Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Ask HN: Are books worth it?
553 points by miguelrochefort 19 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 391 comments
I have read less than 50 books in my life and probably less than 5 books in the past 10 years.

Growing up with the Internet, I always assumed that everything could be found for free online.

I spend most of my day reading online articles/conversations, watching videos, and listening to podcasts. I have thousands of non-fiction (mostly self-improvement) books in my reading list on GoodReads, but almost never bother to read any. I assume that the best part of the best books will surface in daily conversations, YouTube videos, CliffsNotes, podcasts, Reddit posts/comments, blog articles, etc. I even find myself reading the comments and not reading the article most of the time. I'm fine with bullet point style summaries and don't care much about the fluff that fills most books I've read in the past.

Up until recently, I didn't think I was missing out. I thought that online content was roughly equivalent to 80% of what I'd get from reading actual books for 20% of the effort. I also thought that most books probably don't age very well and that most of the bleeding edge stuff could only be found online. But I'm starting to wonder if that's true. I'm starting to see people online mention that books are infinitely better than online content. I read that millionaires and billionaires read tons of books. I wonder if I'm missing out?

One issue for me is that books are a very big time investment. I read very slowly and I don't remember everything I read either. The last few books I read were mostly filled with fluff, anecdotes, stories, jokes, and trivialities. Even if I wanted to read books, I just don't know which ones I should start with, out of the 1000 "must-read" books in my reading list.

Are books worth it? Is it more true for some fields than others? Is it more true for older books? Isn't most of the information from books freely available online? Am I missing out?




Online content is often low-quality, highly commercial in nature and very ephemeral. Books, the real kind, when they are good can stay with you for a very long time.

A well-written story, be it fiction or non-fiction can have a long lastig impact and even an emotional connection that I have personally never experienced with anything 'online'.

If you don't read books, you are missing out. Even only 1 or 2 books a year is a world of difference, even if those books aren't the best ones out there. This (as posted before) also has to do with the time investment and realtime one-to-one (you and the book) time.

If you are having a hard time getting started, or keep reading a book to the finish, start with something light and perhaps... generic. Like a Dan Brown book. (and I know opinions vary wildly) Even a smaller book that might be more targeted as a children's book such as Neil Gaiman's 'Ocean at the end of the lane' are perfectly fine to get something going. Not everything will engage you, but making it easier for yourself to get started and enjoy some reading time is all it takes to enrich yourself. (which is perhaps not the best wording... but I'm no writer)


+1 all the way. Online content is optimized not for quality but rather for clicks and interaction. As someone who grew up during the 90s the hope was that better quality would lead to more clicks. Clearly that’s not the case.

As a technical author myself, I can speak to the effort required to create a book versus a blog post. A book requires you to think holistically about a topic- building a comprehensive outline of what you intend to cover. Then you have to write. A lot. If you’re a good writer (for example take w. Richard Stevens) your text will include not just the information you wish to convey but context around that topic which is paramount to a deeper understanding of the topic.

Finally you go through a vetting process with other people in the industry. You’re challenged on your assertions, they help you correct errors, etc. Here the Wikipedia model may actually be superior as you are not limited in time or selection of experts for the tech editing phase.

In contrast, blog posts or tweets are optimized for speed and engagement. Superficial yet sensational topics are emphasized, context is lost due to lack of time and space to write, and the quality of the writing is highly variable.

Books are excellent and in fact I wrote my first tech book expressly because I found no good online resources for what I needed to know. I highly encourage people to read. It provides an excellent counterbalance to blogs and tweets.


Regarding the technical writing, that is indeed one of the very best examples when conveying an idea with a mindset or process on how that came to be (to varying degrees). It's not just a summary of facts or a list of tasks, but when well written it contains the core, the context, and how the core out of that context came to be. If the reader then reads it, they will not only learn the subject, but often also how that information was obtained in the first place and get a sense as to how the information was optimised for the subject, what was dismissed (and why) and often gives you a transfer of thought that allows you to continue to build on that instead of having to do the same exact learning process over again to get (and this is a lucky pun) on the same page.

Conveying an idea is hard enough as it is with the languages we have, but writing it down and having to think ahead of time what the reader might think, might already know, and might want to do afterwards, or ponder about upon finishing the work, that is a very underestimated specialism. It enables not only knowledge transfer but practically brings the level of understanding of the reader(s) to a new minimum level (being a higher level than before but not everyone might get the same out of it).

I work with a group of people in tech with varying backgrounds, ages and plans for the future, but when we need to make sure everyone has at least some equal foundation to start off from, we have at least one technical writeup (some chapters in a book, or a series of well written articles) combined with exercises to make sure that that base layer is there. You cannot really do that effectively if you were to try that with... tweets. Or just videos. Or a simple workshop. Getting somewhere still requires real work and real (time/attention) investment. Well written and researched information is at the center of this.

Every now and then I read a technical book on a subject I am not familiar with or never had a real-life purpose for. For example, a lot of projects never had to use a custom data format with custom parsers, or a new domain-specific language. Yet reading a well written book on GNU Bison can be fantastic. (i.e. the Flex & Bison one from O'Reilly) Even if you end up never writing a .y file or having a need for a custom syntax parsing system. Strangely enough, while the subject is different, and the goal is different, it can be just as entertaining or maybe even enriching as reading The Gargoyle (by Andrew Davidson) 15 years ago. No relation in content or context except that both are books.


Stevens's books are timeless. Yeah, they're labelled as "Unix", but they're really more about Posix to the most extent. Still very relevant today.

My own copies are +20 years old, but useful enough that they have the least dust on my bookshelf (and I predominantly work on Windows).


I would like to add something: Some books are written to get sold too. Some books in self-help and business fall into this category, most of them lose money, but a few make it out. Sometimes publishers publish trash when they know it, just because it's a book doesn't mean it's a good one.


A few years ago I realized something: I am extremely skeptical of watching and buying into a random documentary but almost unquestioningly am willing to pick up a book.

There are millions of published books out there and a lot of them are junk.


Almost all books are written to be sold. Especially the ones that are for sale. Regarding books as somehow less commercial is an odd critique.

Also, what's wrong with being commercial? We all have to work for a living, right? Just because something is sold doesn't mean it's making the world a worse place.


> Online content is often low-quality, highly commercial in nature and very ephemeral.

One question I ask myself when consuming online content is "would I pay any money for this". Generally the answer is no, the quality isn't there where I'd pay even a small amount of money. If I ask that same question with some high quality books the answer is that I would pay for it.

I'm not taking a stand on if people should pay for content or not, but it's a useful rule of thumb for me. If the quality of content is so low that I'd never pay for it, I try to cut that content out and replace it with higher quality content (even if that means I actually do pay for it).


I like this. This is a great way of looking at low-effort online (or offline) drivel. Thanks for that.


Plenty of great content can be found online. The Martian: rebuffed by literary agents when trying to get prior books published, Weir decided to put the book online in serial format one chapter at a time for free at his website. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Martian_(Weir_novel)

Honestly, I have read hundreds of books, but my personal favorites are all online or started that way. Freedom means a lot of junk, but also stores that are truly different.


I second your notion. I read The Martian on the website while it was being published there. (Oh hey, the website is still alive even though the story is gone - http://www.galactanet.com/writing.html)

Any recommendations?


> Online content is often low-quality, highly commercial in nature and very ephemeral. Books, the real kind, when they are good can stay with you for a very long time.

You're comparing bad online content with good books. There are good and bad versions of each.

Some of the most helpful, actionable content I've read in my life has been online.

The benefit of online content is that it can be dynamic, interactive and updated. There are downsides too of course.


There are short, easy to read non-fiction books too. It's easy to get through What We Know about Climate Change or Particle Physics, A Very Short Introduction in an evening.


I found Feynman's "Six Easy Pieces" an interesting read in this vein.


+1 Books are good.

Too much time spent attempting to min/max everything in life around here. Read a book every once in awhile.


To elaborate on what @oneplane said, and in response to OP:

> I spend most of my day reading online articles/conversations, watching videos, and listening to podcasts [...] I assume that the best part of the best books will surface in daily conversations, YouTube videos, CliffsNotes, podcasts, Reddit posts/comments, blog articles, etc. I even find myself reading the comments and not reading the article most of the time. I'm fine with bullet point style summaries and don't care much about the fluff that fills most books I've read in the past.

Unless you find a really good community, most online discussions are largely banal. It is possible to occasionally find good discussions about fairly concrete topics (technical, or one-step away from technical), but for everything else, it is largely a crapshoot.

The quality distribution of content is such a sharp power law that it might be enough to read a couple of dozen good books in one's life to get that value -- but read them thoroughly and actively reflect on the message, rather than rifling through them for "collecting information". Really good ideas (deep truths) and really good communication tend to stay good for a long time (decades... centuries... millenia). The longer they've lasted the more likely they are to have true lasting value (otherwise why would anyone have bothered passing them down generations!? Check out the "Lindy effect"). Most new books haven't yet had the chance to get called out on -- assuming they are even interesting enough for that. I would rather spend more time listening to and thinking deeply about those messages from people who have thought as/more deeply about the topic.

Since it takes very low-effort to post on the internet (relative to the effort to understand a subject), and it takes an order-of-magnitude more effort to cut through bullshit than to create it, online discussions will typically be dominated by bullshit (unless the community has exceptionally good regulating mechanisms). Since (most) people today are conditioned to be driven by convenience and novelty (rather than quality), forums are not particularly good even for curation -- I would rather trust specific individuals.

For that reason, and the ubiquitous "sales culture" that has come about, I find contemporary discussions (including most contemporary books) to largely be undigested opinions spewed by people who have not thought deeply enough -- it's the Red Queen effect with people mostly trying to sell their messages (optimised for "engagement") better rather than actually improving the quality of their thinking. And advertizing is a very poor proxy for quality (irrespective of what market economists might try to argue).

Any reference to "content" or "engagement" in the contemporary sense---the very notion that one can generalize across all ideas/messages, without thoughtful discrimination---makes me want to puke.

----

For 90% of the gain with 10% of the effort, how to find 2-5 good books to read each year? Here's the strategy which has worked for me so far:

1. Find a few authors (on the internet, or otherwise) whose thinking I admire/respect, and who I find to be speaking deeper truths than others.

2. Look at what they list as their most influential books; go read those books.

Those books typically turn out to be faaaaar better than generic online "content". Digesting ideas from reading is much like a muscle to be built by exercise, to it gets easier after the first few books.


You are comparing average (or worse) internet content to the best books out there. That's basically a straw man argument. The question "Are any books worth it?" is an obvious "yes" and not worth discussion.

I submit that you can find good blogs, podcasts, etc., and find out what their creators are inspired by and consume that content.

I also contend that the whole thing is a false dichotomy. There's no particular reason to just read books or just listen to podcasts. Do both, obviously. Sort by more interesting criteria than the delivery medium.


Can you suggest some books


What do you want, fiction? Non fiction, self help. Entertaining or thought providing or challenging?

Your question is insanely broad. Also what is the longest single work you have read? Many of the best reads take forever to get going. Also they are insanly long and thus intimidating


Sometimes you can combine an answer to such a question by getting someone to read a relatively compact one like "The Physics of Star Trek". That won't work for people that don't like technology or science, but there are similar examples on other subjects. Works well for people who haven't started asking detailed questions yet, but may expect a fitting answer anyway.

If after starting or even finishing such a book and they like it, it gets a lot easier to recommend more specifically after that. If they don't like it, it either means the book needs to be less complex, or more single-topic and perhaps even non-fiction to remove more unknown elements.


The moon is a harsh mistress


Recursion by Blake Crouch! Biggest mindf* of the 2010's, hands down.


_12 Rules for Life_ by Jordan Peterson is quite eye opening, he has an insightful view on many things.



Interesting that The Second Sex is included in this list, given that its author believed that women are generally too stupid to choose what's best for them in life.

> No woman should be authorized to stay home to raise her children. Women should not have that choice, because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.

— Simone de Beauvoir


You left out the next sentence, so in context it reads “ ... because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one. It is a way of forcing women in a certain direction.“

> “ ... women are generally too stupid to choose what’s best for them in life.”

Those are your words, not Simone de Beauvoirs.

I haven’t read “The Second Sex” yet but I have read “The Ethics of Ambiguity” by her.

I would bet a dollar though that Beauvoir considers stupidity an individual human trait generously distributed across all genders.

Here are some other quotes from The Second Sex.

"Self-knowledge is no guarantee of happiness, but it is on the side of happiness and can supply the courage to fight for it."

"To emancipate woman is to refuse to confine her to the relations she bears to man, not to deny them to her; let her have her independent existence and she will continue nonetheless to exist for him also: mutually recognising each other as subject, each will yet remain for the other an other. The reciprocity of their relations will not do away with the miracles – desire, possession, love, dream, adventure – worked by the division of human beings into two separate categories; and the words that move us – giving, conquering, uniting – will not lose their meaning. On the contrary, when we abolish the slavery of half of humanity, together with the whole system of hypocrisy that it implies, then the 'division' of humanity will reveal its genuine significance and the human couple will find its true form."


I know those are my words, but this is the implicit message I interpret from hers. One must think rather lowly of others (and/or extremely highly of oneself and/or one’s ideology) to claim to know what’s best for those others.


Yes.

I have always loved books. I read about 30-40 a year, mostly fiction with a few non-fiction thrown in.

Novels are the closest thing I know to a form of magic. A good author can completely encode an entire world full of people on 300 pages of black and white text. And when they do it well, it literally never expires. I read mostly books from the last 50 years but I think the best example of a book as magic is Don Quixote. It was published in 1605. You can pick it up today and relate to the characters, enjoy the plot, and laugh at their jokes. Most other forms of popular media go stale in a year or maybe a decade.

You will also find that reading great writers improves your ability to think and speak. The true masters, someone like John Steinbeck or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, construct sentences so beautifully that they can stop up in your tracks. After reading enough some of this will rub off on you and you'll be shocked at small bursts of eloquence in your thoughts and speech.

So I strongly advise everyone to read at least a few good novels a year. You won't regret it.

As for non-fiction I think the need is a little less obvious. Many times after reading a 400 page book I think "I'd probably have preferred a 30-page article on the subject". However that's not always true and many NF authors earn their word count. But I can totally see the argument for the internet as replacement for NF.


Here is one of R.A. Lafferty's short stories (many of his works are available online, a handful are in print in the UK), http://ralafferty.com/2017/05/22/through-other-eyes/

"The Cerebral Scanner, newly completed by Charles Cogsworth, was not an intricate machine. It was a small but ingenious amplifying device, or battery of amplifiers, designed for the synchronous—perhaps “sympathetic” would be a better word—coupling of two very intricate machines: two human brains. It was an amplifier only. A subliminal coupling, or the possibility of it, was already assumed by the inventor. Less than a score of key aspects needed emphasizing for the whole thing to come to life ... It had been a long-held opinion of Cogsworth that, by the proper amplification of a near score of these impulses in one brain, a transmission could be effected to another so completely that one man might for an instant see with the eyes of another—also see inwardly with that man’s eyes, have the same imaginings and daydreams, perceive the same universe as the other perceived. And it would not be the same universe as the seeking man knew ... This idea of his—to enter into the mind of another, to peer from behind another’s eyes into a world that could not be the same—this idea had been with him all his life. He recalled how it had first come down on him in all its strength when he was quite small.


In the middle of a complex 500 page ancestral deep dive Marquez will slip the simplest sentences that make me pause. It's not even the beginning of a chapter -- it's just something he tossed in without much thought to continue the magic. brb going to go check out a book.


+1 for Steinbeck being a “true master”. East of Eden and Grapes of Wrath essential.


I never understood the fascination of many Americans (I'm British) with Steinbeck. For me, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway and even McCarthy and Melville are completely outclassing him.

