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This book is no less practical now than when it was published in 1951. I was curious about the book because I’d been taught to read (better) with his book Teaching Johnny to Read, which was essentially a primer with long lists of words that were to be read aloud, using phonics to decipher new words. This book was a follow-up to his popular Why Johnny Can’t Read, which was a sensation in the mid-50s for its expose of the poor pedagogy that was being practiced in public schools, namely teaching children to sight read, to recognize words as whole entities, rather than as aggregates of syllables and letters.Flesch spent a lifetime articulating simple and straightforward ways of communicating, and this little book, as he says in his introduction does not break any new ground, but serves instead as a reminder to the reader of those things that work. But he does try to provide some background to what is involved in thinking, with a discussion of cognitive theory and psychology, each kept to basic and commonsensical proportion.Through his first seven chapters, each rife with anecdotes and references he is able to validate with detailed endnotes at the end of the book, he comes up with a summary list of five points, and then ten chapters later, the list has grown to eight practical points. Clearly, repetition is a good way to ensure that one is thinking clearly about a subject. The list:1. Try to remember that everybody, including yourself, has only his own experience to think with.2. Try to detach your ideas from your words.3. Translate the abstract and general into the concrete and specific.4. Don’t apply general rules blindly to specific problems.5. To solve a puzzling problem, look for a seemingly irrelevant key factor in the situation and for a seemingly unsuitable pattern in your mind.6. Narrow the field of solutions by asking “twenty questions.”7. Remember that bright ideas are often wrong and must be tested.8. Don’t underrate the influence of chance.This particular chapter focuses on how to think through difficulties, and Flesch surveys the field of commentators, each having essentially the same insights about the process. At the end, he offers this down-to-earth list of reminders:1. Write the problem down.2. Translate the problem into plain English.3. If possible, translate the problem into figures, mathematical symbols, or graphs.4. Don’t rely on your memory but use written or printed sources.5. Know how to use a library.6. Take notes and keep files.7. Discuss the problem with others.8. Use a check list of categories, adding new ones from time to time.9. Try turning the problem upside down.10. Don’t be afraid of the ridiculous.11. If you feel frustrated, don’t worry. Relax; turn to other work; rest; sleep.12. Take time to be by yourself. Free yourself of trivial work. Shut out interruptions.13. Know the time of day your mind works best and arrange your schedule accordingly.14. When you get an idea, write it down.Further chapters discuss ways to get more out of reading, thinking in and around the home about family and quotidian things, what kind of thinking is best at work, and, finally, he reminds the reader that thinking can be difficult, that accepting common ways of doing things (even if in error) is often easier. He concludes the book: “…Life’s problems are always new, and defy all ready-made solutions. That’s what makes life interesting.”Especially notable for me were the discussions of Socratic and Aristotelian philosophy, how the latter’s syllogistic logic was shaped to supply rules for a proper question-and-answer method of learning. Also particularly interesting was his discussion of how to parse any given text for its concreteness, which is essentially to say its soundness as a statement of fact. The method he proposes eventually worked itself into some standard readability tests that are still used today, e.g., the Flesch-Kincaid readability test.
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