Book Review: How to Think Like Shakespeare by Scott Newstok

How to Think Like Shakespeare: Lessons from a Renaissance Education…

About the Book:

A lively and engaging guide to vital habits of mind that can help you think more deeply, write more effectively, and learn more joyfully.

How to Think like Shakespeare offers an enlightening and entertaining guide to the craft of thought — one that demonstrates what we’ve lost in education today, and how we might begin to recover it. In fourteen brief, lively chapters that draw from Shakespeare’s world and works, and from other writers past and present, Scott Newstok distils vital habits of mind that can help you think more deeply, write more effectively, and learn more joyfully, in school or beyond.

Challenging a host of today’s questionable notions about education, Newstok shows how mental play emerges through work, creativity through imitation, autonomy through tradition, innovation through constraint, and freedom through discipline. It was these practices, and a conversation with the past — not a fruitless obsession with assessment — that nurtured a mind like Shakespeare’s. And while few of us can hope to approach the genius of the Bard, we can all learn from the exercises that shaped him.

Written in a friendly, conversational tone and brimming with insights, How to Think like Shakespeare enacts the thrill of thinking on every page, reviving timeless — and timely — ways to stretch your mind and hone your words.

My Thoughts:

‘Mere data transmission doesn’t induce deep learning. It’s the ability to interact, to think hard thoughts in the presence of other people.’

The description above for this book gives a certain self-help ‘how to’ feel, yet that’s not what this book is. Rather, it’s a lively discussion on the state of education today, and as all educators instinctively know, we aren’t necessarily getting it right. This is an American book, but its content is valid for Australia, and many other parts of the world, I daresay. There were so many times I found myself nodding, understanding exactly the author’s despair in the education system: standardised testing, curriculum tailored to assessment, the death of creativity within the classroom, a devaluing of arts over STEM, the rise and rise of depersonalised online learning; the list goes on. Considering our recent hike in university fees for arts and humanities degrees whilst anything STEM related had its prices slashed; then I see this, written by an author on the other side of the world, the same thing happening in America. Why, why is this happening?

‘Today both “liberal” and “arts” suffer from narrow connotations that don’t convey the vital ambitions of this program of study.
But “liberal” just means “free”, and “arts” means something far more comprehensive, like science, or knowledge, or craft.’

By drawing on the principles of a Renaissance Education, the author, a teacher of much experience himself, points out the large and gaping holes in the modern education system. But he doesn’t stop there, using a wealth of sources and critical thinking to make connections on how ‘thinking like Shakespeare’ should be the ultimate goal of any education system. This book is well researched, cleverly written, entertaining as well as informative. For a book on thinking, it does a great job at getting the reader thinking throughout.

‘A Shakespearean education gives us the chance to build habits of mind that individuals (and cultures) need if they’re to flourish. We all need practice in curiosity, intellectual agility, the determination to analyse, commitment to resourceful communication, historically and culturally situated reflectiveness, the confidence to embrace complexity. In short: the ambition to create something better, in whatever field.’

You don’t need to be an educator to benefit from reading this book. Educators will, of course, appreciate it immensely, but it’s really a book that can be read widely, particularly by those who love words, history, literature, learning, and … Shakespeare. It will get you thinking about thinking, in a whole new way.

‘Education ought to exercise us in the crafts of freedom, helping us reach out fullest capacities to make by emulating aspirational models, stretching our thinking as well as our words. Anything else is a curtailment of our birthright.’


Thanks is extended to Newsouth Books for providing me with a copy of How to Think Like Shakespeare for Review.

How to Think Like Shakespeare
Published by Princeton University Press (Princeton ANZ Paperbacks)
Released September 2020

9 thoughts on “Book Review: How to Think Like Shakespeare by Scott Newstok

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