One American friend of mine once mentioned that Steinbeck is obligatory reading in many American schools but few read Faulkner. Maybe that has something to do with his popularity.


I've only read Hemingway, and no doubt to my taste that Steinbeck is a much better writer (despite Hemingway's reputation).

One thing I love about Steinbeck is that he is a true artist in the level of detail and research he puts into his writing. There is so much grounded substance in there, so much depth, hard work, and yet he doesn't show off, doesn't throw it in your face. A huge amount of wisdom can be found in East of Eden, more than any other book I've read.


We were assigned Faulkner in high school (in Ohio). I just wish it hadn't been As I Lay Dying.


Faulkner is significantly more difficult.


> "A good author can completely encode an entire world full of people on 300 pages of black and white text. And when they do it well, it literally never expires. "

that is quite similar to how I view it also.

And good authors are able to describe so well human behavior, that it will make it worth the read.


Thanks for this. I feel somewhat compelled to start reading again.


I've always wondered how non-spanish or even non latin american people can enjoy García Márquez. His books display great usage of the language and are full of historic references. I personally enjoyed his work after having read a lot of other books (expanding my vocabulary) and only after learning colombian history and not before

PD: Before becoming a nobel laureate writer, he worked as a journalist for a newspaper. In my university we studied one of his articles in depth, as they were beautifully written.


I find the writing beautiful even in translation. It always makes me wish I could read the original language. It does make me feel like I'm missing a lot of things, but even with those things missing I find that it's better than most other things I read.

I've had a very similar feeling when reading Russian authors like Gogol, Pushkin, and Dostoevsky.


Spanish-language novels translated to English is reliably my favorite category of books. I think with a good translator the beauty of the language carries through.

(I speak some Spanish but not enough to read a whole book)


My latin in-laws shake their heads in pity because I can't 'get' García Márquez, even reading in Spanish.


How do you decide which books to read?


I'm not OP, but here's what I do.

I keep a list of books I want to read on Goodreads. When a friend mentions a book they liked, I add it on the mobile app. When someone mentions something here or on Reddit, I do the same. I keep adding books without any commitment to actually reading them, and then I review the list whenever I need another book.

I use a couple of browser extensions that tell me what's available at my library on Goodreads:

- Available Reads - checks which books are available as eBooks or Audiobooks on OverDrive (online service through the library) - Library Extension - checks specific books if they're available at a set of libraries (physical books or eBooks/audiobooks)

I like the first because it creates a sortable list on my "to read" shelf, whereas the second is useful if I'm looking at a specific book.


One particular source for me has been the reading lists of great writers and thinkers (Eg: Tolstoy[0], Gandhi[1] and many more kept extensive reading lists). Generally I think it is a good idea to delve into classics because time is a good judge.

[0] https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/09/30/leo-tolstoy-reading...

[1] http://www.gandhi-manibhavan.org/eduresources/bks_read_by_g....


When I was a kid I was an obsessive reader, and a teacher basically forbid me from reading anything not from the Classic section of the high school library. Before elementary ended, I'd finished reading all the books they had in their Classics. (Understanding them at that age is a whole separate issue, BTW.) But my point being, the Classics are considered "a classic" for very serious reasons, and unless you really cannot get into a writer's voice after effort, each and every "Classic" is worth reading in a major way. I suggest starting with the Nobel Literature winners.


It depends on my goals.If I just want to learn something,I do a little bit research on the subject and what could be good books on it and tgen head to Amazon or local book store for it. If haven't got a concrete goal and just want to explore some random topics,I again hit Amazon and browse random categories,read some literature reviews by critics in newspapers and etc. Also,reading feeds reading. For instance,I was reading some comments on Financial Times and saw someone making a fairly reasonable argument about queuing theory.Not being familiar with it,I googled it, found some very interesting courses and books. Will do a bit of exploration of this topic in near future.


I'd be curious to hear an answer for this as well. My goal this year is to just read something every day. No minimum amount of time, no specific books, just to read consistently.

My current approach is to keep a list of books that others recommend both online (hn, reddit, etc) and in person, and choose a book off the list as I finish each one based on what I'm currently interested in reading.


That's a question of a lifetime because as you change, mature, books "change" as well every time you read them. With that said, many people approach this by choosing the author(s) first or the historical period, and then drilling down to specific titles. Parent mentioned some authors that were relevant to him/her. Don Quixote (book title) is a great book and it had a special meaning to me when I read it for the first time. It was when I was learning Spanish and consulting in Latin America. Quixote is well regarded as a literature masterpiece for the Spanish language and, to me, as a learner, it was like playing the piano while listening to Beethoven as a reference. Well, this was my own experience. You can choose authors/books to build your own experience around them, which I'm sure you will never forget.


I don't really have a process. About half the books I read I get just from browsing a book store. I love stores that have little notes from the employees recommending certain books. The others I just hear about from friends or online.

Once I've read a book by an author and liked it I'll normally try 1-2 more. So that's a main discovery path for me. However I try not to read the same author back-to-back as I like to have variety.

I think the key is don't keep a list, just buy the book. In my house I have a stack of 5-10 'queued' books at any time so when I finish one I can immediately start another.


There goodreads website for you to help. And for me its not easy i often start and stop reading books that i find eventually bad or not interesting. One good approach i think is reading old books which have massive amounts of reviews. I know if you think that tech books get outdated you will be surprised that much of the information is very relevant


Awards are a great place to start. National Book Awards, Man Booker Prize, Pulitzer, etc.


Yeah the Man Booker in particular tends to be a good source to find my favorite novels.


Got quite a few from here: http://worrydream.com/#!/Links

It's the book list from the guy who brought you "Inventing on Principal".


Don Quixote is the funniest book I've read in my entire life.


> Novels are the closest thing I know to a form of magic.

Simply; this.


> I have thousands of non-fiction (mostly self-improvement) books in my reading list

“An honest bookstore would post the following sign above its ‘self-help’ section: ‘For true self-help, please visit our philosophy, literature, history and science sections, find yourself a good book, read it, and think about it.’”

— Roger Ebert (https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/larger-than-life-1996)


The people in the self-help section need something else. Those things (philosophy, literature, history and science) are the luxury of folks who aren't struggling with e.g. depression, abuse, drugs & alcohol, co-dependency, etc.

It's a little like, "Have you tried not having a broken leg?"

Honestly, you're lucky if the only personal problems you have can be solved by philosophy, literature, history and science.

(I had crippling depression for many years and was cured in a single session of hypnotherapy by a guy who publishes "self-help" books, so, while YMMV, I'm a lil defensive. I'm sure he meant well.)


>The people in the self-help section need something else. Those things (philosophy, literature, history and science) are the luxury of folks who aren't struggling with e.g. depression, abuse, drugs & alcohol, co-dependency, etc.

Actually it's the inverse. A healthy dose of philosophy, literature, history and science are what people suffering from "depression, abuse, drugs & alcohol, co-dependency" can use to liberate themselves, understand their situation, and get above it.

The rest (99% of the self help shelves) is snake oil sold by marketeers to the gullible...


Hardly. High culture takes a level of attention that someone who is struggling in life hardly will be able to attain. Moreover, philosophy is concerned with truth, and truth can sometimes be brutal. It would be almost criminal to recommend reading Nietzsche for someone who lost their job, got cheated and divorced and has some serious disease.


Well obviously you wouldn't do Nietzche (though I think you probably could). Meditations is probably the book to read in those cases.


Look I'm not shitting on high culture.

And yes, there's a lot of snake oil out there. (Personally I hate the medallions that are supposed to protect against stray EM! And don't get me started on audiophiles.)

> The rest (99% of the self help shelves) is snake oil sold by marketeers to the gullible...

You haven't read "99% of the self help shelves" have you?


>You haven't read "99% of the self help shelves" have you?

No, but I've fully read over 30 over the years, and skimmed over 100s.

Technically speaking, you don't need to "read 99%" you just need to read a decent number, and assume a normal distribution of quality. In fact if you find out that the most celebrated/succesful are already crap, this makes it even easier.

And unlike literature, science, or deep non-fiction, actually skimming self-help books to distill the 5 solid paragraphs that they've turned into a 200+ page book is the best way of reading it. And for most books, even those 5 paragraphs are mostly platitudes.


Cheers! Well met.

Here's the thing: those cheesy books of fluffy platitudes help people.

Take Berg's "The Secret". Its exactly the kind of book you're talking about IMO: the "secret" is literally one sentence just sixteen words long. And yet thousands (millions?) of people got something from it.

Who are we to say that's so wrong?

Frankly, it's weird to me that the "self-help" genre seems to attract opprobrium.

- - - -

Did you get anything out of any of those books you read? Were any of them any good? I'm just curious.


> cured in a single session of hypnotherapy by a guy

If you were cured by attending a hypnotherapy session by the guy who wrote the book rather than by reading the book I don't see how it supports your assertion (or what I think is your assertion: that self help books at least sometimes are better than the philosophy, etc., books). I'm not saying you are necessarily wrong, just that it doesn't follow.


Ah, the missing piece is that this guy only publishes self-help books. If you omit them from your search for knowledge you might miss it entirely. (E.g. the wikipedia entry for this school of psychology is all about how it's a pseudoscience, etc.)


Jungian, by chance?

Much of psychology (at least in the non-behaviorist arena) and self-help deal with ideas that are really grounded in philosophy proper. Philosophy is the original psychology and the original self-help.

Philosophy is no luxury. It saves lives. It's a deep failure of culture that it isn't a core area of primary and secondary curriculum.


> Jungian, by chance?

Nah, Neurolinguistic Programming. The "guy" is Dr. Bandler.

> Much of psychology (at least in the non-behaviorist arena) and self-help deal with ideas that are really grounded in philosophy proper. Philosophy is the original psychology and the original self-help.

FWIW the origins of NLP are grounded in Chomsky's Transformational Grammar. That's not philosophy, of course, but it's something. (Computer language hierarchy stems from the same linguistic modeling.) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transformational_grammar https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chomsky_hierarchy

> Philosophy is no luxury. It saves lives. It's a deep failure of culture that it isn't a core area of primary and secondary curriculum.

Oh I agree wholeheartedly!

I meant it's a luxury only in the sense that "Even God hesitates to offer anything but bread to the starving man."

Even then I don't deny that many a book of philosophy has seen more than one person safely through their long dark tea-time of the soul.


There’s a lot of science-based books in the self help section on things like:

- Scientifically tested methods for behavior change (quitting smoking, alcohol/drug use, changing your diet, etc)

- Information and guidance for medically recognized conditions (major depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, etc)

- Books on interpersonal skills in various contexts (relationships, work, etc). And ones better and more factually-based than “Power Laws”, etc.

- Books meant as support or guides for working through various forms of past trauma or abuse, which have been written by trained professionals with clinical experience (ie psychologists with Phds).

Obviously the quality of the material varies and there is a lot of suspect work. Most is the good books also make clear that they do not replace working with a qualified professional. But everything requires judgement and context in life, not just the self-help section.

And I too am a fan of philosophy.


> The people in the self-help section need something else

The people in the self-help section don't know what they need or they wouldn't be looking for someone to tell them what they need.

> Those things (philosophy, literature, history and science) are the luxury of folks who aren't struggling with e.g. depression, abuse, drugs & alcohol, co-dependency, etc.

Excluding paid testimonials, one can find at least as many anecdotes of people with those problems saying they were resolved by their own consumption of works in those sections (particularly philosophy and literature) as self-help works, and a lot more who resolved their issues with direct support by someone relying mostly on science works.


> The people in the self-help section don't know what they need or they wouldn't be looking for someone to tell them what they need.

With respect, how do you know? Are you a priest or psychologist or psychic?

> one can find at least as many anecdotes of ... and a lot more who ...

I'm dubious but let's grant it for the sake of discussion.

So what? I mean that's terrific if reading Marcus Aurelius' "Meditations" straightens one out or whatever but that doesn't invalidate the benefits some other person gets from, say, "The Secret", does it?


> With respect, how do you know?

Basic logic: if you know what you need, you don't look for someone to tell you what you need.

> Are you a priest or psychologist or psychic?

Would the answer to that question have any relevance to anything no matter what it was?

> So what?

I agree that that's generally the appropriate response to (especially unverifiable) anecdotes offered as evidence but...that's kind of the point, given the anecdote I was responding to.


> Basic logic: if you know what you need, you don't look for someone to tell you what you need.

What if you know you need someone to tell you what you need?

> Would the answer to that question have any relevance to anything no matter what it was?

It might give some background as to why you make sweeping statements about an unbounded class like "people in the self-help sections". I mean, I did it, but it was a rhetorical flourish. If you challenged me on it I would give ground.

I think neither of us knows what ALL the people in ALL the self-help sections of ALL the world need, do we?

> I agree that that's generally the appropriate response to (especially unverifiable) anecdotes offered as evidence but...that's kind of the point, given the anecdote I was responding to.

What's the point? Are we trolling each other here or what?

I say these cheesy self-help books help some people. You say philosophy and literature have also helped some people. I agree with you.

Is there anything more to say? I've been beating this horse for three days now, I think it's dead, and anyway my arms are tired.


>Honestly, you're lucky if the only personal problems you have can be solved by philosophy, literature, history and science.

most problems in your life can't be solved by reading a book, period. Self-help or otherwise. The first lie of self-help books is that they're actually 'helping' you in any meaningful sense of the word.

Digging yourself out of bad situations takes time and there is very little magic involved, and sometimes it's not possible at all. What philosophy or literature or history or science can however provide for anyone, is to understand the world a little bit better, which even if it doesn't solve your personal problems still gives you some perspective and solace.

If you're reading philosophy or literature, or just pulpy fiction at least you're reading for reading itself instead of just buying into some racket of "i'll spend ten minutes of reading self-help books and then I'll have 20% more energy and make a thousand dollars!"

And not to doubt your personal story but actual clinical depression is typically not solved by one off hypnotherapy sessions with self-help gurus.


> most problems in your life can't be solved by reading a book, period.

How do you know? Not to be rude but why should I trust you more than some author of a "self-help" book?

I mean, a religious person might tell you that you can solve all your problems reading Scripture.

Heck, I openly maintain that most people could solve most of their problems by reading (and applying) the "Core Transformation Process" book.

Do you mind if I ask what your own personal experiences are that have led you to form your opinion?

> And not to doubt your personal story

Thank you! :-)

> but actual clinical depression is typically not solved by one off hypnotherapy sessions with self-help gurus.

Oh I know! (This wasn't the first thing I tried. I was miserable and desperate enough to shell out ~$4000 to attend a week-long seminar in hope of meeting this guy and getting help. At one point I volunteered for a demonstration on stage, ten minutes later (subjectively it was ten seconds) I was cured. I've written about it on HN a little, if you're interested you can search my comments. A few years later there was a relapse. It lasted three days and then I went back to normal. Those three days are the single most frightening thing that has ever happened to me. Only time in my life I've ever contemplated suicide. Thank God, after the third day I woke up normal again.)

My basic point is that, whatever this guy is doing, that's what we should be paying attention to. Now, you might say it's unfortunate that the ways he's chosen to bring the information to people is unscientific, and people do say that and worse, but it would be foolish IMO to throw that baby out with the bathwater of self-help.


>How do you know? Not to be rude but why should I trust you more than some author of a "self-help" book?

For one, because he doesn't try to sell you anything.

Second, you don't get to "know" because you are hand-fed some hard proofs or figures.

You either know it already (and agree) or can see the point the parent is making, correlate it with your experiences and observations, and recognise it's true -- or, of course, you don't (and e.g. you have a different experience).


> For one, because he doesn't try to sell you anything.

Publishers of philosophy, literature, history and science books are also trying to make a buck, eh?

> Second, you don't get to "know" because you are hand-fed some hard proofs or figures.

I don't understand this sentence.

