Thinking: A Memoir by Richard E. Nisbett

Richard E. Nisbett is one of the world’s most respected psychologists. He recently released his memoir Thinking, published by Agora Books (on February 3, 2021).

Thinking: A Memoir is both an intellectual autobiography and a personal history. It describes Nisbett’s research showing how people reason, how people should reason, why errors in reasoning occur, how much you can improve reasoning, what kinds of problems are best solved by the conscious mind and what kinds by the unconscious mind, and how we should think about intelligence in light of answers to such questions. It shows that self-knowledge can be dramatically off-kilter and points to ways to improve it. The book shows that different cultures have radically different ways of reasoning, some of which are demonstrably superior to typical Western ways. The book starts with the author’s early experiences, many of which directly influenced his subsequent research.


“Richard Nisbett is one of the most influential psychologists on the planet.  But he’s not just an important psychologist, he’s an important thinker, full stop.  This memoir chronicles a truly extraordinary life of scientific discovery, interdisciplinary dialogue and public engagement. It’s astonishing how many of Nisbett’s remarkable discoveries resonate far beyond his home field: in philosophy, no psychologist, with the possible exceptions of Freud, Skinner, and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, has had as much impact on how foundational issues are conceived.” –John Doris, Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University, author of Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior

“Nisbett’s vivid anecdotes provide an insider’s view of social psychology and the characters who have created the field, including him. While worth reading as a memoir, the book provides an ideal introduction to social psychology.” –Randolph Nesse, author of Why We Get Sick and Good Reasons for Bad Feelings

Thinking is available for sale on: and Noble.



Why “Thinking” as a title for a memoir? Doesn’t everyone think? Yes, but not that many people think a lot about thinking, or so I think. Also, only a tiny handful of people have spent a lifetime doing scientific research on thinking.

I have studied how people reason and make inferences about the world, how people should reason and make those inferences, what kinds of errors in reasoning are common, why errors in reasoning occur, how much you can improve reasoning, what kinds of problems are best solved by the conscious mind and what kinds by the unconscious mind, how important IQ is compared with other kinds of cognitive skills, and how we should think about intelligence in light of answers to such questions. In trying to answer questions like these, I have built on my training as a social psychologist by collaborating with other social psychologists, as well as with cognitive psychologists, developmental psychologists, personality psychologists, neuroscientists, behavior geneticists, economists, philosophers, statisticians, computer scientists, a psychiatrist, a political scientist, and a legal scholar.

I couldn’t have learned as much as I have about the human mind without collaborating with such a wide range of people. Collaboration made it possible to develop a view of intelligence very different from that of the scientists who specialize in that field. I have come to believe that the consensus about intelligence that existed at the end of the 20th century was largely wrong in crucial respects. Essentially, I think the consensus placed too much importance on heritability and too little on the environment, and utterly failed to recognize the importance of the interaction of genes with the environment. I think the consensus was also wrong in emphasizing IQ-type talents to the exclusion of valuable cognitive skills and knowledge that don’t help you get a high score on an IQ test. And the consensus was decidedly wrong in concluding that genes might play a role in the difference between blacks and whites in IQ.

Working with so many excellent people was possible only because I spent most of my career at the University of Michigan. There are terrific academics in virtually every field there. Equally important is the character of the university, which encourages collaboration among faculty. I believe collaboration in the behavioral sciences is more common at Michigan than at any other university in the U.S. This book offers some speculations about what it is that makes collaboration likely in a university.

As a consequence of the collaborations, this book is unlike any intellectual autobiography you’re likely to encounter. Though personally I’m pretty independent and individualistic, as a scientist, I’m very interdependent and collectivist. The intellectual diversity of these research teams has made it possible to work on an extremely wide range of topics, some rather distant from the topic of thinking, including the proper way to understand the contributions of personality to social behavior, the application of microeconomic principles to decisions we make in everyday life, why the typical job interview is worse than worthless, the fact that there is a “culture of honor” that accounts for the violence of the U.S. South, how members of different cultures perceive different aspects of the world and why it is they literally perceive them in a different way, and how ecologies dictate economies which dictate characteristic social relations which dictate ways of perceiving and thinking.

About the Author:

Richard E. Nisbett is one of the world’s most respected psychologists. His work focuses on issues in social psychology and cognitive science. He has received the Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions from the American Psychological Association and many other national and international awards. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is a recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. His book The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently . . . and Why won the William James Award of the American Psychological Association. That book, as well as Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count and Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking have been translated into multiple languages. His newest book is Thinking: A Memoir. 

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To request a copy of Thinking to review or an interview with Richard Nisbett, please contact Kelsey Butts at Book Publicity Services at or (805) 807-9027.