowned psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, takes us on a groundbreaking tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. The impact of overconfidence on corporate strategies, the difficulties of predicting what will make us happy in the future, the profound effect of cognitive biases on everything from playing the stock market to planning our next vacation—each of these can be understood only by knowing how the two systems shape our judgments and decisions.

Ethics

His books as well as his series of lectures provide great resources for teaching ethics in TOK. Some really great readings and examples you can pull from here.

Affirmative action, same-sex marriage, physician-assisted suicide, abortion, national service, the moral limits of markets―Sandel relates the big questions of political philosophy to the most vexing issues of the day, and shows how a surer grasp of philosophy can help us make sense of politics, morality, and our own convictions as well.

Ethics

Similar to the book above but this book discusses the contrast between the utilitarian views of economics and its conflict with our own sense of morality. I also use with my Economics class when discussing the nature and limitations of markets.

Should we pay children to read books or to get good grades? Should we put a price on human life to decide how much pollution to allow? Is it ethical to pay people to test risky new drugs or to donate their organs? What about hiring mercenaries to fight our wars, outsourcing inmates to for-profit prisons, auctioning admission to elite universities, or selling citizenship to immigrants willing to pay?
In his New York Times bestseller What Money Can’t Buy, Michael J. Sandel takes up one of the biggest ethical questions of our time: Isn’t there something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale? If so, how can we prevent market values from reaching into spheres of life where they don’t belong? What are the moral limits of markets?

(still under construction)