> You either know it already (and agree) or can see the point the parent is making, correlate it with your experiences and observations, and recognise it's true -- or, of course, you don't (and e.g. you have a different experience).

Right, and it seems to me that the way forward is to share our experiences in good faith to try to find the mutually true union of our worldviews, eh?

If I understood GP's experiences better I might be better able to understand where a statement that looks to me to be so bizarre ("most problems in your life can't be solved by reading a book, period. Self-help or otherwise.") might make sense. I mean, think about it: books are where we store our knowledge, eh? Is GP including textbooks?

FFS, If you can't solve your problems by reading books we should just burn the libraries?


>Publishers of philosophy, literature, history and science books are also trying to make a buck, eh?

The parent however, we can presume, is neither of those things. And even if they were, they don't suggest you buy any particular work they sell in their comment, so the point still stands.

>I don't understand this sentence.

You asked the parent "How do you know?". This to be implies "where is your hard proof" - so I read it that way.

So, my point is, in this, and other cases, one does not "know" because they have some hard irrefutable hard proofs or statistics.

What would those be? Some official study cited as saying "94.2% of self-help books are inaccurate and bogus"? There can't be such a thing.

So, there's no point in asking how the parent knows, if by that you mean what's their objective, measurable basis of knowing that.

It's one of the many cases where people can only think and decide for themselves whether what the other says is valid, matches their own observations, makes sense, has some hidden intention/profit motive behind it or not, and so on.

>Right, and it seems to me that the way forward is to share our experiences in good faith to try to find the mutually true union of our worldviews, eh?

Yes.

>FFS, If you can't solve your problems by reading books we should just burn the libraries?

I don't think anybody said that we can't solve problems by reading books. E.g. we can certainly solve math problems, or a medical student learn how to fix diseases through books.

What's said is that self-helf books (and we could qualify it by saying most self-helf books), are mostly profit-driven, platitudes, silver-bullet formulas, that don't work, and don't solve problems for the majority of people who cling to them (which tend to accumulate such books, and run from guru to guru, and method to method over the years).

Of course there's also solid advice in some of those books. Usually of the kind that everybody knows already -- but have trouble following. Much akin the Christian "be kind" etc.


> The parent however, we can presume, is neither of those things. And even if they were, they don't suggest you buy any particular work they sell in their comment, so the point still stands.

Yeah, you're right. I went for a rhetorical rather than reasonable point there and flopped. Sorry.

> So, there's no point in asking how the parent knows, if by that you mean what's their objective, measurable basis of knowing that.

That's really all I was trying to challenge, that GP was stating their opinion as objective fact.

> I don't think anybody said that we can't solve problems by reading books.

Not to be petty but that is what GP said.

> most problems in your life can't be solved by reading a book, period. Self-help or otherwise.

Eh?

> What's said is that some self-help books are merely profit-driven, platitudes, silver-bullet formulas, that don't work, and don't solve problems for the majority of people who cling to them (which tend to accumulate such books, and run from guru to guru, and method to method over the years).

With qualifications I can agree with that. I know a few people like that, and there are definitely charlatans in the self-help field.

> Of course there's also solid advice in some of those books. Usually of the kind that everybody knows already -- but have trouble following. Much akin the Christian "be kind" etc.

Other people do get a lot of help from those kinds of books. YMMV, eh?

Cheers, well met.


Your last sentence is distasteful on so many levels. If you think a person is lying or can't be trusted to use the term "crippling depression" accurately, just say so.

To paraphrase a sibling comment, you sound like a self-help guru yourself, albeit a spiteful one. You deride others' solutions and offer up your own: hard magic-less work. Hard work is as much of a racket as easy magic.


If you read my post carefully again you'll notice that I stress that sometimes there is no solution at all. I'm not a guru of any kind, because my entire point was that some sort of messianic figure helping you with your problems does not exist and that people should not put their trust into some sort of spiritual self-help authority figure, including me.

And I'm not saying that hard work is a silver bullet because it's not a guarantee for anything, but dedicating yourself to something is good in and of itself, and doesn't rely on seminars, books, arcane knowledge or anything else. It's the opposite of a racket because there is no racketeer.

And my last sentence was not distasteful at all. Depression is generally not solved by one-off sessions with life-coaches. It might for some peculiar reason be the experience of one individual, but that is not how depression works, you're free to consult the literature or talk to a bunch of people who suffer from it.


> some sort of messianic figure helping you with your problems does not exist

FWIW, that's not what I was talking about, the guy I went to see is a hypnotherapist not a messiah.

> And my last sentence was not distasteful at all.

FWIW I wasn't offended. (I've had friends insult me to my face when bringing up personal history that is outside their worldview.)

> Depression is generally not solved by one-off sessions with life-coaches.

Right, and that is not what happened to me. The person who helped me is arguably the greatest living hypnotherapist on the planet.

Anyway, IMO you're right about the value and importance of hard work but wrong about books not being helpful.

Cheers!


>Hard work is as much of a racket as easy magic.

Really? Perhaps you need to think long and hard about what you wrote above.

We got to the moon and in 2020 style civilization, from the technology involved to the social issues and personal problems we overcame, with hard work, not with "easy magic".


[flagged]


Check out my answers to the other sibling comments.

Would you settle for quit smoking by a self-help book? ;-D

Here's something that blew me away...

My sister just quit smoking. From ten cigarettes a day to zero. We (her family and friends) are all so overjoyed. How did she do it?

https://www.allencarr.com/

She read that book. That's all. When she was done, she was no longer smoking. Within a few days her sense of smell came back and now cigs smell disgusting to her.

Go ahead and be skeptical. If it hadn't happened to my own sister I would be too.

And then get the book for the smokers you love in your life, eh? I mean, you can return it if it doesn't work for them, but if it does... My sister just got back years of her life!

I don't mean to be pushy or saleman-ish, and I'm not affiliated with Carr in the slightest. I only remembered that a book cured my sister of smoking addiction in the time it took to read it after reading your comment goto11, cheers!


I had a friend who also read that book. I don't know if he picked up smoking again but I remember him telling that the book basically hammers it into you that smoking is bad for 150 pages and that you just have to give up smoking because it's so annoying to read about how bad it is.


The core idea of the book is that you're not giving up smoking. You're just deciding not to smoke this cigarette. You can still smoke if you want to. You just don't want to because $HUGE_LIST_OF_BAD_STUFF.

I don't know if that's an evidence based approach, but some people find it useful.

My dad, who was smoking at least 40 a day (and really smoking -- down to the filter, deep inhalations, carried on when he knew it was doing him harm) read it and cut down for a week or so, but then started smoking cigars (in the same way as he smoked cigs), and then switched back to cigarettes.

I think the current evidence strongly recommended a combination of psychological work and nicotine replacement. https://cks.nice.org.uk/smoking-cessation


Isn't that most self-help books? State your core idea in the first 5 pages, then fill the next 150+ pages with restatements of the same idea in slightly different ways.


No, pick one up and notice how it comes with exercises and how there are always more than a single core idea and it's more like 4-7 concepts layered out in chapters. It's more structured than just restating.


That's more-or-less what my sister said.

Whatever works.

I mentioned this thread to her and she wanted me to add that there was no withdrawal and her behavior didn't change. When she has tried to quit previously it had significant effects on her mood. This time we (her friends and family) didn't notice she had quit until she told us! It was the best Christmas present.


It is not uncommon for people to just make a decision to stop smoking. It is indeed possible to not light a cigarette if the motivation is there. That is completely different than "trying not to have a broken leg".


> It is not uncommon for people to just make a decision to stop smoking.

I don't think that true, but even if it is, so what? That's not what happened to my sister.

The “Have you tried not having a broken leg?” line is from e.g. https://sunflowerssunshine.wordpress.com/2017/02/07/breaking... I don't know if that's the original source.


I once read a hypothesis, that all self help books work. The reason is that they make you monitor your own behavior for a while.


There's probably a self-help book about that.


Can you (or someone else) recommend me some great books about philosophy, history and science? I feel like I haven't read many books from these sections and I'd like to start doing that.

Thank you!


To get you started, I’ll recommend you one book that checks all three boxes at once: Louis Menand’s magisterial The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28202).

Enjoy :-D


Yes!

Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Astrophysics For People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

bonus round:

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Shoedog by Phil Knight

The Death of Truth by Michiko Kakutani


I actually would encourage you to start with the Socratic Dialogues. Greek philosophy is at the root of western philosophy and so much thought in general.

They are extremely short and accessible and use plain language. The Dialogues, like any philosophy, have their flaws, but I think they do a great job of teaching a certain way or analyzing an idea.

They were actually written by Plato (Socrates left no written material behind) but are the closest we have to Socrates and Socratic thought.

I personally found a course on the fundamentals of western philosophy super fascinating. Aside from the dialogues the primary sources can be tough going so a class or a reputable-looking reader on each thinker (good used bookstores will have these, or just google and get whatever is most recent and recommended) is recommended. In rough chronological order:

- Socrates - Plato - Descartes (I don’t know much about medieval though and have skipped over it) - Spinoza - Rousseau - Kant (can be dense/boring) - Hegel

The fascinating thing is to read each thinker, absorb their conception of things, and learn what they got _wrong_. And then to read the next thinker and learn what _they_ got wrong!


These are all pseudo, pop-science books. I would recommend reading the works of actual scientists and philosophers directly, or textbooks.


This is not a contribution. Telling someone asking for enjoyable books to read to skip bestselling books by Nobel laureates to instead read textbooks, whitepapers and other raw sources makes you sound like a pretentious asshole.


Are there any particular ones you could recommend?



I feel the same way about education degrees.


Books shouldn't be about absorbing "information." Think of them as intellectual obstacle courses. A good book should challenge you, either with radically new ideas or radically new viewpoints. I basically can't do serious thinking (i.e. not administrative or programming thinking but broader thinking about ideas) without reading.

On the other hand, you're not going to get this experience from "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" or whatever, and if you haven't built these muscles you probably shouldn't be starting with Gulliver's Travels or Walter Ong or some other really challenging thing.

First of all, throw out your self help books and just read Thinking Fast and Slow, which 80% of self-help books have ripped off for the past 20 years. It's more boringer (I have a PhD so I can say things like that), but it at least isn't just a bunch of cute anecdotes for an executive to amuse themselves with while there's no wifi on a plane.

Second, start building those muscles with the few people who are both challenging and accessible. George Orwell is great for this, read Homage to Catalonia and get a collection of his essays. Read a few Beckett plays, try Endgame and scratch your head at that shit. Read some Neil Postman and be like, yeah, he was right about technology.

The idea with books isn't to make yourself know more stuff, though that does happen to some extent. The idea is to improve your character and model the world better. You're increasing WIS, not INT. If you're feeling impatience when you pick up a book, if you get that feeling after three pages that you need to put it down and move on to reading 40 news sites, that's your weak-ass WIS. It basically means your brain is flabby. You're like the person at the gym who hasn't been in 4 years. Just push through, give it a week or two and you won't have that feeling.

P.S. People, stop calling things "content." "Content" is what you put the ads around. Goddamn civilizational collapse.


Thinking Fast and Slow came out in 2011. Also there is recent work showing that some of its conclusions may be flawed due to failure to replicate.

Self help books are not all bad. The early ones around cognitive behavioral therapy have been proven to help in scientific studies. I would look to ones that have scientific basis. That being said the placebo effect is very powerful.


He decided to write a self-help book because every other self-help book draws on his research. And, surprise, it became a best-seller. But yes, sorry, if he'd actually written a bestseller earlier probably fewer Malcom Gladwell knock-offs would have used the research for their bestsellers. The 20 years comment is based on the Nobel prize winning research, not the book itself.

Also, I don't really mean to knock self-help. There are a few actual winners there, especially if you're willing to engage with a book as a process. How to Win Friends and Influence People is kind of dumb and obvious, but it's simultaneously true that a huge number of people would benefit from reading it and actually practicing the advice. For the original poster's question, however, these books tend not to be far higher value than blog posts, etc., and in general I wouldn't hold them up as exemplars of how books are valuable.


Any recommendation for the early CBT books you mentioned?



Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns.


Seconded.

There is also “The dialectical behavior therapy skills workbook”.

“Changing for Good” I highly recommend in general. It’s a very straightforward description of a model for behavior change and based on research as to how people quit smoking, both on their own and with the help of some sort of program.

https://hams.cc/ch5/


> Thinking Fast and Slow

I thought a fair amount of this book was debunked in one way or another?


Thought about mentioning this in the above rant. Yes, a lot of that book is debunked. No, that doesn't stop all self-help books from being based on it. It's also still worth reading, just don't take each individual claim as gospel and if you're going to excitedly incorporate any given claim into your model of how things work, have some other evidence for it or read some papers. (Though the papers you read will also be debunked before you can say "priming effect.")


I'm aware of the priming studies being debunked, but what else?


As far as I know, that's it.


What was debunked? As a primarily "system 1" thinker the book reasonated with me in a profound way. It explained why if I know or Intuit a solution, say in an interview it comes out of me boundlessly like lightning, where if I have to work through a solution I struggle. I have to work back wards from my intuitive answer to explain it.


Mostly the priming effects, i.e. read about old people and act slower, be in a room with money symbols and be more selfish.


I believe that the difference between sitting down and reading a book for an hour vs. browsing the internet is _exactly_ what makes books so valuable.

You're right, books are a lot of effort. However, they teach something that internet articles & videos don't, and that is delayed gratification.

In the digital age, everything is fighting for your attention and it is getting harder and harder to actually focus on anything. Clickbait titles is perhaps the most obvious manifestation, but you can see it in videos as well - many popular videos are edited in a specific way (no pauses between sentences, cut after cut after cut) that grabs your attention as often as possible.

Books let you practice tuning all that noise out and focusing on a single task for a long time, while still providing entertainment. For a knowledge worker, to be able to focus at this level is a very valuable ability!

Deep Work by Cal Newport is a non-fiction book that goes into more detail about some of these ideas concerning focus in the contemporary era.

Another great non-fiction book that really couldn't be presented in another medium is "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion" by Jonathan Haidt. The Righteous Mind is not an easy read because the ideas presented are complex and wide-reaching. It takes a lot of time to go through and digest, but it is definitely worth it. The Righteous Mind has had perhaps the most impact upon my understanding of humanity and politics out of anything I've ever read.

If you want to see what it's like to read for fun, check out the Broken Earth trilogy by N. K. Jemisin - this is probably the best pacing I have ever experienced in a fantasy series.

And if you think science fiction would be more your thing, try to to take a stab at reading Dune by Frank Herbert. This is a sci-fi classic that essentially codified the genre, and some of the ideas in the series are what made Star Wars the phenomenon it is today. I think you can't get better proof that books can stand the test of time than this!


> If you want to see what it's like to read for fun, check out the Broken Earth trilogy by N. K. Jemisin - this is probably the best pacing I have ever experienced in a fantasy series.

Another vote for Broken Earth trilogy here. Finished it last year (on Audible) and loved it.

She takes time to build a big world and yet connect you with the protagonist's very personal experience


Just want to second how great “A Righteous Mind” is. Among other things it helped make sense of the division we see in the US (and beyond actually). Really great book.

Another book related to this that blew my mind already in the introduction is “American Nations”. (Actually haven’t finished the book - the main thesis is explained in detail in the introduction, all latter chapters just go into more depth to a point I’m not as interested in.)


I am reading through The Righteous Mind myself at the moment and it is a GREAT book! The ideas are very well presented.


Can we be friends?


Sure :)

As a side-note, I think that mastering a musical instrument is a good thing to do for some of the same reasons: it teaches discipline and focus. I've found that playing the guitar is a good foil to programming because it engages a completely different part of my brain that hasn't been engaged during the working day, and it also lets the analytical part of me relax.


