Kids on Fire: Books To Build Teens’ Critical Reasoning

The ability to think critically, to separate fact from opinion and hype, is critical in today’s information society, yet critical reasoning is a subject most public schools don’t teach. Here are some great books that not only make logic and critical reasoning understandable, but fun for teens as well.

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (4.5/5 stars, currently priced at $11.99)

From the creator of the wildly popular webcomic xkcd, hilarious and informative answers to important questions you probably never thought to ask

Millions of people visit xkcd.com each week to read Randall Munroe’s iconic webcomic. His stick-figure drawings about science, technology, language, and love have an enormous, dedicated following, as do his deeply researched answers to his fans’ strangest questions.

The queries he receives range from merely odd to downright diabolical:

• What if I took a swim in a spent-nuclear-fuel pool?

• Could you build a jetpack using downward-firing machine guns?

• What if a Richter 15 earthquake hit New York City?

• Are fire tornadoes possible?

His responses are masterpieces of clarity and wit, gleefully and accurately explaining everything from the relativistic effects of a baseball pitched at near the speed of light to the many horrible ways you could die while building a periodic table out of all the actual elements.

The book features new and never-before-answered questions, along with the most popular answers from the xkcd website. What If? is an informative feast for xkcd fans and anyone who loves to ponder the hypothetical.

 

Sometimes the key to rejecting false conclusions and wrong assumptions about how things in the world work and why is to learn the facts about how things work and why.

That’s where Randall Munroe’s next book, Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words (4/5 stars, currently priced at $12.99) comes in.

Have you ever tried to learn more about some incredible thing, only to be frustrated by incomprehensible jargon? Randall Munroe is here to help. In Thing Explainer, he uses line drawings and only the thousand (or, rather, “ten hundred”) most common words to provide simple explanations for some of the most interesting stuff there is, including:

– food-heating radio boxes (microwaves)

– tall roads (bridges)

– computer buildings (datacenters)

– the shared space house (the International Space Station)

– the other worlds around the sun (the solar system)

– the big flat rocks we live on (tectonic plates)

– the pieces everything is made of (the periodic table)

– planes with turning wings (helicopters)

– boxes that make clothes smell better (washers and dryers)

– the bags of stuff inside you (cells)

How do these things work? Where do they come from? What would life be like without them? And what would happen if we opened them up, heated them up, cooled them down, pointed them in a different direction, or pressed this button? In Thing Explainer, Munroe gives us the answers to these questions and so many more. Funny, interesting, and always understandable, this book is for anyone—–age 5 to 105–—who has ever wondered how things work, and why.

 

An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments (4.5/5 stars, currently priced at $7.36)

“A flawless compendium of flaws.” —Alice Roberts, PhD, anatomist, writer, and presenter of The Incredible Human Journey

The antidote to fuzzy thinking, with furry animals!

Have you read (or stumbled into) one too many irrational online debates? Ali Almossawi certainly had, so he wrote An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments! This handy guide is here to bring the internet age a much-needed dose of old-school logic (really old-school, a la Aristotle).

Here are cogent explanations of the straw man fallacy, the slippery slope argument, the ad hominem attack, and other common attempts at reasoning that actually fall short—plus a beautifully drawn menagerie of animals who (adorably) commit every logical faux pas.

Rabbit thinks a strange light in the sky must be a UFO because no one can prove otherwise (the appeal to ignorance). And Lion doesn’t believe that gas emissions harm the planet because, if that were true, he wouldn’t like the result (the argument from consequences).

Once you learn to recognize these abuses of reason, they start to crop up everywhere from congressional debate to YouTube comments—which makes this geek-chic book a must for anyone in the habit of holding opinions.

 

Introducing Logic: A Graphic Guide (4.5/5 stars, currently priced at $5.99)

Logic is the backbone of Western civilization, holding together its systems of philosophy, science and law. Yet despite logic’s widely acknowledged importance, it remains an unbroken seal for many, due to its heavy use of jargon and mathematical symbolism.

This book follows the historical development of logic, explains the symbols and methods involved and explores the philosophical issues surrounding the topic in an easy-to-follow and friendly manner.

It will take you through the influence of logic on scientific method and the various sciences from physics to psychology, and will show you why computers and digital technology are just another case of logic in action.

 

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