I say that because I'm a big fan of all your recommendations, and also think you recommended them in a way that doesn't come off as patronising or condescending. Idk what your preferred method of communication is, but if you can do Twitter, please drop me a message on Twitter @samiur1204.


Done!


We're witnessing history folks!


> I read very slowly and I don't remember everything I read either.

Unless you have dyslexia, this is a skill issue. You're just not very good at reading yet. The non-fiction that you're going to get through with this skill level probably isn't going to be that valuable.

> Is it more true for older books?

Not exactly. It's rather that we've had time to figure out which older books are worth keeping around. If people keep reading a work for two thousand years, there's probably something to it.

> Isn't most of the information from books freely available online?

Oh goodness, no, unless you've gotten past books into primary sources, in which case, yes, it's mostly online, but you need to have specialist knowledge to engage with it at all.

The good news is that, if you learn to read well, finding the right books, usually those meant for training specialists, can get you up to speed at a remarkable rate. I usually explain it as someone who is a crappy player in a professional league is going to be amazing in an amateur context.


I despise reading analog books. Just sitting down calmly and committing time to read pages and pages is not my thing. And I don't like fiction.

I had a similar mindset to you, had bookmarked tens of self improvement books for the areas in life I struggled with, also books for entrepreneurship etc. But I assumed most of what they contain would surface in online conversations etc.

I hate wasting time, so last year I gave audio books a try. I don't like doing chores or commutes not because I don't physically like doing them but because the time it takes to do them - it feels like waste. So I thought "why not listen to audio books while doing them to take the edge off?"

So I started listening to the books I wanted to read while doing the dishes etc. I think last year I've listened to more books than I have ever read in my entire life prior.

I can confidently say that books, if you choose them correctly, are worth it. The curation of content and the layers of depth built into the content (afforded to the author because of the long format of books) gives you a very different experience.

Yes, you can find bits and pieces of wisdom from them online, you'll bump into some of the stuff that is in there. But this idea clashes with your (and my) "efficiency" argument. It would take you years to bump into all the wisdom found in some important books randomly while browsing online. By just listening to them while you are otherwise wasting your time with mundane daily tasks you can be orders of magnitude more efficient with acquiring that info.


> I hate wasting time, so last year I gave audio books a try

Interesting. I have exactly the opposite reaction to audio books. I hate wasting time, and audio books don't let you skim sections that aren't of much interest (essential if you want to read a lot of non-fiction IMO), and generally take massively longer. I can read a good deal quicker than people talk. I dunno, maybe 5x speed or something?

Treating reading the printed word as a waste of time is madness.


The big time advantage audiobooks have over the printed word is that can listen while doing something visual but relatively mindless (e.g., driving, cleaning, yard work, etc.).


Honestly the more I read I find this attitude to be exactly the opposite of how I feel. When I'm trying to read a book, I need to be immersed in it. I don't want it to be a mindless distraction, because I am putting 100% of my focus into driving, or cleaning, or yard work. Driving perhaps is the one that gets me the most, I can't appreciate fiction at all while driving because I have to keep my imagination in check so I don't kill someone veering off into space. And non-fiction, well, I have never been able to digest hard topics if I'm distracted by wistful activities.


I had to stop trying to listen to a couple books last year because they were too immersive to be safe driving accompaniments. I specifically seek out mediocre books to make driving bearable (my commute would drive me insane otherwise)


Sorry I think you got me wrong. Wasting time was referring to the mindless chores /errands I need to do every day. Reading physical words from a book is something I can't physically tolerate (but it is not a waste of time). So the best of both worlds is audio books for me - In the portion of time that I believe I'm wasting (chores, commute etc.) I get to read books that I won't otherwise sit down and read. I agree that it might not be as efficient as how a habitual reader reads physical books - but that is not happening to me anyways (I don't sit down and read) - the efficiency gains for me come from the fact that I still get to "read" the books while I'm doing mindless tasks. It actually got me more motivated to run errands (since I don't see them as a time sink now) so I don't procrastinate as much.


I recently did a book club at work, reading the book Being Wrong. At one point the book shared some research that supported the notion that children largely engage in play as a method of flirting with error and mistake making. Mistakes made in play are easily forgiven and quickly learned from. Adults play progressively less because there are fewer safe areas in which we can regularly err.

Whether that line of logic is accurate or not, it did help me to realize that in my own life I have very few opportunities to test my (mis)understandings of the world around me and find where I'm wrong. I desperately hide in my safe zones.

I've recently found reading books a good way to create fresh safe zones where I can view the world from different perspectives and test my beliefs. People of all different sorts in all different cultures from nearly all time periods have written books, and often written them well enough to transport the reader into their reality. It may not be "play", but I'm greatly enjoying the diverse worlds I have recently been reading myself into.

I don't find many internet writings to have this level of depth that allows me to rethink myself as I read.


Like OP, I also read very few books in my life. I started trying recently, but more for therapeutic and experimental purposes.

Surprisingly, there idea you describe (haven't read Being Wrong, so only using your comment as a description) is something that occurred to me as a result of reading stuff online. And if that would be a totally novel idea for me, your comment would catch my attention and I would start searching for content published online to either confirm it or not (most likely academic papers)

So to me comments section is like bunch of clues, off which I would research further if it catches my attention.


Short answer: yes, you're missing. Books (usually) have more curated content, have more research and are better at keeping you focused.

Here are some good pointers on how to start/improve your reading, using a medium you're already into (podcast):

https://www.npr.org/2019/11/21/781673493/how-to-read-more-bo...

https://www.npr.org/2019/11/26/782946619/not-a-regular-reade...

Also, it's totally fine to not like a book: just start reading it, or skip chapters, etc. Number of books read also means nothing, just read what you want to read.

Finally, fiction/novels are also a great source of wisdom/inspiration. Don't disregard them. Some of my favorites: the Foundation Series, LOTR (of course :P), old books by Stephen King, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky.


I have noticed in the past 10 years online content has become very click-baited and regurgitated. Sites are designed to steal your attention with information coming as a secondary concern.

Books, for the most part, avoid these issues. On average they are of higher-quality, contain more research, and are better for developing your focus. So read books!

With that said, I also think people use the amount of books they read to value-signal their intelligence. Don't worry about that shit, worry about finding high-quality content that's worth reading.


I agree on all points. I want to expand on two.

> On average [books] are of higher-quality, contain more research, and are better for developing your focus. So read books!

Along the same lines, the time and mental investment required to read a book, for me, produces a unique kind of immersive return. For example, I’m currently reading John Dos Passos’ USA trilogy. It is 1000+ pages of fiction about 1900-1930 America, and it takes time. But that time has given me a rich picture of what the period was like, written by a guy who lived it. Both because I’m spending time and actively thinking while reading. It’s hard for me to get the same thing from shorter-form or visual media.

> With that said, I also think people use the amount of books they read to value-signal their intelligence. Don't worry about that shit, worry about finding high-quality content that's worth reading.

Particular around new year/year in review time, I see many people online talking about reading x books per year. But reading books is not like running miles. It’s definitely about quality over quantity.

To take the example a little further, most people probably wouldn’t brag about seeing 1000 paintings this year.

If you love to read many books then more power to you. There are certainly several people I respect that read hundreds of books annually. But for me, I think a couple of quality books per month is already a ton of good input, and I hope people don’t get caught up in “# books read” as another metric to simply pump up.


On this point,

> But for me, I think a couple of quality books per month is already a ton of good input, and I hope people don’t get caught up in “# books read” as another metric to simply pump up.

Schopenhauer puts it well:

"As the biggest library if it is in disorder is not as useful as a small but well-arranged one, so you may accumulate a vast amount of knowledge but it will be of far less value than a much smaller amount if you have not thought it over for yourself."


> people use the amount of books they read to value-signal their intelligence

Good shout, reading isn't a competition! For me at least, it is firstly a hobby, and secondly an opportunity to build upon the ideas of those who came before you.

Because books tend to explore a topic to a high degree of depth, they cover a lot of ideas including things you might have thought about yourself. I've always found new perspectives on ideas I had before to be very refreshing.


I’ve also noticed that even books are much more click-baity and regurgitated now, seeing the high influx of self-help books, dodgy entrepreneurship books, and “here’s your watered down philosophy/humanities books so you have things to talk about in dinners with other people”. In overall it’s becoming harder and harder to find good books in bookstores.

My take on this is: although books have inherent advantages compared to other mediums, most of them (that you can easily find) are pretty bad, just like the Internet. You’ve got to do your own adventure finding the rare and good stuff that people usually don’t talk about.


I think books, in general, are too long. The points the author tries to make takes too many words. I think most books probably can communicate their core message in about half the number of pages. Too much fluff.


Whether or not we agree on what constitutes "fluff," I don't really disagree. A lot of fiction would be better if it were tighter and a lot of non-fiction, especially business etc. books, do have padding.

A lot of it is publishing economics. For non-fiction, most mainstream publishers are looking for 250+ pages. And that often means adding more examples, more background, more...

There can definitely be a sweet spot between a magazine article and a typical published book. But that's hard to get published through mainstream channels which still have both real (and perceived) value relative to doing it independently.

When I did a book about a year ago, I was certainly aware of hitting page counts. I don't think of it as having a lot of fluff but it's not as short as it could have been either.


>I have thousands of non-fiction (mostly self-improvement)

>and I don't remember everything I read either.

You know that if you're trying to learn then just consuming information, by itself, is a terrible waste of time right? Doesn't matter if its book, article, or video.

Understanding, active recall, and spaced repetition do the heavy lifting when it comes to learning. Consuming the information is just step one. If that's all you do then yeah, it's going to fall out of your brain pretty much straight away. That happens for everyone.

And that's just for knowing facts. Actually putting it in to practice is a whole other thing. Are your self help books all about how to spend most of your day reading online articles/conversations, watching videos, and listening to podcasts better? Or is there something else you want to be doing with most of your day instead? If the latter, actually trying to do it would be a far better use of time.


A good book can immerse you in someone else's way of thinking, in their world. I think the time it takes to read is an essential part of that process, in the same way that watching a two-hour movie can move you more than the 20 second preview that gives it all away.

For example, I ran across this gem recently:

"In the same way as people who've been to a concert carry about with them the melody and haunting quality of pieces they've just heard, interfering with their thinking and preventing them from concentrating on anything serious, so the talk of snobs and parasites sticks in our ears long after we've heard it. And it's far from easy to eradicate these haunting notes from the memory; they stay with us, lasting on and on, coming back to us every so often."

I would never connect those two ideas. It's beautiful. The writer is Seneca, a Roman who was born around the time of Christ. He was idealistic yet street-smart, lofty though sometimes petty, and very opinionated. I enjoyed walking a mile in his sandals.


I'm a bibliophile, so, yes, of course I'm going to say they are "worth it".

Nevertheless, I'll admit, yes, most books are worthless.

However, the books that are important are so totally important that it's almost impossible to overstate how important they are.

Yet, there's no way to tell in advance which books those will turn out to be, for an individual, for a society, and for societies that come after. (A few books are thousands of years old and still relevant and important to this very day!)

Go! Search for treasure! (Cue theme of "Reading Rainbow"....)


Love this. I used to go to this giant book fair in West Bloomfield, Michigan (USA). I marveled at how many books there were that, at first glance, were horribly written. Yet, I could always find a handful of truly great books. A book can be like a magic mushroom. One dose and your outlook changes for ever.


If I could suggest one thing, I would consider nuking your 1000-long list of 'must reads', and then find one book you really like the sound of. Find some good fiction that fits into a genre you enjoy; maybe even try graphic novels if superhero-style stuff is your thing.

Then, make it a habit to read out of enjoyment and not as an info gathering exercise, or reading for the sake of reading. Take the book to bed with you and read a few pages or a chapter before you doze off; read a few pages when you've got downtime instead of browsing the internet. At the end of the day, you're just choosing to enjoy reading from a different source.

But still, nuke the epic list from orbit. You'll likely never get around to all of them due to the overwhelming size of the backlog. Your personal must-reads will return to you again, if they're important enough to you. Meanwhile, you've just reduced the scope to enjoying just a few books rather than all of them.

If you still struggle, try audiobooks or readings of public domain works.

Two personal examples:

- I don't give two hoots about Lord of The Rings. I read some of the books but it just wasn't "me", so I stopped because it wasn't really speaking to me. I saw one of the films and similarly didn't care.

- I don't care about Star Wars and haven't watched any of it. Same reason; wasn't my thing.

Popular culture would ostracise me for not enjoying these two works, but popular culture doesn't dictate what I should and shouldn't spend my time enjoying. So, do yourself the same favour and try and find what you enjoy, and take it from there.


For me, I maxed out all the Sci-Fi movies and TV shows out there and wanted more and discovered early on that Sci-Fi books are 1000 times better than whats out there in movie land. My problem is I have a hard time keeping track of where I am in all the book series I've been reading as new books sometimes take a year or more to come out depending on the authors.

Here's a couple resources I recommend...

https://www.reddit.com/r/printSF - Sci-fi book subreddit

https://www.goodreads.com/list/tag/sci-fi - Sci-fi books on Goodreads

https://www.scifibooklove.com - My (small) sci-fi book review site


Your book review site looks nice. Thanks for sharing.

However, the order of books in Alastair's Revelation Space series doesn't match up with I found on Goodreads

https://www.scifibooklove.com/book_series/revelation_space/ vs https://www.goodreads.com/series/56392-revelation-space

I recently started the series and went with Redemption Ark as book 2 (according to Goodreads) Hope I'm not missing too much going with the Goodreads ordering :/


Weird, the Wikipedia book order and the Goodreads order don't match...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revelation_Space_universe

https://www.goodreads.com/series/56392-revelation-space

When in doubt I'm heading over to the author's website...

http://www.alastairreynolds.com/novels/

His take on this is: " The reading order isn’t that critical, in my view, but it probably improves things to read REVELATION SPACE, REDEMPTION ARK and ABSOLUTION GAP in that sequence. THE PREFECT (AURORA RISING) and ELYSIUM FIRE may be read alone or jointly, but should best be read in the above order. CHASM CITY, as well as the collections DIAMOND DOGS, TURQUOISE DAYS and GALACTIC NORTH, can be read at any point."


Yup, if you like scifi/fantasy movies consider that there are at most 2 or 3 that raise to the level of a mediocre sci fi book, and even those are book adaptations.


So I'm presuming you're limiting this discussion to technical books, and not fiction, etc.

As if you're not limiting it to non-fiction, then yes you're missing out.

If you're limiting it to non-fiction, then yes. You're still missing out. Some concepts take more than a blog entry to understand fully. You might get some aspect of a concept but not all the facets.


Reading books is more than just looking at words on paper instead of a screen. At least in fiction, the process of understanding the world an author has created makes the story completely personal to you in a way that a movie never can be, because the imagined version of the settings and events is completely your own.

In this way, when a really well done book impacts you with some profound lesson about life or the human condition, it hits a million times harder because you've been living in that book's world and are emotionally invested.

The power of a good book is more than just ordinary transmission of information, it's delivering profound thoughts, emotions, and ideas packaged inside the context required to understand them.


My speed in reading as well as my endurance (amount of time I was able to read in one sitting) greatly increased when I switched to an e-reader. I found that the stress of reading small type was impacting my ability to read quickly as well as affecting how long I could read before my brain started to shutdown due to mental exhaustion.

Switching to an e-reader allowed me to increase the text to a comfortable size without increasing the size of the thing (book) I was reading. Sure, you can buy books in large print, but they are usually available for a premium, you can't always but what you want in large print, and either the books are huge or they're abridged.


As an author I am encouraged by all the great responses here. In addition to writing a book a year I read about 50. My question for OP: How do you learn anything if you are not reading books? Sure, you can learn a lot about a subject online. When I write a book I spend about 6 months reading everything I can find (including books). Then I organize what I have learned and present it (I hope) in an easy to absorb manner. A reader can learn everything I know about a subject in 4-6 hours. Want to learn about the Cold War? Read Gaddis' seminal book on it. Want to learn about WWII? Read Winston Churchill's five book series that won the Nobel prize for literature? Civil War? Shelby Foote. If history is not your thing what about biography? There are biographies of practically every founder of great tech companies. (Jobs, Gates, Musk). How about ideas? Malcolm Gladwell (Tippingpoint), Michael Lewis (Mondeyball). Or maybe break into reading with fiction. Give yourself a present of the complete Lord of the Rings. If you liked the movies be prepared to love the books. If you hated the movies, no problem, the books are far better. OR science fiction. Read all of Heinlein's books for young adults. Start with Double Star then read Have Space Suit Will Travel. A Door Into Summer speaks to any engineer. Tunnel In the Sky is the classic survival story. When you are hooked on Heinlein read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress; it only takes a chapter to get used to his interesting take on what English of the future will sound like.

I hope you are encouraged by all the great reasons listed in the rest of the comments. I for one live to read!


The way I see it, non-fiction books are all about distillation of information. Yes most of the information from books is freely available online in some other form, but you'll have to dig for it in many places, and learn from many narrators.

The benefit of the book-length information product is that a single author went through all the possible sources and used their expertise to give a coherent story on a subject. You can think of the book as someone who read 100 blog posts for you and extracted the useful info from them.

If you have meta-learning skills like being to "orient" yourself in a new space, and you're able to judge the quality of information sources then you should be OK, and you don't need someone else to do the distillation for you.

Also the benefit of having the information all in one place reducing the need for "foraging" on the internet to find info might be worth the time saving.


> I assume that the best part of the best books will surface in daily conversations, YouTube videos, CliffsNotes, podcasts, Reddit posts/comments, blog articles, etc

I don't think this is true. In theory, you may be able to find all the information contained in the books, but it's drowning in garbage. The benefit of books is that the information has been distilled for you. Good books distill information better than bad books.

> One issue for me is that books are a very big time investment. I read very slowly and I don't remember everything I read either.

I hardly read books any more, though I do enjoy a day of reading in the sun when it's warm. I listen to audiobooks while I'm traveling, working out, or doing housework.

> I have thousands of non-fiction (mostly self-improvement) books in my reading list on GoodReads, but almost never bother to read any.

Different folks will tell you different things, but for me, the following self-help content covered most of what I've read to date:

* Any Alan Watts lecture series - I listened to "Out of your mind" (listen to the whole thing) * The Book of Joy (Dalai Lama and Desmond TuTu) * Never split the Difference (Chris Voss) * The hard thing about hard things (Ben Horowitz)

And then read (or listen to) whatever strikes your fancy.

The concentrated focus of books makes them stick better, in my opinion, than blog posts, online commentary, etc.


You're missing out. I think it has to do with depth. A real world parallel: I recently travelled by car with no internet access with a friend for 3 days. The level and depth of the conversation was surprisingly high because we could build on each precedent layer. No interruptions meant a higher architecture, so to speak. Books can take you in places nothing else can.


Exactly. For good or bad, reading a book is essentially an act of conversation-at-a-distance with the author. Reading is very much an active activity, as opposed to, say, watching television. The TV shows you all there is to the story in pictures; almost no imagination required. A book, meanwhile, requires you and the author to work together to build up whatever structures they're trying to create in your brain. It's really fascinating from a meta/philosophical sense.

So a great book is like a great conversationalist; it can build a vibrant world of rich complexity, whether fiction or non-fiction. I would list Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid as one of these. Read that book and then imagine the author trying to present its complexities in a series of blog posts.

But a bad book is as bad as a bad conversationalist. Reading a bad fiction book will make you feel like you're watching campy soaps, or trying to listen to an incoherent storyteller; reading a bad non-fiction book will either make you wish you had just read an article on the topic, or worse, will make you feel manipulated or lied to.


I come from the academic world where the right references were (and still are) a big thing. I spent long hours on libraries when gathering information (from when I was a kid to when preparing my PhD in physics).

Today my children, when preparing some presentations for school, rely exclusively on Internet, starting with Wikipedia.

I told them that one needs to cross check sources and whatnot. To this we went together to our library to do this the right way.

What a nightmare. We lost so much time going through books and books to find the averzge size of a horse, or how Versailles was built.

All this was readily available on internet, from zillion sources. From Encyclopedia Britannica and from the blog of John Doe who thought that horses weighted 2000 ks.

So yes, for non-fiction books are not worth it. Once someone learns to be skeptical (which, by the way, the old "books are sanctuaries" approach will not teach) then Internet is the way to go.


> So yes, for non-fiction books are not worth it. Once someone learns to be skeptical (which, by the way, the old "books are sanctuaries" approach will not teach) then Internet is the way to go.

I agree. I have been reading/listening to 60+ books a year (~60% books, 40% audiobooks on Audible) for the past 3 years, and I rarely find a tech book more valuable that a collection of blog posts of authors that I already know and trust. I actually find that a good blog post with many insightful comments has much more depth of a book. A nice exception would be one of these short books by O'Reilly (https://gist.github.com/augbog/d65f6600188fece854cb341734c5f...). I always reach for them when I want a quick overview of a technology I'm not familiar with.

Many other non-fiction books - e.g. almost all self-help books - are also not worth reading, and you could summarize them in a few pages.

A few tips:

- try Audible if you don't find the time to sit and read a book. I always listen to an audiobook when I go for a walk or do some light exercise.

- read book summaries with something like Blinkist (https://www.blinkist.com) before deciding to read a book.

- don't feel guilty leaving a book unfinished. If it sucks, or if it starts repeating itself, stop reading it.

- in the case of a non-fiction book, always take notes.


Concerning fiction only: I see books as a way to experience things that I cannot experience in my (rather repetitive) "real" life otherwise.

I don't necessarily mean this in terms of the fantastical but also in terms of more pedestrian books. I still get to connect with characters (people) in ways I wouldn't in real life, experience emotions that terminals aren't very good at evoking, and have thoughts that wouldn't have otherwise occurred to me.

I don't really remember what I read very well. I can't quote some famous passage and after a few months my memory of the book is reduced to basically a blur. Since HN is ever pragmatic, one has to ask what exactly I'm walking away with in the end. I think reading (fiction) gradually imparts you with a wider soundstage through which to view (hear) life and is generally enriching in that sense. It also, unquestionably, makes you a better writer--good writers are rare in technical fields and learning to write well is really sort of arcane in some ways, so I wouldn't underestimate that. (Nor would I underestimate the value of good writing: bad writing sullies the fuck out of an otherwise good paper.)

Since I'm a student, I'll often have periods for many months where I don't read a single page. But whenever I come back to reading, I always find myself asking why I didn't keep the habit up. Reading encourages a sort of mindfulness (almost a meditation of sorts) that I always find myself missing once I rediscover it when I start reading again.


I didn’t read books for many years for a lot of the reasons you list. 2019 I read 24 and am already almost done with my first book of the year. I think they are worth it.

Have you tried something like audible? I discovered that I get through and retain spoken content much better than site reading. Listening to content makes reading enjoyable and there are so many fantastic books


If you’re interested, here’s some info about how I listen to content: https://medium.com/@elof/listen-to-this-f5faace03302


Just today, I went back to one of my old textbooks (Lathi's Signal Processing and Linear Systems) and came out with some really important points about Fourier analysis that I'd missed the first time around. A good, carefully written textbook makes hard choices about context, sequence, presentation, and level of detail. It's a coherent whole. All the information might be out there on the internet, but the cognitive load of evaluating whether the source is trustworthy and relevant, and of interpreting it without supporting context, is much higher on the internet than it is with a book.

And then, there are the pleasures of fiction. I can't argue for fiction other than to say that it's good in a way nothing else is, and you have to experience it to understand.

If you want to try, start with good short stories. You could do worse than the sort of "anthology of classic short stories" they sell in the bargain bin at the used bookstore. There's often gems in there. Look for O Henry, Mark Twain, de Maupassant, Dickens, maybe some of Balzac's shorter material. Skip anything that doesn't grab you. Once you've developed an appetite, try more involved works. Survivor bias operates in your favor here: 19th and early 20th century works that we're still talking about are generally quite good, and there are quite a lot of them. Both recency and copyright law oppose you finding good novels written in the last century. There are many, but you're more likely to miss something good because it's not fashionable, or read something bad because it is.

So yes. Books are worth it.


Absolutely, just the act of removing yourself from distractions and engaging with one piece makes you flex different brain muscles. I personally think you should just grab something that piques your interest, football, Murder, a beach read, whatever and give it maybe thirty minutes a day till you finish and see if you get value from it.


The few self help and TED-style books I read (or started to read) were utter shite and might as well be summarised in a tweet.

The moment I really enjoyed reading was when I dropped the idea of absorbing as much information as possible. Being comfortable with reading something that does not immediately return some value.

What reading can uniquely offer is a conversation with a very clever mind who might be dead for a hundred years. You can stop, pause think. Reread that section. Put it in current context and see what you make of it. Take a break, walk around, watch the birds and come back.

You might even find that a 10 verse poem about a blue butterfly carries more weight than any recent self-help book.


> Even if I wanted to read books, I just don't know which ones I should start with, out of the 1000 "must-read" books in my reading list.

My non-fiction reading list for the past year has been filled almost exclusively with titles plucked from HN comments. I don't consider any of them "must reads." They're all "want reads." All of them were suggested by HN posters with explanations as for why that book is the one to read on the subject; often followed by comments comparing that book to other books on the subject.

Each book I chose to read was read either because the subject interested me, or because the poster had shown that the book had changed how they viewed the world. If you don't know where to start out of the 1000 books, just start. Find one that interests you and read it. Maybe 1000 years from now we'll have AI that can recommend the perfect course of books for you to read, but for now, it isn't nearly as important to pick 'the perfect one' from the list as it is to just start reading it. And if you don't think it has value, put it down and pick up the next one.


Books are totally worth it if they interest you. I’m living on a budget and my highest discretionary expense is books, so you know I put my money where my mouth is.

In my previous life, I had the misfortune of attending a Prussian style law school which lead me to compulsively attempt to memorize every text I’ve read for years, but lately I’ve found the joy of reading again. Here are a few tips that worked for me:

0. Books are just objects, don’t treat them with reverence.

1. Order every book as paperback that you come across and find interesting. Must read lists suck. Follow your interests.

2. Have a bias for older books. The longer a book has been relevant, the more likely it will stay relevant (aka the Lindy principle).

3. Don’t read books cover to cover. Start in the middle if that’s the most interesting part and feel free skip around. Put a book down immediately if it bores you.

4. Surround yourself with books. Make sure you can always pick up something interesting wherever you are. Messy book piles are a virtue.

5. Only use ebooks for fiction or tutorial type programming books.

6. Disregard what other people think and follow your interests. If books don’t interest you, that’s ok too.


For me books are a better entertainment. I find that the long form is good because it helps build my attention span. It's all to easy to slip to barely being able to focus for more then a minute these days. That said here are some tips I've found online for reading books more effectively:

-don't worry about reading speed, you will get better with practice like anything else.

-do close the book at points and try to remember what you've just read. This can help you retain the information better. Sometimes I also like to remember that my subconscious will process the info into the neural net either way so it's like 50% remembered even if I don't consciously know it my decisions are shaped by it a little bit.

-do flip through a book and read random pages before you start. This way you can avoid books that are mostly 'fluff' or that just aren't relevant to what you want to read about. (I only heard this recently and it has been fantastic!)

Personally I like to switch back and forth between a nonfiction book, like about science or computers, and a fiction one that entertains me. That way I get the reward book after a harder book and the cycle keeps me coming back for more. To many textbooks sorts in a row and I get bored.

Another way to remember what you read better is to take notes while you read. These can be annotations in the margins or on a separate piece of paper/computer. I read that just the act of writing those things down helps you remember even if you don't look at it again. `Mind Maps` might also be useful to you in understanding what you learn.

One last thing you probably already know but telling someone else about what your reading can help you practice recall and find out what parts of it your missing like a mini oral test.


I wouldn't say that books are "infinitely" better. Online content can still be good and there are truckloads of books that are garbage. But in general it is easier to find really good books than really good online non-book content.

When I wanted to learn about something then I usually first go to Wikipedia. Which by the way is OMG such an amazing resource I wish I had as a kid.

Then I move on to online articles or website devoted to the subject. Then I usually start going through books.

But here's the thing. The value of a book might be mostly just be in the bibliography at the end. Unfortunately a lot of those books aren't at the bookstore, aren't at archive.org, aren't at the library. So I'm forced to use the inter-library-loan service through the library. Which by the way is an awesome service that I just started using.

And you know what? A lot of those books are treasures.

So, no, not everything that's worth it is available online or ever at your book store.


I "learnt" java from youtube and got a job doing it.

Took me 2 years of experience to realise what low quality materials I had been using. Number of youtube views is ZERO indicator of quality. I had been mislead and held back in ways I simply couldn't understand at the time.

Doing my oracle java cert and learning the book that goes with made me competent.


Is this a joke?

Of course books are worth it, and no, you are in no way whatsoever getting equivalent experiences reading stuff on the internet.

Books are not a "big time commitment" any more than, say, watching a TV show or miniseries.

This makes me really fearful for the minds of people younger than me, and I'm only in my early 30s.


I am in love with books and the notion that you can talk with another person long dead without any distortion or distraction. Some rules I abide by:

1. Any book that you expect to read once and once only (popular science, pulp fiction, toilet-reading) rent from the library. Keep it by your bed at night and give-er by the lamplight.

2. Any book that you can read, word-over-word, end-on-end, without confusion or introspection can be consumed in condensed form. Condensed forms come in many guises:(audio-books, blog-feeds, wiki-pages etc.)

3. You are missing out on all the glories that are not defined by 1 and 2. A good book should be a conversation, held at length, over time.

You asked for philosphy in another comment:

Victor Frankyl: Man in search of meaning

Marcus Aurelius: Meditations

Jung: Development of Personality, Archetypes/Aion

Nietsche: all and any

For philosophical fiction:

Goethe: Faust

Hemingway: Death in the afternoon (this was my first glimpse into why books can provide lightness of body, displacement of time: wait for the 4th-wall-breaking-rapport with the old woman)

David Foster Wallace:Rise Simba, Infinite Jest, etc.

https://harpers.org/wp-content/uploads/HarpersMagazine-2001-...

There have been studies that your brain scans feeds and webpages differently than text on a page. You set yourself up to not pay attention / are just "scraping the good bits"

Someone mentioned a while back that Infinite Jest (1000 page tome + 300 pages endnotes!) had ~50 pages that made the whole thing worth it. The immediate following comment was "why not just read the 50 pages?". It is the context around which we find our content that gives it worth. The internet allows you to bypass the context.


> There have been studies that your brain scans feeds and webpages differently than text on a page.

This +1. Practicing reading longform books helps your brain work on regulating and keeping a longer and longer attention span, which can be hugely helpful.

As experiments go, it might be worth swapping for a while, and seeing if you notice a change in attention and concentration. I notice when I stop reading books, I get a lot more impatient and I can't focus as well. (N=1, YMMV)


I grew up before the Internet, and I used to read a lot more. Being online has made me have very little focus for reading anything of length. I have spent time recently trying to undo this. I would say you are missing out and encourage you to make time to read some of the classics. I know it's hard to find which ones to read, it will just have to be some trial and error (not all the classics are good imo -- it's impossible for me to get into any of the Russians). I tend towards American or English classics, I suggest one of my all time favourites, it's a short one "My Antonia" by Willa Cather. I'm currently reading Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy and enjoying it very much.


It appears to me that if one wants to make progress in mathematics one should study the masters and not the pupils.

— N.H. Abel (1802–1829)


I'm not too sure about non-fiction books -- especially popular science -- but reading (good) fiction books is definitely worth it. You might think that fiction is nothing but made up stories, but usually it contains several life lessons that were hard-earned for the author and they're placed within a relevant context.

As for technical non-fiction books, some of them can be really good and irreplacable.


(This doesn’t answer your question but feels related)

I have ADHD and find it incredibly difficult to read books.

I’ll often “read” the same pages over and over several times without actually comprehending them because after a few pages I realize I was looking at the words but thinking about something else. I also have trouble remembering to (or having the motivation to?) come back to books I’ve previously started.

I like online content because it’s easy to skim or switch to something else and not feel bad about it. I imagine over time this has made my ADHD even worse, but I’m not sure how to break the habit.

The 3-4 ADHD self-help books sitting unread on my shelf certainly haven’t helped :)


As someone else with ADHD(-PI), I think part of the answer has to be removing the potentially distracting stimuli. Online content draws your attention much more easily than books will.

I’ve found that I often won’t get back to reading a book until I make a concerted effort to get away from my phone, computer, etc. Only when I’ve eliminated the more distracting options will I get back to reading. It’s hard to get started, but it’s invariably more satisfying after the fact.


Have you tried woodworking? Do a small project, let's say, a stool. Use only manual tools. Use a plane to square boards. Use only glued parts. You'll calm tf down, plane something for two hours straight... :) best man


I have a similar problem. Focus jumps. My solution is to just read one page. Everything is our lives today is adhd anyway. The news, the internet, tv etc...


An observation from a book lover who has lately fallen into the self improvement subject, most of the books are not worth it. They all need to be either a blog article or a novella-size at best. They are usually padded up to reach the 300 page limit and seem like worth paying for.

It can be a disappointing ride. There seems to be mad rush to churn out books to capitalize on the obsession for productivity and high-achievers.

On the other hand, books in your area of interest, other than self-improvement, can delve into depths that blog posts will not have the bandwidth to achieve. They are a joy to read. Bon voyage.


I'm reading a lot and have done so for many years. It is one of the great sources of joy and richness in my life. Choosing a book is more difficult than it might seem. It sounds like you haven't encountered many great books yet. Humanity has produced about 130.000.000 books and roughly 4k are added each day.

If you are an avid reader consuming one book per week from age 20 to 80, you'll get through a little more than 3000 books. Few people make it this far. 60 years of reading don't cover the output of a single day of publishing.

There are many more great books than any single person can hope to get through in a lifetime.

Regarding the reading speed: As you read more, you will get better. With enough practice, reading becomes a fully-immersive and effortless experience (though the ideas in the book might stun you!). Your eyes and your mind get more accustomed to the practice, for example through a better knowledge of vocabulary.

Forgetting is a real issue that I struggle with as well. Spaced repetition is helping a lot of people [0].

Paul Graham (pg) makes some great points about how reading shapes the mind (so even if you don't remember all the facts, the act of reading still changes who you are) [1]

I suggest you look learning strategies to process text more efficiently and to aid retention. There is a well-rated course called "Learning how to learn" on Coursera. [2]

Since selecting books is such hard work, you can benefit from the reading lists of others, here's mine on Goodreads: [3]

[0] http://augmentingcognition.com/ltm.html

[1] http://www.paulgraham.com/know.html

[2] https://www.coursera.org/learn/learning-how-to-learn

[3] https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/10152457?view=table


As a lot of other people are saying, yes, books are worth it.

I'm 19 right now, so I grew up reading paper books and interacting a lot with the internet and video games. Around when I turned 15 I pretty much stopped reading altogether. I was (and still am) very into CSGO and kind of just dropped reading literature for playing CS with my friends. While that was/is fun, dropping literature as a pastime left a hole in me that couldn't be filled by any video game, podcast, blog post, or even eBook. I only got back into reading fiction because my best friend here at uni was talking about how much she loved Agatha Christie, and I happened to have a compendium of 5 Hercule Poirot books that had been sitting on my bookshelf (and taken with me when I moved) for about 4 years. Now I can't stop reading (again).

Reading books (for me, fiction; for others, non-fiction) widens your understanding of the world around you, the perspectives of those around you, and most importantly your own imagination. Reading literature helps me creatively solve problems and come up with inspired ideas that would've been very difficult for me to come up with otherwise. It is something I would be incomplete without.

P.S. For me paper books are 100% superior to ebooks. The feel of holding, seeing, and smelling a paper book, especially an old paper book, is so comforting and impossible to replicate with an ebook. Though, to their credit, ebooks are nice if you read relatively quickly and want to read while on the road.


> The last few books I read were mostly filled with fluff, anecdotes, stories, jokes, and trivialities. Even if I wanted to read books, I just don't know which ones I should start with, out of the 1000 "must-read" books in my reading list.

Lindy effect should help. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lindy_Effect)

Start with classics. Or at least with books that have been out for a few years and are still talked about.

That's how I pick what to read.


Yes, books are worth it, physical books especially. 1. The automated information control that occurs online today, means that things are there one day, gone the next. This happens accross the information continuum. 2. The Pareto principle: 20% of things provide 80% of the value. Online, where new content can be created for nearly free, good information about anything can be hard to find, drowned in a sea of advertisement and distraction. In a physical bookstore or library, the cost of printing and stocking means that only things that are worth printing, are kept around. 3. Inheritance of relevancy: I enjoy getting my books from the used bookstores, because time after time I pick up some volume on history that someone has written incredible things in the margins! Of course, we have comment sections and such online, but the Pareto principle applies again here. 4. Impression and discernment of value: You can tell just from looking at the design of a book, what the intended audience is. If the authors name is bigger than the title, for example, that tells you a whole lot. If like me, you look for more uncommon, less known things, you learn to disregard anything with flashy marketing or a bestseller claim. Head straight for the plain and boring: the value is what gets it sold, whats written inside. 5. Obscure, out-of-print, actually supressed and allegedly supressed works. This goes hand in hand with number 1: Its much harder to round up 10,000 copies of a book, than to add the metadata to an automatic blacklist. Everything from textbooks, to historical autobiographies, to contemporary primary source reporting: the beast devours it all. Put it on your shelf, then it cannot be deleted.


It's pretty much the opposite. Stuff online, usually done for free, is usually vapid trash with facts often wrong because there's not enough money to do it right.

In contrast content from books is usually extensively researched and a wealth of valuable knowledge.

Also worth noting that the internet is a relatively new thing, so if you find yourself fascinated by a topic from the 70s or earlier you'll probably be much better off walking to your local library.


From one of the best guides on reading a book:

“....a good book can teach you about the world and about yourself. You learn more than how to read better; you also learn more about life. You become wiser. Not just more knowledgeable - books that provide nothing but information can produce that result. But wiser, in the sense that you are more deeply aware of the great and enduring truths of human life.”

― Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading


And as one of your first books take a look at How to Read a Book. I've enjoyed my books much more since then. Especially since I got past my prejudice that made me feel like if I started a book I needed to finish it before trying another. These days I read many books concurrently. If I get bored or need to let my brain churn on an idea in the background I move onto a different book, usually a totally unrelated book.


I think many of us share the same thoughts you are describing, so thanks for sharing them.

The principle I'm trying to go by is: I'm sure there are plenty of great new books, new films etc, but I still haven't read/seen way too many of the classics that people have been thinking about for decades and even centuries. At least 30 years since first publication is the mark I joke about going by. Perhaps you might add "award-winning" and/or "still in print" to your search terms. For the most part, we can be trusted with keeping the best books around. And of course that's just the principle, not the reality, as you can infer from my having read this page.

I think if you read a modern non-fiction book about self-improvement you would get a dreadful notion of what a book really is and would be right never to want to read one again. There is no fluff in a classic, no such thing as skimming it or speed reading it, it's just a totally different experience.

So I might suggest going back several years into lists of books that won the Pulitzer prize, for example, or the Man Booker prize, things like that, and seeing if something piques your curiosity. Perhaps a truly good book that would fall within the "self-help" definition is "The Denial of Death" by Ernest Becker. It was probably the first good book I ever read at about 24 years old, and the first time in my life I experienced sadness at getting close to the end of the book ("what am I going to do when it's over?"). I don't remember why I picked it up or why I actually read it, but I did for about an hour every day at a coffee shop that I stopped at on my way back home from work, and it was unforgettable.


I believe most of us are living a "Google Bubble". When we are online, our exposure to knowledge on a topic is limited by Search algorithms, personalizations, the availability of content that is digitized and searchable, etc. The people who comment on discussions, who creates content, etc. are also subject to this bias. This slice is not really the same as the larger body of collection of knowledge and insights about a particular topic. Even considering the limitation of knowledge that is digitized, there are plenty of sources that are not accessible and searchable (papers, talks, radio programs, conversations, personal anecdotes etc.). Books give a window to this larger world. This is the way we have done it for 5000 years. Books, in case of non-fiction, are written by people who have spent significant (sometimes their lifetime) time learning about a topic. And I believe the same logic applies for fiction. The ideas and imaginations of whole of human kind is not same as those of people who devotes time to create content online. In short, books are a different way (and arguably better) to expand your horizon.


I think it really depends on whether you want to advance the breadth or depth of your knowledge.

If you want to go breadth, meaning touch a little bit of here and there, yes you can rely on the internet. There are many non-fiction books can help you in this direction, but you do not have to read them.

But if you want to go depth in a particular field, I think you have to read at least some most important books in that field. I do not believe you can learn an advanced field, say quantum physics, by just watching youtube videos or reading online articles. The reason is that many in depth knowledge are only presented in books.

For programming, I think yes you can definitely become a programmer by learning online. But then again, if you want to be an expert in a particular field of programming, you have to read books in that field. Even for data mining and AI those kind of stuff, there are good online courses, but I don't believe online materials can cover important details as in books.

The most cutting edge materials are usually presented in research papers or conference presentations.


Yes, books are definitely worth it. Whether ebooks are physical books.

> I read very slowly

The more you read, the faster you will read. Reading is a skill that must be practiced to master, just like any other skill. You wouldn't expect to play the piano 50 times and suddenly be a master pianist, would you? The same applies to reading. Read 500 books and then see what your reading speed is like.


Yes!

There's a huge gap in how much time and energy goes into most books vs online stuff. That's the part you're missing. I can name all sorts of books I'd describe as a life-changing experience, and maybe one blog post, and zero youtube videos.

A few (hopefully) practical thoughts:

1. My favorite way to find books to read is to ask people. It helps me find books I'd never have noticed. Goodreads will lead you to the lowest common denominator, but not to something that speaks to you.

2. The more you read, the faster you'll get at reading, just like anything else. Don't worry about remembering anything.

3. You seem to be looking at books as a means to an ends. I suppose in some cases that's true, I will occasionally seek out a book because I want to learn something new.

But writing is a conversation held across time and space, almost a sort of telepathy. If you're viewing it as strictly transactional, and overlooking the ability to experience their stories and ideas, I think that's where you're really missing out.


Magazines and blogs/articles exist to keep you coming back. Same with serial television shows. The content is not self-contained, or particularly high quality. Only enough to bring you back for one more episode or issue.

Books (and movies) on the other hand, are generally self-contained. The book is the product, not your subscription. The quality is often higher


Nearly all non-fiction reading is junk-reading.

Reading is an observational activity, and just like you can't learn to swim by observing swimmers you can't learn a subject by reading a book on it. The only thing that reading is good for is feeding fuel into the furnace of deliberate practice of the craft and discussions with practitioners of such. And that's how true knowledge is really acquired - putting information to a practical use. If you're not doing that you're just grinding water. A quality conversation qualifies as "practical" in that exercises the relevant parts of the brain, in fact Socrates would have you believe it's the only way to truly learn.

Even by these low standards we lack in quality reading:

- Book writers have, naturally, limited experience. Yet most are eager to summarize it and pose as "the truth", with predictably disastrous results. People who actually know a lot and a can summarize well rarely write. I know like one guy who is good at it (you know him too).

- Book writers write too much while trying, but not quite succeeding, to get to the point. Often times they try to start from the beginning and produce a theory of everything (search "it's a warm summer evening in ancient Greece" on youtube). There is a draught in the writing skill. The irony.

- Book publishers insists on larger books because they look better on the shelf and are more likely to fetch a higher price per buyer.

- Book publishers largely publish books that are easy to sell given the current fads, the ones that confirm pre-existing bias of the reader populace. It might as well be readers directly dictating what the book says.

- Online publishing has most of the same problems (except for the content length), and lots worse on top.

The only educational reading is one that directs your practice of a given field or a conversation with another practitioner. Everything else is entertainment at best and mental torture at most other times.

As to finding good books - books that stood the test of time are likely to be better quality, because fads come and go so whatever made the book popular it's something better. Often times they are dated though. Otherwise just be mindful whom you're getting your advice from. Did this person explain clearly to you how fractional reserve banking works? They might have a good idea on which book is decent for the subject.


I have a very similar perspective as you. Most non fiction books, being focused around a reasonably simple concept, could really be explained in a blog post (e.g. any Malcolm Gladwell book, zero to one by Thiel, Super Intelligence). By simple, I mean as opposed to complex, not necessarily easy to understand or unimportant. The main reason, I believe, for these to be books rather than posts is to examine that same concept from many vantage points to allow it to "stick". For these books, I feel like I can usually get most of the value by reading the first few chapters or many even a summary.

That being said, if you look for books on more complex topics, you find things that can't be put into a blog post (e.g. WWII, biographies, technical topics). These are things where each chapter really does bring something new. The flip side is that they're hard to read; nothing in chapter 1-n will really help you in reading chapter n+1.


For me, it's all about focus. The internet brings you anything but focus. Our generation have every learning capabilities except focused mind and focus is the important key to learn anything substantially. Yet our attention are fragmented, shattered, and being manipulated everyday by the internet and social media.

The nature of internet is always distracting. Even while you are reading something, you unconsciously thinking about other thing you might do, in a most frictionless way possible -- just a click away. The book, reading in quiet environment, cut that distraction off completely (I mean, technically you can think about hundreds of thing too, but it's not just a click, tap or swipe away)

I used to read tons of article I save in my Pocket app all day, which itself miles better than junk content on social media of course, but even then, at the end of the day I cannot tell myself what I really learn at all — everything feels, rushed, shallow, distracted. I don't know, I found myself never have real 'focus' when I read online, even what I read is good.

Back to your question, IMO, one good books worth more than hundreds of (sometimes marketing-induced) online articles out there. Also, those 'cutting edge' trend is just that, a 'trend'. Thing that just got popular for whatever reason at certain point of time. It comes and goes quickly than you will ever remember. Most trend dies away after a short while and you don't missing anything at all my friend. If that trend is actually good or important, then you'll see it in one way or another anyway, when all the dust settle — the same with all the "news" out there. You don't have to know them at all and still perfectly fine.

On the contrary, good book with good content always stand the test of time. New doesn't always mean good and old doesn't always mean outdated, especially things about how human think about something. You can still learn a lot from wisdom in the past, that doesn't existed in today's fragmented, always-on environment.


You can look into listening to audio books while commuting. But honestly speaking, I have done that and I lost focus very hard. The problem with me is my limited vocabulary. Just like you, I read slow even though I have read strategies to read fast.

Even then, reading fast does not help if you are failing to grasp what the concept and story is on about. Hence, I read slowly to understand what the piece is talking about to make my effort and time worth it.

My only motivation to attempt to read book is the author's put a lot of time and effort writing a book and getting it published. Therefore, the time spent writing a book with numerous references used to write the book, you are indirectly reading multiple books - accumulating ideas and knowledge from all those books.

The book which I am currently reading is "Why Nation Fail", the number of references used to write the book was what made me buy it.


> You can look into listening to audio books while commuting. But honestly speaking, I have done that and I lost focus very hard.

I suggest increasing the speed of narration: slow enough you can still comprehend the content but fast enough that you have to make an effort. That works to keep my mind engaged and not get distracted.


Books are the best way to expand your cognitive capabilities. A writer spends at least 500 hours on a book. Reading a book is like having conversation with the writer. I prefer to read non-fiction books, many of which I found through HN or podcasts.

I recently switched from ibooks to google books because googles app has a superior reading experience on iOS. Plus the highlights are integrated with google docs. So after color highlighting sections I have a summary of interesting quotes automatically in a G Doc for every book in my gdrive. I haven't got the time yet to write a script to auto sync these quotes with google keep to function as a flashcard system.

I recommend the books of Jim Collins, he was a coach for Steve Jobs and personal advisor to Jeffrey Bezos. Amazons business flywheel is based on the theories developed by Jim Collins.


I never questionned the value of books but thought having online access to libraries would be a clear improvement over printed ones.

But my mind (and many people) is sensitive to the context in which you read information. A book is a passive block of sheets, it does not offer anything else than that. It helps focus. Also I suppose that our brain likes to have physical stimuli (touching pages, smell of paper, ink) and it might be a little more pleasing for your neurons than pixels on a LCD.

Now if you're not easily distracted, online version can be as good.

Lastly, I found that wikipedia, with all the value and care given in its text, lacks spirit. I can't really explain but when you read old encyclopedia you have the feeling of part of the author's mindset in the words. It's summarized and curated a bit differently. I found it nice too.

Cheers


One thing I have found to be a big help is graphic novels. I used to love reading quite a bit, and fell out of it for a couple years as I gained more freedom with screens. Graphic novels are not given enough credit considering the myriad of excellent stories they have housed. Books like Watchmen, V for Vandetta, and The Dark Knight Rises are all very well written, with excellent writing, fleshed out characters, and thought - provoking themes. Graphic Novels are also great for people bored by long periods of imagery, because the pictures in each panel provide than in a quick glance. If you don't really like traditional novels, I urge you to try reading comics. They can be a great way to reintroduce you to books as well.

I'm almost 50. The last fiction book I read was Frankenstein in 1995. I haven't read a fiction book since then because it feels like a waste of time for me, personally. I do read comic books and watch movies.

I have however read a few non-fictional books from Michael Lewis, like Moneyball, Blind Side, Big Short, etc. Less than 5, though. I've read parts of hundreds of computer books for work and for education.

Do what feels natural to you. I like reading computer books rather than blog posts but it depends on how thorough the article is. I find a lot of blog posts to not be thorough enough to answer my questions, and many books are better for what I'm looking for. Others may feel differently, and it's all personal preference.


So, it's been more than half of your sentient life since you tried reading a book that was written 200 years ago... and you're prepared to write off all of fiction as a waste of time? I am begging you to see if perhaps you might have a better experience today with a more contemporary book that frankly isn't kind of dull.

I urge you to try audiobooks. There still exists a stigma that it's not "real" reading, but that is like discussion of "real" men - absurd. Audiobooks are a joy.

My personal favourite is Cryptonomicon by Neil Stephenson, but heck, Ready Player One, Recursion, Delta-V, Walkaway by Cory Doctorow... just give it a shot.


Yes, for me I find it a waste of time. That's a personal choice. I read comic books if I have extra time, which I enjoy. And just to be clear, I loved the book Frankenstein and it had a profound effect on my life. I just never had any incentive after that to read another fiction book.


Okay, I'm not trying to change your mind... just humour me. I'm selfishly curious, and that's all: if you haven't done it in 25 years and you were only a decade into your conscious adulthood, does it not seem even slightly possible that ruling out all contempory fiction of every genre based on a 200 year old monster allegory means it's time for a check-in? I just don't understand how you can be on this forum and also hold such a strong belief that you have anywhere near enough information to make up your mind as a fifty year old.

What if you're wrong?


Again, I'm sorry if I'm pissing you off. I mean no harm.

You're just... kind of blowing my mind. I've just never met anyone with this particular set of beliefs before.


The specific genre of books in your list ("self help") is basically not worth it.

Virtually every other type of book is. Good fiction is amazing. Science is great, especially when written at a level just above what you can comfortably understand. Some biographies are inspiring.


Definitely. I'm currently reading The Reading Life, a collection of C.S. Lewis' musings on reading, and I couldn't recommend a better set of arguments for the value of books in general (though it does have a humanities flavor).

As others have noted, the stuff you find online usually isn't nearly as deep or interesting as what you'll get out of sticking with a good book, nor is the reading experience the same. For historical reasons, the way we consume text on a computer is rather sporadic. The internet, generally speaking, is a giant distraction machine; it's not meant for deep reading. Maybe one day it can be, but not today. Of course, your mileage may vary.


Books typically (not always) have far more depth regarding the topics they cover. If you do not read books, you are only scratching the surface of the shared knowledge available to you because, no, most of their content is not freely available online.

You are correct that not all books are good, though. For someone like yourself who doesn't have a habit of reading, nor ideal speed and retention, you'll want to select carefully. My advice would be to go ahead and keep reading internet-based content, but as you do so, to think about which topics you wish you could dive deeper on. And then ask others for book recommendations on those topics.


Generally hate leaving comments that just link to other things, but since I haven't seen them linked nor have time to form a full opinion, a few pieces in this space:

- Sarah Perry - "Why Books are Fake" - https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2017/06/01/why-books-are-fake/ - being a bit ironic here since her first point is "Every citation is either a homework assignment or a promise." and here I am hyperlinking :P

- Andy Matuschak - "Why books don’t work" https://andymatuschak.org/books/ - and related econtalk interview: https://www.econtalk.org/andy-matuschak-on-books-and-learnin...

- Naval Ravikant's Tim Ferris interview on what books to read: https://tim.blog/naval-ravikant-on-the-tim-ferriss-show-tran... - "A number of people asked me what books I’m reading now. This is a difficult question, because, at any given time, I’m at probably about 50 books on my Kindle, and probably about six or seven hard-cover or soft-cover books that I’m cycling through. I opened up my kindle. I look through. Based on my mood, I’ll flip through to whatever book matches my mood. I’ll flip to whatever part of it looks the most interesting, and I’ll just read that part. I don’t read in the sequential order. The most important thing that does for me is it lets me read on a regular basis. I can actually just pull up my kindle here, and I can read off the names of some of these books that I’m reading. I can give you mini-reviews, but I haven’t actually finished any of them. They’re all in progress."

I tend to disagree with Naval on a number of things, yet that's how I'm currently reading - though it's limited to 3-4 books all in a similar domain. I'm taking notes and trying to find relationships between their viewpoints.


I read a little over 50 books this year as a personal challenge. I think only one of them wasn't worth reading and only because it was really out of my wheel house and I just didn't enjoy it. It took up a considerable amount of time, but I enjoyed every minute of it. It was absolutely worth doing and I learned a lot that I wouldn't have come across on the internet without specifically looking for it.

Start with something small and work your way up. If you're on hacker news, maybe read a science fiction book, there's likely a movie out there that you enjoy, start with something that was adapted from a book.


Books are infinitely superior to internet content for most things. Basic facts, no. I read lots of nonfiction and it’s so much more informative and deep than a blog post. Reading both fiction and nonfiction gives a richer and deeper understanding of the human condition and makes your life choices better informed and more productive.

One thing that the internet does do better is giving a read about the latest trends and anecdata. You can get details and perspective that is “under the radar”. But otherwise, internet news is throwaway pulp. So much news is written everyday and 95% of it is forgotten immediately.


Yes you’re missing out.

There are a lot of bad books out there that waste your time (particularly in self-help).

For an example of an excellent non-fiction book that gives sweeping background to a topic that you can’t get from a blog post read The Emperor of All Maladies (about cancer).

For one about Physics read Our Mathematical Universe.

There’s also Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Rationality which was a large collection of blog posts put into book form.

For fiction I’d recommend The Nix for a really good novel.

The difference between good and bad in books is huge and part of the difficulty is that it’s hard to know up front if a book will be a waste of your time.


The best way to access the ideas of people you cannot talk to is to find the depth in their books. I'm thoroughly enjoying reading a book on Aristotle's work. There's so many well articulated perspectives on the world that challenge and grow my own perspective on the world that I would not like to live in a place without access to hundreds of great people and their books.

The internet is like the Starbucks version of the library. Fun, exciting with lots of sugar and broad coverage but lacking quality and is probably not good to have a lot.


A lot of people have already told you that reading slowly just means you don't have enough practice.

Also consider this: you watch a video or listen to a podcast on some subject. If the speaker is a good actor, you are more likely to believe them even if everything they say is bullshit.

Reading (well, after you actually get used to reading) is less of an assault on your sensory inputs so you're more likely to be able to form your own opinion about the subject.

Edit: also try reading fiction as entertainment. A lot of it is much better than the current Hollywood drivel.


I love reading, however, I am sad to say, most books are NOT worth "it" (being read).

There are many, many books in the world. Only very few of them are good. I don't know the percentages - perhaps 0.001%%

The good books are worth reading, but they are difficult to find.

As for information from web sites vs information from books: some books are just the content from web sites blown up into book format. So there is no general rule of "books are better than web sites", either.

Even though I am a fast reader (I think), I find many books too wordy.


A really good book has a sense of permanence and speciality to it that outlasts typical online content.

Philosophy and mathematics books, for example, tend to exist outside time because they are dealing with fundamental unanswerables and constructions of assumption, not "extent of our knowledge" empirical observations as with science. If their thinking is robust, they never go out of date.

History books likewise indulge in rich storytelling about what happened and why. The story is assembled with fact, but filtered through the historiographical lens of the author. There are many niches of history that can only be studied in books. History is easily revised, but each telling can uncover a more "complete" truth.

And fiction, of course, captures the world as a non-factual experience and therefore says the things that can't be said(no words for them, little concept or attention given to them). As a storytelling medium, writing is not everyone's preference, but it is the singular most productive form we have, and so a lot of fiction books express forgotten corners and small whispers of thought.

Given that you have a serious temperament I would recommend starting with very old books from ancient times, since those are the ones least likely to be "obsolete" - power laws being what they are.


Most of the comments offer broad strokes of advice. I'll offer some here with examples but a huge caveat is that I don't usually read full books so take my advice with a pinch of salt. :/

Type I books: Recipes refer to books that teach you "how". They are often must-reads in the topic. Example: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34689843-disciplined-ent... and https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18652777-disciplined-ent...

Type II books: These are controversial, non-mainstream books that challenge your thinking. Example: failory.com articles

Type III books: Wisdom refer to books that teach you "why". They are generalisations that offer a thousand feet view but often suffer from survivorship bias if one doesn't read it critically. Example: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18050143-zero-to-one



Then you come out with the Greatest Books of the Western Civilization and you have enough reading for a lifetime and more.


I find this thread interesting, but I believe many commenters are rationalizing why books are good by focusing too much on arguments around information quality, or trying to draw some differences between the motivations for paper vs digital writing, ... but I don't see it that clearly. I'm personally much more curious about others like:

- how much influence does it have the fact that you have to actually sit down, focus on something, sit somewhere comfortable, or not so comfortable but ready to work on a material... or the fact that it's a book, that it's long, probably dense to read, much more dense to write, that there's some sacrifice there, so you face the material in a completely different way you would face a random post or youtube video? we also definitely value very differently the things we pay for than those that are free. if you paid for it, you might want to rationalize it was worth it, and that might actually lead you to try to get something more from it that you would generally get if it was free and you didn't care. if you paid for it there's also a higher chance you were looking for it consciously, etc.

I think it would be interesting to measure those and others by collecting writing from different sources and presenting it on different formats. while I agree that on average the quality and the signal provided by a book is higher than that of a random video or blog post, I feel in many cases we are biased to give books too much credibility, and we really underestimate a lot of online content. there are many other factors, but I think we should open the perspective a bit more if we really want to discover why books are so good


> - how much influence does it have the fact that you have to actually sit down, focus on something, sit somewhere comfortable, or not so comfortable but ready to work on a material...

Personal anecdote...

I started reading books again about 2 years ago, after many years of not reading much. At that time it was a revelation for me, and I grew to despise (some forms of) blog style writing and videos (which was also related to the first two books I read being about modern media and advertising; The Attention Merchants and Amusing Ourselves To Death).

After a couple of months of very slow reading, and learning how to read (actively engaging with the material, etc.), my ability to focus and to process information in this mode notably increased.

Nowadays I quite like watching videos (mostly of lectures) and reading well-written online content, and engage with it in just the way you describe. But I think before this period where reading books again taught me the necessary skills for this type of engagement it was not possible for me to process online content in this way. Too many ubiquitous distractions.


I'm in the same situation although probably older than OP, so I've read more than 50 books throughout my life. The question of whether reading books is worth it is something that I'm also struggling with. Not only do I not retain information the same way when I'm reading a book, but reading paper makes me tired and so I get through 2-3 pages a night before falling asleep.

A few years ago I observed myself hearing an interesting author on a podcast. I downloaded the audio book and loved it (Chris Voss, and the book is never split the difference) so I subsequently found every podcast the author was a guest on and listened to all the podcasts. It's really hard to say that the audio book was worth it, because I generally find live conversations more engaging and they make the material easier for me to remember. For non-fiction it might be faster, cheaper and better to just listen to the podcast tour rather than read the book or listen to the audiobook

Currently I'm in this predicament with Scott Galloway and the Algebra of Happiness. I listen to the Pivot podcast, found 20 other podcasts or videos where Scott has been the guest and I'm not sure that the book, or audiobook would have that much value. Honestly, the biggest reason to buy it would be to support the author.

As to the OPs question, there have been a few paper books that I've found very much worth it. Zero to One and Hard Thing About Hard Things are books that I've bought and read multiple times. I also get value out of classic fiction because it's so high quality, inspiring and contributes to shared culture and understanding of the world.


Often the point of a non-fiction book is to spend hours thinking deeply about the book's subject. You could probably get the major ideas in the length of a short blog post. But that's spending 10 minutes thinking about the topic as opposed to 2-3 hours.

You can think of it as the difference between reading about a subject online and having a long conversation about that subject with friends. For me personally, the length and guided interaction of a book makes a difference


Definitely. Few years ago I subscribed to this service called "Blinkist" which summarizes whole books into several pages.

But soon enough I understood it's pointless. I got superficial understanding of the books from the summary, but I forgot it just as quickly. If you want to extract value from a book, you must give it time, you must think about it, go deep, try different associations etc.


I'm sorry that you have viewed books this way for at least ten years. Deeper treatment of a given topic or story necessarily takes a long time to explain and the format of longform text exposition is called a book. They are worth reading. Also many are timeless, most problems are not new. Please read books and focus at first on books considered to be timeless classics. It sounds like you will be pleasantly surprised. I expect this will enrich your life a lot in ways you probably don't know exist. Don't expect immediate measurable benefits. Also don't give up after reading one or two. Also you will get faster at reading them.

I think a big part of the problem here is that if you focus on topical and especially self-help books, the content in them is shallow, mostly meaningless bullshit that is comparable in quality to online discussion. As a good general rule don't read anything marketed as self help. And I can't emphasize enough how shallow and low value online discussion generally is.

Fiction is good. Non-fiction can be good if you know what you want, but popular non-fiction is more likely to be bullshit. I recommend One Hundred Years Of Solitude, which is widely regarded as one of the best novels ever.


I mostly read fiction books and technical O'Reilly stuff. Would highly recommend both. Reading books is infinitely more relaxing than browsing content online aimlessly.


I believe 2 things about books (with no citations provided so don't believe me but if interest search for studies) reading books helps keep our memory and concentration in top shape, possibly reading long articles is OK in that regard, too.

Reading text books helps us learn things we didn't know we needed to know.

ie if you've learnt the basics of programming, you're going to solve programming problems using the skills you know. If you get stuck you might ask or search for a question framed with your current skills, it might be the wrong question to ask though, similar to the XY problem. You'll probably be able to solve the problem the way you want to solve the problem, but it could be the wrong way to solve the problem.

If you keep doing this, not reading text books on programming and just asking or searching for questions when you get stuck, it's going to take a lot longer to master the skill. This is all my opinion and not fact.


Way too many generalizations on the medium, socioeconomic attainment, quality, etc.

Yes, many books have high-quality information that is not digitized and not accessible without reading them. This is true for older books and newer books.

It is more true in fields like finance, tax, legal and hyper local historical accounts.

It is also true in the software field as well. For example, a programming book by one author can still expose you to elegant efficient techniques that would never be found on someone's blog or on sites like stackoverflow where the community consensus masquerades as better.

In finance and economics there are financial products and circumstances in older books that you might not have heard of, which can become advantageous in upcoming "new" market condition that now only you recognize.

In tax, you no longer have to be one of the citizens angry that wealthy people have accountants to perceive obscure advantages, because you can already perceive them.

Sometimes the exposure to concepts in books can make your internet searches more specific so that you find where these daily conversations occur, or new communities where people take the knowledge to new modern levels. Compared to being in the same communities you are now and assuming you aren't missing anything.


There has been an influx of information. And it applies to books as well. There are tons of books written by ever growing breed of aspiring writers. Most of the recent books tend to be full of

> fluff, anecdotes, stories, jokes, and trivialities.

The amount of insights in each book have grown less and less.

That said, books are still the best source of information. The problem is - with ever growing list of recommendations it is easy to get overwhelmed with your to-read lists.

> I have thousands of non-fiction (mostly self-improvement) books in my reading list on GoodReads, but almost never bother to read any.

I was in your position too. Then I read Straight Line Leadership (one of the few books which is really short and to the point) (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11556152-straight-line-l...)

One of big takeaways from the book was - Knowledge acquired and not used puts you in the same category as an uneducated person. Learn stuff and then use it.

Since then I have worked towards identifying what I really want in life and then reading stuff geared towards it.

For example, after reading tons of recommendations on HN about NVC, I tried the audio recording from YT. I was half way there I got bored and gave up.

I thought it over and found that NVC didn't align with what I wanted "now" in my life. I might acquire skill but never use it. And I will end up forgetting most of it with time. So I have put in on hold and drawn up a plan on how and when I will need NVC. Currently I plan to get to NVC in the 2nd quarter of this year and doggedly pursue to applying in my life.


Most of what you're talking about is non-fiction "answers". Long form writing isn't particularly conducive to reading online (mostly meaning the web/HTML pages), but obviously you could do so via a PDF of a book. However, you're completely missing out on long-form fiction if you don't read "books". I'd recommend you read this recent article about binge reading [1], as it concisely captures what you're likely missing out on: the engrossing nature of a multihour in-depth read.

I now do most of my reading electronically (in my case via the Kindle iOS and Android apps, but I'm about to get a Kindle Oasis, because it's finally good enough), so don't restrict yourself to reading physical books. If you happen to have an Amazon Prime account, you can read plenty of books for free via Kindle. So you can also do this as a "no risk" experiment.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/04/opinion/sunday/why-you-sh...


A lot of useful ideas are pretty timeless, and for learning fundamental technical content, a _good_ book is worlds better than a collection of blog posts and wikipedia pages. I remember when I was learning about quaternion math, I spent a few days googling around, but often different authors would use different notational conventions, or have different assumptions (e.g. whether the coordinate system is right or left-handed), so the math would be subtly different. Not to mention the ones that were just flat-out wrong.

So I went to the library, browsed through several books to find one that seemed most relevant, and ended up checking out "Quaternions and Rotation Sequences" from J Kuipers. Having a single well-thought-out book that walked from the basic background all the way through, with consistent notation, was way easier to follow than the scattershot collection I'd found online.

So in general I'd say if you're optimizing for the most up-to-date information on a subject that's changing quickly, looking online is probably your best bet. If you want to learn something more foundational and can find a good book about it, I'd definitely go for that.


Written book content is so dramatically different than online content.

The single fact that books have to be reviewed, edited, and published takes on a whole new world of quality and information.

Personally, I don't even bother with ebooks due to the lack of creditability in the quality of information and writing.

So, yes they are.


I read much less than I used to, but these days I tend to consume a non fiction book at least every 2-4 weeks (sometimes more), either by reading or by audio book (the library here is fantastic for this).

I would say you are missing out, given you read slow, I suggest an audio book ( which you can playback faster than normal speed ). BUT make notes.

NO... none of that "that sounds like a good idea, but can't be bothered".... MAKE NOTES. Or at the very least write a detailed review of the book. Put it on goodreads or something like that.

this will vastly increase your retention AND get your brain to do its own analysis on the material.

For non fiction, which I mostly prioritize, occasionally I'll read a fiction book, I suggest read widely over these subjects: History, Tech, philosophy, autobiographies, science, social sciences, economics. Some of which may sound dry, but there are many well written and interesting books on those subjects. Those areas provide a series of mental hooks that all kinds of other information hangs on (also in the world of fiction you can see authors inspiration from those topics as well )


>I assume that the best part of the best books will surface in daily conversations, YouTube videos, CliffsNotes, podcasts, Reddit posts/comments, blog articles, etc.

Are you exclusively talking about reading for learning or are you including reading for pleasure? Both are "worth it" in my opinion, but if you are including reading for pleasure the idea that anyone could think this blows my mind.

Do you enjoy film/TV? Because if so you could think of what I just quoted as being equivalent to saying "Oh I don't need to watch anything. I just eavesdrop on watercooler discussions and watch highlight clips".

Or in other words good books are more than the sum of their parts. CliffsNotes and comments can be interesting but won't include the full context, the playful uses of language, the pacing, and so much more.... They won't include the art of the text.


In the broad, reading books is worth it. Not every book. Not even most of them. (It's helpful to avoid the sunk-cost fallacy. You've already incurred whatever cost or risk came with obtaining the book--it's fine to give it the lesser of 1/5th or 50 pages to hook you, and move on if it doesn't.)

I find that I'm more generative than usual (i.e., I become a fountain of creative ideas) when I'm reading an engaging book.

In the specific, it depends who you are (generally, but also like at a specific time) and what you're looking for. I think there is value in reading Great Works, but I've also read plenty of them that I found boring and unrewarding.

Maybe a better place to start is with a deep (but general-audience-friendly) dive into an event, place, time, person, thing, or technology that you've either found intriguing for a long time, or find yourself surprised that you've never heard about. Looking for something narrow (i.e., probably not a war or a country or an industry--but maybe a battle, person, unit, company, neighborhood) may help you filter for books on topics that the writer also found deeply engaging.


I mostly read literature, fiction, and classics. Occasionally I read some modern science fiction and fantasy. Very rarely do I read the advice of someone that I don't know.

Fiction (and some forms of non-Fiction) are about our inner life. They help us discover questions to ask, how we feel, guide us in our understanding of others, society, and the world at large.

My favourite books tend to be about outsiders: L'Entranger, Fahrenheit 451, 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, etc... I often find myself at odds with people, with popular opinion, and sometimes even with society. Reading about these figures has given me a lot to think about my place in relation to all of these outside forces, question my own moral compass in relation to other "outsiders," and even work on understanding the nature of otherness.

I've also loved The Nature of Things, The Prince, Days by Moonlight... poetry by Allen Ginsberg, Patti Smith. They all take me places to where I can never go and leave me a different person than I was before.

Books aren't meant to be consumed. They're meant to be inhabited, lived in, worn like a favourite coat borrowed from a friend.

I can't imagine life without books.


My experience attempting to optimize information intake:

-Many books are no better than podcasts or articles, and only leave you with a handful of takeaways.

-But the best books are fantastic and well worth the time/money.[1]

-Audiobooks are great if you integrate them into your routines. Think commuting, getting ready in the morning, exercising, etc.

-Videos (e.g., documentaries) tend to be the most informative per unit time for non-technical content, but there are far fewer of them for most topics.

-Re-reading/viewing the best content repeatedly addresses forgetting and amortizes purchase prices.

[1] This may not be a result of them being books per se; it could be more that the top .1% of content on any medium tends to be excellent, and reading books gives you access to another pool of top content. Though I've also found that many people who really know what they're talking about or have exceptionally interesting lives write books, not articles. This might be because articles are too short, they know that people will pay for their content, and/or they want the reputational benefits of publishing a book.


"I wonder if I'm missing out?" It depends on what you're looking for. If you are only looking to read about the most bleeding edge stuff, then keeping up online is the thing to do.

"Are books worth it? Is it more true for some fields than others? Is it more true for older books?" Yes. Maybe. Maybe.

I love books because they always take the path of depth on topics. A book on psychology will offer more than a single post. From a book, I get list of examples that allow me to remember concepts better, ,and give me ideas on how I can apply those concepts to my own life. Books can also give context to what's happening today. It's easier to catch up on a topic by a reading a book that summarizes a topic / field that it is to look for the information online.

And if the concern is cost, and you're in the US, consider getting a library card and download libby (https://www.overdrive.com/apps/libby/). Free rentals of audiobooks from your local libraries.


Most books are wordy. But then again so are most articles, podcasts, and videos.

Good books, however, are some of my favorite things: The Language Instinct by Stephen Pinker, Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, On Writing Well by William Zinsser.

One advantage of a book by someone who is both (a) an expert in the field, and (b) an expert at expression, is a coherent, thorough treatment of a subject, from start to finish. It's usually best to first get your hands dirty for a few weeks and then search for the best book on the subject (rather than the other way around). For example, I fiddled with JavaScript, writing little snippets, got them to kind of work. But I could not say at that time that I understood JavaScript. And had I tried to learn JavaScript by reading scraps here and there online I wonder if I would have ever developed a coherent understanding. What I did was buy the O'Reilly book, JavaScript: The Definitive Guide, by Brendan Eich, which is 500 pages, and I read it cover to cover. I was then ready to write my own framework :)


David Flanagan wrote "JavaScript: The Definitive Guide", I did not. Not sure why you thought I did -- please tell me in case there is an error somewhere I can help correct. Thanks.


> I assume that the best part of the best books will surface in daily conversations, YouTube videos, CliffsNotes, podcasts, Reddit posts/comments, blog articles, etc.

I don't think this is true... while conversations may refer to certain sections or summarize certain things, topics of great depth require a lot of time. There's no substitute for reading the original source.

> One issue for me is that books are a very big time investment.

This is one of those "is this a feature or a bug?" situations. Reading for a long time slow you down on purpose. It's meant to create moments of critical thinking and inspiration. It's meant for you to sit down and truly think.

I do agree that, still, reading takes way too much time. I don't read a lot. I usually read on vacation/airplanes, or if I can't sleep at night. Because they take a long time, I'm also very picky about the books I _do_ end up reading. For learning things, though, I usually listen to podcasts or watch videos at 2x the speed.

And lastly.... have you tried reading fiction?


I think you are confusing information gathering with understanding. To give you a practical example: consider the book “How to draw portraits in charcoal” by Nathan Fawkes (great book btw). You can find all the main points of the book online condensed in bullet point lists. In fact here are the main three: get to know the 3d shape you want to draw and learn to project a simplified version on paper; simplify, group and design areas of dark and areas of light; keep the values in the areas of light separate in value space from those of the areas of dark (the value distribution should be roughly two peaks that don’t touch).

So how much better are you at drawing portraits in charcoal after reading the list? Not much. What matters is putting the principles in practice.

Good books design an experience to help you do that. They should be treated as bibles to look at for guidance, knowing that another human being that already acquired the skill has done his best to provide a good map to speed up your development.


Yes, books are worth it, and you are missing out. It's fine to read them online, but Reddit comments, daily conversations, Cliff's Notes, etc., are not an adequate substitute, and neither are books filled with fluff, anecdotes, and trivialities. Bullet-point-style summaries give you the illusion of understanding, and maybe a preview of what you could learn, but actual learning is something else.

Learning is when you become able to do things you didn't know how to do before. Books, especially textbooks, are a useful resource for learning. But just reading a book, even a good one, will not cause you to learn by itself. You still have to spend effort on practicing the skills the book discusses.

Most of the information from books is freely available online on Library Genesis. But be careful; some books on Library Genesis are there without a license from their copyright holders, which makes it illegal in some jurisdictions to download them.


One benefit that books have over articles, reddit comments, youtube, etc. is that they're hard to write. Consequently, people who write books on a subject are usually very knowledgeable and invested in it, meaning that books are more likely to contain good information than other media.

Usually, when I hear an interesting idea online, the person relaying it got it from a book.


“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” -- George R.R. Martin


Reading something by someone who is passionate about and an expert at the craft of writing — be it literature (which has special pleasures and gifts of its own), or nonfiction.

It is a unique way to learn about another persons interior universe and gain additional perspective on the world.

It is still the case, I believe, that the very best writers publish their writing in print — books or reputable magazines.

Obviously they are online too but more are in print.

And if you consider works which are seminal in their field or have withstood the test of time —— print.

Lastly there are studies showing that our brains process information differently when reading from a book Or magazine (or even a printed out PDF, probably) because of the physical interaction occurring along with the mental one (or something like that).

There are definitely people who find it easier to learn in other ways and that is totally legit.

If you haven’t tried though you should give it a shot.


There's a lot of dark matter, content not indexed or not highly ranked by search engines. If you want to go really deep into a topic, PhD level etc., you're eventually going to want to look at a few physical books that simply aren't available online. But you'll find some echo of them online, at least the parts that are easy to explain and understand.

When people are telling you to read books they aren't referring to those kinds of books though; they're usually talking about popular nonfiction books published in the last few years. My experience there has been that books are slightly better edited and fact-checked than online blog posts, but it's not really sufficient and they are often still full of bullshit. There are good books and bad books and the range of variation is similar to everything else written.


I was like you. I spent my first 10 years after college reading essentially 0 books, instead filling my reading/idle time with news, podcasts, and other pursuits.

When I started my company, my co-founder was reading books at a heavy clip, and was suddenly coming in with great ideas to discuss, new perspectives on things, and a whole world of different opinions based on what he was reading.

I vowed to keep up with the awesome pace he was setting, got over my "audiobooks aren't real reading" stigma, and have since torn through over 100 books on 2x.

I have learned SO many amazing things about business, history, my own philosophy, and how to interact with other people through reading. Reading has enriched every possible portion of my life.

I typically read 3 business or self-enrichment books for every 1 fiction book I allow myself, and I find that's a great balance.


> got over my "audiobooks aren't real reading" stigma, and have since torn through over 100 books on 2x

So in your post when you refer to "reading", do you actually mean listening to audiobooks? While audiobooks have their place, I don't believe them to be the equivalent of reading. To think so is to believe the value of the book is the content itself, but literature as a medium is more than its written word. Literature can be an art, and not just in terms of prose and the writer behind it, but also in cases before mass printing was invented and entire books were written and illustrated painstakingly by hand.

And between reading and listening, I wouldn't be surprised if reading required more "brain power" to process, in the same way that (supposedly) reading does compared to watching TV. The auditory system is just more innate than the process of reading is, which is a learned skill you aren't born with. Of course this makes audiobooks more accessible and easier to digest, which would be one of their merits for a lot of people. This is my largely unsubstantiated opinion and I'm not trying to insinuate anything in particular. I just believe reading to be its own distinct pastime and skill.

Personally, I can't stand listening to audiobooks, especially while doing menial tasks like chores, because it feels like anytime I get distracted, the words go in and come out the other ear. The retention just isn't there, it might as well be background noise.


Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: