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How I read books: a guide on how to learn (denzhadanov.com)
238 points by ingve on Dec 4, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 141 comments

Sometimes I wonder how I would turn out if I did organized people stuff like this. What bothers me is these life advices always feel like bullshit. Like, check this guy out. He has his own website with a title "Den Zhadanov\nTechnology. Productivity. Inspiration.". This is life coaching 101. He writes about how burning man didn't change his life and has pictures of books on beaches. How does one take this person seriously? Can someone read this crap and think "Yeah, I find this guy to be honest and want to take his opinion seriously." I get that he's a Forbes 30 under 30 but personally it all smells way more like hustle than some profound knowledge.

Your comment reminds me of something Andy Matuschak wrote:

> But most people who write about note-taking don’t seem particularly accomplished in their own fields, whatever those may be. In fact, most such writers aren’t applying their notes to some exogenous creative problem: their primary creative work is writing about productivity. These writers offer advice on note-taking to help scientists and executives with the challenges of their work, but the advice was developed in a context disconnected from those external realities.


Essentially, be wary of taking advice about reading, research, writing, or anything else from people whose primary contribution to the world is telling people how to read, research, and write. Instead, listen to people who have used these techniques to make a substantial contribution to a field of knowledge.

The problem is that those people are far more interested in doing research and writing than teaching other people how to do it.

Building on this advice, I highy recommend the essay titled "How to Read a Book" by Paul Edwards:


Edwards is an academic historian of science who write incredibly long and dense books drawing on hundreds of sources. If anyone knows how to read, its him, and his advice was truly useful for my own reading.

Thanks for this. I clicked on this thread thinking "why should I care about how den zhadanov reads books? what has he accomplished exactly?" and confirmed my suspicious when I saw the picture of him reading one of those junk business self help books. Snake oil.

This person, however, seems worthy of consideration.

“junk business self help books.”

Indeed many a bookshelf is littered with such babble, but to group Nobel laureate, Danny Khaneman[1] into that group would be a gross overestimation.

[1] https://www.britannica.com/biography/Daniel-Kahneman

This is awesome: It's useful, it's enlightening, and I wouldn't have found this without your comment. Thank you!

Thank you for sharing this. I seem to follow some of his methods and there are some I need to adopt.

Thank you for the advice! I'll add that to the list

This. The best advice I have received is from people who never intended to share it and were almost shy about it. It's only thorough my observation that I learned about their skill.

Ergo, learning is stealing. Good students learn alone, and just need goals. Spoonfed knowledge is like processed food. It's clickbaity and likely spread because it makes you feel good.

Yeah! The best students learn alone! That's also why the best athletes don't use coaches. Wait, that's not right. Hang on.

Even though all real learning is at least 80% internal and must be owned-and-operated by the student... maybe there's a role for spoonfed knowledge. Certainly there's a role for teachers (disagreeing with "good students learn alone"), even if morale-management and goal-setting is a surprisingly large fraction of it. But even spoonfed knowledge is helpful. For example, as far as I can tell, most good mathematicians have a lot of spoonfed knowledge as part of their learning history (but they also have even more self-guided exploration, and even the spoonfed stuff you gotta chew on it and digest it).

Agreed, though, that a lot of articles like this are clickbaity and, like sugar, give you a sensation of learning rather than what you really need. This particular article, I think, contains a mish-mash of good advice and, uh, pureed pap. It's certainly not worst-of-breed.

So, essentially "You shall know them by their fruits". Seems like false prophets existed in all millennia.

I remember asking IBMers if they used rational modeling to make their programs. The silence answered the question.

I'm guilty of this myself. My interests and struggle become topic of suggestions to others even though it's half good ideas half fluff.

> My interests and struggle become topic of suggestions to others even though it's half good ideas half fluff.

This is a wonderfully honest observation.

I suspect we all have this experience; I certainly do. Of course the suggestions come from an honest place, but often the verbalized outputs do not live up to the epistemic standards we would like to hold ourselves to.

I think perhaps I should less say "do this" and instead more say "here is my experience, and my current theory about that experience, and what I'm trying to do to improve". Or perhaps even "I wonder if...".

It turns out that I had to re-write this comment to follow my own advice, and I think in this case it was in fact helpful, at least for me. That's pleasing.

As someone who has many opportunities to give advice to people 20 years younger than me, I'm doing a lot of "well, I used to think X, and now I don't, so a similar evolution may happen to you". Maybe that's also relevant. Maybe it's just a bad old-man habit.

> "here is my experience, and my current theory about that experience, and what I'm trying to do to improve".

Indeed that's what I did for a few years. My ideas have shifted now, I stopped discussing much (life is short) instead you do stuff. And suddenly mediocre companies feel a lot more valuable because instead of talking theories they do stuff.

I guess I'm just rediscovering life... know how to gather a bunch of people and make something useful and enjoyable for many.

Yeah, it's like all the sports and horse race handicapping gurus offering their picks for a fee. If their methods were so good, why not just apply them rather than spending the extra time trying to run the meta business?

On the other hand these people can sometimes lead you to some more serious material if they share their sources. Seems to be the case here with this link in the post : https://maartenvandoorn.nl/reading-guide/ (changed to the direct link to the author site to avoid medium.com)

I always open these links hoping to find some new source or concept on note-taking, thinking, meta learning etc. But Im dissapointed by the continuous flow of shallow hustle porn material

Looking at the more substantial link that you provided now, thanks for sharing!

This comment is gold, it reminds me also about how when we build something we tend to show it to our friends or peers, when we should be reaching out to whom has the problem we are trying to solve.

There is a fundamental challenge here. If you want to learn X, you look for a teacher that is great at X and teaching. Teaching, writing, and other forms of communication are sort of meta-skills that you need to pair with some domain so that they have something to communicate.

The intersection of "great at X" and "great at explaining" is often very small. In practice, you end up having to make trade-offs like wading through poor exposition because the author is the real deal. Another common failure mode is what we see here: People that are so good at explaining, hustling, and branding, that they become popular despite likely having very little expertise at X.

Feynman with his (super simple...) method for getting deep understanding is a great example.

Is it really though? Any CPU powerful enough can compute primes large enough. I suspect that Feynman was a supercomputer who could often brute force it.

His method may work for him but it doesn't mean he has a complete understanding of how to learn it general. He can learn, but he may not know how he does it or how others should do it.

I've never head of this. Care to provide a link?

I can't speak for OP, but I think they might potentially mean this: https://mattyford.com/blog/2014/1/23/the-feynman-technique-m....


basically go back and forth between trying to ELI5 the thing, and reading source material.

Did someone manage to convince him to OSS or sell licenses to his system? Seems similar to http://fed.wiki.org/view/welcome-visitors but more dynamic and with some extra link discovery. I am trying logseq right now but the bullet-point format is a bit limiting (equally so when I compare my own freeform paper notetaking with bullet journalling).

It's only for presentation. He writes in Bear on MacOS and use his script to make backlinks https://github.com/andymatuschak/Bear-Markdown-Export . He made a video presenting how he works, should be somewhere on YT. But if you're asking specifically about that website source code then yes, he was asked about it. He didn't publish it. There are some alternatives: https://github.com/MaggieAppleton/digital-gardeners

One exception may be Niklas Luhmann, a German sociologist, who was a prolific writer. His note taking method was part of his philosophical process, I assume.

He is an exception in that he wrote about note-taking from the perspective of someone who used his system to make serious contributions to systems theory and various other fields.

But he's a great demonstration of Matuschak's point. Luhmnam wrote dozens of books about a wide range of topics, enabled by Zettelkasten, and then wrote a couple of essays towards the end of his career about how he did it.

> he wrote about note-taking

Did he? I though we have his archive and we know how he used it (from some interview, I think). Didn't thought he wrote about it directly in his system. Do you have source on that?

I wish this were less abstruse.

Thank you!

The best athlete is not necessarily is the best coach and in reverse the best coach don’t need to be the best athlete— different skill set.

Well, Jacques Barzun was an excellent writer and historian. He wrote a fair bit on writing, and his Teacher in America contains the chapters "How to Read and Be Right" and "How to Write and Be Read", both with sound advice.

This applies to coaching in general. Don't take coaching advice from someone that is less accomplished than you. He should be as least as accomplished as where you'd like to be in 5-10 years, etc.

Thats a weird advice, most accomplished sportsmen have had coaches less accomplished then them. All top tennis pros, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have had coaches less accomplished then them. Most football coaches are less accomplished then their star players. I am pretty sure this is true for most fields, not just sports.

Athletes on that level rarely have just one coach throughout their careers, and are constantly striving to do better. Players of team sports demand trades due to (perceived, if not actual) deficiencies in coaching all the time. It's possible, maybe even desirable sometimes, to have someone who is less accomplished than you to coach or guide you, but it would be probably be detrimental to follow everything they said without question.

As I implied in another comment of mine, I agree with you that it's interesting to look at how athletes use coaching. Things like music training are another area with, I think, similar patterns.

Almost by definition, truly top athletes are unlikely to be able to have coaches more accomplished than them, especially when you consider the overall trend-line in sports performance is upward. So clearly "more accomplished than you" is not a strict requirement. But it might still be the optimum for everyone else.

I think my personal model is this: First of all, the most-important asset for a coach is that they have a correct model of improvement in the field. That doesn't strictly require them to be any good at all. However, they're much more likely to develop a correct model if they put a bunch of time into trying to be good. And also, if they were never good, they're much more in danger of having a subtly-totally-wrong model of how improvement would work. So although it's not strictly necessary that they be any good at the activity itself, it markedly improves both upside risk and downside risk.

Some people who are more accomplished than you are shitty coaches though. Some rock climbers I've known come immediately to mind.

I think that advice breaks down when you reach the highest levels. For example, even the best hitters in baseball have hitting coaches.

what about NBA players?

That's why Lionel Messi does not need any coaching. It's not like your advice is wrong it's just too simplistic. There are several reasons why a coach could be less accomplished than you and still be a great coach: 1) Provide a third-person , objective perspective on your performance. 2)Be a great motivator.3) Work like a resonance board to your ideas, plans. 4) Helping you to avoid mistakes they made. 5)More time to dedicate to specific pain points in your performance, etc. Grand-masters going to a World Chess championship assemble a team of other GMs, who are usually less (many times, a lot less) accomplished than them, but they bring a lot of good stuff to the table.

I agree with your skepticism, and I think it is healthy, but on the other hand what is being said in the post is sensible.

The best way to read this, or most of the internet really, in my opinion, is as if he were a friend, a colleague, family or an acquaintance, not as an authority; you listen politely, nod and smile, and reflect/research on your own on what it seems useful.

At the end of the day, the web enabled anyone to write, and this guy should not self censor just because that advice could be given elsewhere by a more authoritative role. It is his personal blog that we are visiting! If you were talking to a friend over coffee/beer about an idea that seems important to you that he hears, wouldn’t you be energetic, perhaps taking an “authoritative” tone? Not far-fetched!

I mean, I'm visiting it because it showed up on HN high enough for some reason. It's not like I reached out to find him. And now he's in my face and I'm annoyed. I guess you could say I have anger management problems but these guys give off such a "punchable" vibe. Big smile, nice suit, lots of self promoting bullshit. And then people start calling it charisma and flock to it and we end up in the realm of populism and fad instead of getting shit done. Just remember that bitconnect guy; people ate that shit like chocolate santas

> Big smile, nice suit, lots of self promoting bullshit. And then people start calling it charisma and flock to it and we end up in the realm of populism and fad instead of getting shit done.

This is the world we live in now. Self-promotion and public relations are the controlling factors in most large decisions I see in my profession (higher education) that it's just, well, sickening.

It seems like, across most fields, public relations and how we are perceived is far more important than the work actually getting done.

If you can wrap up a shit sandwich in a pretty bow and sell it, why worry about the quality of what you're selling?

It's depressing. Honestly, it drags me down on a daily basis to see people who plainly have no function except to be self-promoting and who can play the PR game get ahead consistently.

And the best part is, it's an impotent rage. What is there even to do about this? I have no idea.

You don't have to be so cynical, because some people might have deep-down issues, and the posturing is a way to hide it. They just want to be liked, and so they "cheat", and that's why they are biologically "punchable". Cheating is punished.

I'm with you. I mean, already the title perspires arrogance. I'm not going to click on it, even though there might be good advice there. I probably have already heard it and probably will heard it again from someone without that attitude.

The reason being people you trust in curating things upvoted it. Not the guy’s fault!

For some reason all of this induces negative emotions in me as well - it's like everyone and their mother wants to tell you how excellent they are and how you should live. Maybe it's this "write! you need to write! now!" advice which is frequently appearing on HN frontpage, maybe this is the reason why programmers with two years of experience are telling with authoritative tone 'how it should be done' It's annoying to try to filter out "fake it until you make it" lot but I'm afraid that there is no solution besides big dose of skepticism

Thanks for the comment. Could you please share why does this induces a negative emotion?

My intention was to become create a system for myself, and I decided to share that on my personal blog with friends and people who know me. So the original intention was to share something that I'm using myself, and something that I've spent 10+ hours researching.

Would love to hear your opinion

Productivity hacks are the new startup hacks.

(Kidding, not kidding... I'm more annoyed by "founder" specialness/pithy comments on Twitter than productivity hacks, though, I haven't seen a Roam submission in a few days; And yes, I know where I am).

If my friends made a habit of giving unsolicited advice for things that they don't have the results to show for what they are preaching, we wouldn't be friends for long.

So, yeah, I wish people applied some self-restraint when posting these things. As much as we can develop a bullshit detector, there is only so much time we can spend calling out BS vendors in our lives.

Well yeah the good thing about the internet is that you pull the info you choose to pull. Sometimes HN curation does not align with your interests; it will pass.

HN curation brings me tons of things that are not exactly of my interest but still does not bother me. What bothers me (and I guess the OP) is the BS vendoring.

It's the people that got some kind of success in one field (whether by luck, talent, hard work or a combination of it) and start thinking that they have authority to talk about anything else. The bad part is when the masses start actually giving credit to them without any further scrutiny.

Actors/celebrities and their fan bases are the best example of this effect.

The fact his blog entry was submitted on here (a curated tech news site) only adds to his "growth hacking", despite what he writes being common sense and easily available information online.

I cannot take such people very seriously either and feel all these "life coaching 101" courses/events are no different to new programmers getting stuck in a never ending spiral of tutorials. You're constantly reminded how everything is _just_ out of reach although another course will help get there...

May I recommend Maria Markstedter? https://azeria-labs.com/the-process-of-mastering-a-skill/

90% of her content is about ARM exploitation (which I'm personally not interested in). However, she has a couple of posts on how she learns and works, that are believable to me thanks to the rest of her content.

She's also not selling coaching, she's selling her technical skills.

Yep. All these fake people selling productivity bullshit to poor saps are a net negative in the world if you ask me.

The entire idea of “optimizing” the way you read or take notes is itself a farce built on the same desperate need for easy life hacks over just doing the damn work. If you enjoy reading, it won’t feel like work either!

As someone with ADHD, I think I got an amplified impression on the issue at hand. These people are selling the fantasy of success/self-efficacy to those vulnerable people lacking executive functioning and prone to daydream their life.

I can't count how many "techniques" I came up with myself over the years. Enthusiastic, convinced and most importantly, of course, not successful. Motivated, getting-things-done people don't have some secret methodology, they have enough dopamine to take a risk in energy expenditure. You know which totally secret behavior will increase productivity? Taking a pill of amphetamine every morning.

Not saying y'all got ADHD, but there is a spectrum and it's not bullshit. If you constantly feel the need to explode tasks and compulsively need to get to the "root" of the problem, thoroughly prepare each new project, but got a hard time actually starting (or finishing) anything... Another guide is not your solution.

You need to learn to endure the unfair pain of extra boredom and the feeling (self)stimulatory deprivation; help your brain to dopamine with diet, with timing sugar and frequently exercise. Or get ADHD diagnostic, if things were like this since childhood and you always struggled. <3

I'm going to see a psychiatrist for the first time next week because I think I had ADHD. This has helped me think about exactly how I want to state my problem. That I lack executive function, that I can't focus on the things I need to focus on, that I have spent decades trying to create accountability systems that ultimately fail.

> help your brain to dopamine with diet, with timing sugar

Could you expand?

I have been on a strict diet the past few weeks and exercising every day, I do think it's helped but I am still stuck.

Another thing... You want a sincere diagnosis, based on what you got. Don't stress about finding the right words :)

There are a ton of other things, which overlap with ADHD symptoms. Bipolar PD, depression, hidden sleep problems (like apnea), anxiety, nutritional deficiencies, ... . Many of these things also come comorbid, unfortunately. Either way it's not an easy diagnosis and takes time to untangle.

Wish you all the best <3

Hey mate, just wanted to follow up, not sure if you will see this but I saw a psych a few days ago and asked for the lowest dose of Vyvanse and got 10mg script. Took it for the first time today and .. it feels like a weight has been lifted. It's hard to describe. I am able to be self directed and do things, like my brain has been shackling me all my life.

It's like I could have a hobby now that wasn't an addiction, that I can enjoy an activity that isn't a compulsion.

Anyhow, thanks for your help.

I still have a long way to go to learn time management and be better self directed, but this time I feel like I have a chance.

Thanks for all the insight.

I do want a sincere diagnosis but I am worried I won't be able to make progress if the doc is only with me for 15 minutes, as it has been in the past. Maybe that's just the medical culture in America.

The ADHD symptoms speak strongly to me, especially about focus and motivation. Anyhow I read all your replies, will give it a shot. Much appreciated.

Sounds more like metaphorical sugar - a brief top-up of excitement to keep the brain in high alert mode.

Think Facebook notifications. The excitement is not knowing what the notification is telling you about.

No, actually meant sugar XD. But yeah, for the dopamine still. Otherwise your brain is looking for other sources. Stimulatory thoughts ("big ideas", exploding connections), or the usual procrastination with novelty mining. Sugar increases your "will power" by dopamine release.

Dopamine manages how long you can do a task before you evaluate its success; the risk of energy expenditure. Think of how long a path finding algorithm goes into one direction before aborting; with the evolutionary twist of a survival restraints on overall energy expenditure, which means there is a feedback loop modifying the risk capacity on success or failure.

Normal people start with more and overfill with completed tasks (if rewarding), so they got more for the next plan. That is, you got a bit of dopamine for putting on your pants in the morning. In ADHD you _constantly fight the lack of (non-abstract) motivation for such simple things, because you got a chronic deficit. Daily life already costs you a lot of "will power".

Thank you for explaining. The range of knowledge communicated in an understanding manner on HN never ceases to amaze me. Definitely feel I learn something every day!

I mean actual sugar. Glucose signals your brain to refill the energy expenditure risk capacity. With ADHD your brain isn't normal. It's more active, it burns more and has less capacity for risk in energy expenditure (putting off reward). You need a steady stream of fuel. (Not a giant load, slowly sip on some orange juice or even lemonade when you work your brain). Look up Russell Barkley lectures on youtube. He's generally regarded an expert in the field.

Yo. And check out /r/adhd! You won't learn how to cope there, since everybody just shares their "successful" techniques that they got going for a week ;) But it's super helpful to see how other people are like you, that it's actually not your fucking fault (pretty much saved my life...), that you're not lazy, and so on. ADHD also comes with a burden on your social life, from coming late, being impulsive and too easily aborting friendships (the radicalism on alleged principles, which I mentioned at the learning part) and so on, so it's good to untangle all that in the stories of others. Also that sub doesn't try to sell you ADHD as a blessing, which is good. You may "benefit" from divergent thinking and creativity at times, which come with the loose and jumpy focus, but ultimately it's a heavy burden, which has a toll on your life and health.

Daily exercise lifts your dopamine "base level".

However, if you really got ADHD you wanna try Ritalin, or Vyvanse. These stimulants work differently in ADHD brains than normal ones. To give you an idea: Some people take a small dose Ritalin right before bed, to calm their thoughts. I was skeptical about meds, but then I read in ADHD these stimulants actually "normalize" the brain as a long term "side effect". How often do you read that about psycho-pharmaca? They come at cost tho, of course, first medication I got with "sudden death" as a side effect... I also have trouble holding my weight (going too low), which started to scare me a little.

I think this is a common reaction. We're built with fraud detection as social animals.

People who talk as experts about areas their experience and accomplishments haven't aligned with always raise this. In this case, don't tell me how to learn when I question how much learning you've done.

The opposite of this is Adrian Colyer's the morning paper [1], where I'd love to learn Adrian's process of ingesting so much technical information.

As an aside, there are folks with expertise in certain areas that dip into a wide ranging set of topic. I try to remind myself of their expertise and discount heavily their opinion on other things:

Elon Musk talking about anything not related to launching a car or space company. Elon's opinions about Covid-19 testing the latest example.

Sam Atman talking about anything not related to VC investing.

[1] - https://blog.acolyer.org/

You're my spirit animal sir/madam.

Just another blog post telling people how to live by a person whose whole existence revolves around that process.

And yet, inexplicably, this drivel is somehow popular. I guess clueless people feel like they could learn something while not realizing that author himself doesn't know what he's talking about.

Motivational seminars are huge business. I was reading an article the other day about the whole "improve your self esteem" market which swept the US in the 80s/90s.

It's fascinating to me as a Briton because we don't have such a culture.

Yeah I had a skim of the submitted page only and this stuff is common sense to anyone who has studied to get good grades from age 14 onwards. However this sort of article might be useful to someone who struggled at high school and wants to give learning another shot.

Honestly, as one of those people who never studied or even did homework and basically got grades entirely a linear function of my interest in listening to the class without making any notes, I've thought for a while that I should just look up how organized, hard working people actually do anything, because it's predictably come back to bite me in that I now can't really teach myself anything unless it's in lecture format and provides summaries because any notes I take are useless. Also I have like zero time-management ability and I don't even know how people get it.

This ^ Also, as someone else mentioned, use your own brain to think about how this particular method would work for you. Hell try it. Doesn't mean it works for everyone, or that someone else doesn't have another better method. But this is our area of interest as 'hackers' and hacking learning might be the format which better appeals to someone over another.

I also doubt many of these things are even true.

I was always surprised in lectures watching people divide their attention between actually listening and trying to write structured notes. Most of the time there's a book which was structured by a pro. Rather than re-reading your own notes which reify misunderstandings from the 1st encounter.

I don't know what textbooks you had but mine were generally enormous, hugely expensive, with average quality noted and explanations. The one that comes to mind immediately is https://www.pearson.com/uk/educators/higher-education-educat...

Meanwhile, sites like Paul's Math Notes and Khan academy are easier to digest, clearer explained, and much more available.

Thank you for the feedback. It's actually simple. I realised that I need to create a better system for myself to learn as I read. So I did some research and created a system that I will try myself. In that process, I decided to share because a lot of my friends asked me about this topic. HN picked this up organically.

It would be great if you add your feedback and ideas about the topic. I'd be happy to learn from you on how you read books and what works.

Have a great day.

That he's a Forbes 30 under 30 is a strong signal to ignore him, rather than ignoring him despite him being on that list: The Forbes ‘30 Under 30’ Hustle | https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21082523

The top comment at the link above says it all.

He has really not completed a single book on that list. I can see a bunch which are "Currently reading" but none are complete. and we are getting advice based on that.Maybe I'll be look to read his blog after some reading has been done.

Irfn, this is a list of books that I'm going to read (I haven't added books that I read there yet) and haven't made notes. I mentioned that is a new system that I made for myself and will be trying it out, and any feedback on how you learn and read would be great.

I felt the same way reading it, but I also admire the ability to self-brand, even though personally I’ve given up on that, having gained weight and worn boxers to work most days recently. I could brand that, but it wouldn’t be original.

Organization and motivation are important, though.

>> Instead of reading 100 books, it’s better to find one that really changes your life

This is just flat out wrong for non-fiction. This is not a good way to use books or any research material, except perhaps meta-analysis’ but even then with caution.

It doesn’t matter how many 5 star reviews it has, or who wrote it. You will be far better served by reading many writers on the topic and using your learning from each to compare and contrast between the materials and arrive at a deeper understanding.

For example, there are thousands of books with a theme that could be written as “how i got rich”. Every single one of these books tells the version of the story the author would like you to believe rather than the actual truth because the simple fact is the author themselves, despite living that life, may not actually know the truth of the matter themselves. Plus some actively seek to deceive.

- "Instead of reading 100 books, it’s better to find one that really changes your life."

Plus the author doesn't even seem to do this himself, his reading list is roughly 30 books on the same topic of pop "productivity" and selling the dream of having a successful business career.

There are certainly singular books that have changed me, but I never went into them knowing the impact they'd have ahead of time -- how could I? In my reading habits I always try to be curious, open, and meandering. "Productivity" is for boring people.

Even ignoring the idea that reading a lot is beneficial in of itself, how do you find the single book that changes your life without reading the 100 books to find it? Pick one at random and mold your life around it? Choose one based on random internet stranger recommendation? Be given a recommendation from someone in your life?

No matter how you spin it, it's a feel good line. It's a line that cannot even work in theory, as you cannot know the book changes your life prior to reading it.

What the author means, is that many people read a lot of books, but don't internalize and adapt their actions accordingly in a truly meaningful way (count me in). So his argument is, to better take one good book and truly learn from it and change yourself than read a hundred books and forget 90% of what you read, let alone to change your actions.

That said, I agree with you that having more sources of information reduces the risk of falling to the misconceptions of one or a few authors.

I believe the author's point is that there are just too many books out there.

Book reviews and ratings saves you time by helping you avoid the bad ones to begin with. In that case good star reviews does matter. The reviews helps you avoid those books that you mention in your example.

Though I agree that reading widely does help, it makes sense to focus your limited time to read and use sources that have been thoroughly reviewed by other people

If that's the author's intended point, he should have written it in a way that makes it clear.

Plus there is a great deal to learn out there that is not instructional and can't be captured by a single book. Reading good fiction, biographies etc opens your horizons, builds human understanding and empathy. It is more subtle than the "10 habits of successful people" style books but more valuable in my opinion.

My process:

- If I find the book is very daunting but also very valuable, I read it multiple times from start till end. First time without stopping for reading references, then another pass for researching topics, references, etc. and then finally once more to read everything again with the newly acquired knowledge to find some things that I may have missed, things that I might have understood incorrectly and to improve retention.

- I always keep notebook close by to note anything that comes to my mind. Some things are triggered by reading the book and some things are completely unrelated. I write them down so that they don't distract me from reading.

- I have special place in my office where I put a book so that it is visible to me whatever I do. It serves as a constant reminder to get it finished.

- When I was young I learned to speed read. When I grew up little more I unlearned. It impairs comprehension.

One piece of advice I’ve found valuable is to write in books. On successive reference it has surprised me what I had thought first time through, and it doesn’t take me out of the book to make the note.

It did take a while to get over the feeling of sacrilege of the book, but it has been useful.

Let me first second (heh) your point about writing in books. In addition to it being a useful reference, it also aids me in the following two ways:

First, I am far more likely to remember what I have written than what I read. So it's a great device for helping to cement the material in your mind.

Second, it helps overcome a sort of inertia I have where if I'm not reading a book, there's a hurdle to picking it back up. If there's a note in the book sort of summarizing where I'm at, it not only removes that hurdle, but I have the subjective feeling that I'm back into it with a running start, rather than having to turn back a few pages to get back up to speed.

> It did take a while to get over the feeling of sacrilege of the book, but it has been useful.

I believe there's a section in Adler about this, and reading that passage was enough for me. I won't quote or paraphrase, because I'm not sure I'll represent their statements correctly, but I think that's the source of where I'm at with this now. And the change in my perspective was very rapid.

My new perspective on this wasn't to see books as less sacred, but to understand that in order to honor that sacredness, I had to consume this book in a deeper, more meaningful way, and form a real relationship with the book in a way that's probably impossible without writing in the book.

Not to be too cheesy, but there was also a bit of an "Aha!" moment for me watching Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. With regard to spoilers, the "half-blood prince" (HBP) had a real relationship with that book. It's positively scribbled in, and it made the book better presumably for HBP, but also for Potter who ends up possessing the book.

> I have special place in my office where I put a book so that it is visible to me whatever I do. It serves as a constant reminder to get it finished.

Tangential but I do this with everything. I like very high levels of organization (blame my aspergers) and thus I found that my motivation to hide unnecessary things from view is pretty high. High enough that I place things in view as a reminder to get them done. An extra laptop on my desk -> I need to transfer the remaining files into my new laptop so that I can finally remove it from view. Book on my desk? Needs to be finished. Sticky note on my island? need to order groceries before I can remove it. I'd turned minimalism into a lifestyle/todo list. Same with the digital world.

Great point. James Clear was talking about organizing an environment around us that would encourage certain behaviours.

> Instead of reading 100 books, it’s better to find one that really changes your life.

You can't know whether book will change your life or not until you read it. If you treat every book too seriously you just waste your time and kill the pleasure of reading.

Everyone should master skimming and their ability to regulate "depth of understanding" based on perceived value.

> If you treat every book too seriously you just waste your time and kill the pleasure of reading.

I gave up on reading non-fiction seriously as I realized that I started to skew non-fiction books due to taking them too seriously.

I, now, learn at lot less from each book but I do take pleasure in reading so it's an overall win.

Furthermore, I can always look deeper into a book if I get really interested into

Alan Kay said that you need to read bad books to know a good book. You need the context to know what makes something good and thus no reading is truly wasted.

Then there's the category "so bad it's good". "Three Cups of Tea" is The Room for books. It is a trifecta of sorts: poorly written, nonfiction, and partially falsified and debunked.

My process:

- Read the book from start till end

- From time to time, I lay the book aside and think about what I just read

People learn differently and I personally don't need notes nor fancy color maps like the author.

Having an external brain like the author has the downside that you can't set things in context (same as wikipedia).

For me the key to learning is this "aha" moment. Once I understand something I remember it for a very long time.

I'm probably missing number 2. Its only half a joke - I really don't reflect on stuff I read very frequently.

I think it depends on the text. When I read something complicated I have to reflect a lot.

On the other hand it's pointless to reflect on something you already know, understand or simply agree with...

Almost everything posted on the Internet is just an ad in one form or another

This is the "most true" thing I read today.


There are plenty of useful things to learn from others to expand and supplement your approach to reading, but for a total understanding of having a relationship with a book/author, Adler can’t be beat.

i'm a huge proponent of this book. it's not just about "reading books" so much as how you should approach any piece of prose information. it's life-changing.

Thank you for the recommendation! Will add that to the list

I second this. Huge productivity boost in my reading.

I've made a mistake and bought this one. Did not finish. Very boring and now useful information.

Articles like this should start with at least some reason we should think the author is actually in a position to give advice on this subject.

Reading a bunch of popular bestseller self help books doesn't actually teach you anything, even if you read 5000 of them.

Thanks for the feedback. It's simple - I realised that having a better system to read and learn is needed, and I did research and created a system for myself. During this process, I decided to share as my friends and colleagues are interested in this topics. It got picked up by HN.

So no advice were given and you don't have to take it. But I'm also always happy to learn from others.

> Reading a bunch of popular bestseller self help books doesn't actually teach you anything, even if you read 5000 of them.

Agree. Your time in life is finite, so one should read only the good stuff (and yes, objectively, some books are better than others).

> Agree. Your time in life is finite, so one should read only the good stuff (and yes, objectively, some books are better than others).

Wow, what a way to look at things... if life is finite why waste all of your time reading books someone else deems to be be "objectively" better than others? Just read whatever the hell appeals to you and forget about the official "deemed worthy" cannon.

I think I partly agree, reading anything is probably better than the alternatives if you want to do something to improve yourself.

However, you could also try, yourself, to make an educated guess or research what you might read to decide, for yourself, whether you consider it 'worthwhile' to spend your time on. You are setting up a false choice between 'read whatever you feel like without thinking about it at all' and 'only read what they tell you is worth reading', which aren't even choices among the same set of alternatives!

I tend to only write stuff down I learned from reading the book, then later turn these notes into flash cards. I feel the stuff that is obvious to me shouldn’t be written down, even if my notes then lack a certain completeness or are incomprehensible for anyone but me. I rather have notes of bits and pieces and tie them to the already existing neurological connections I have about the subject instead of trying to reorder everything in a coherent hierarchical sense.

I feel trying to make a perfect summary of a topic is something that is not really useful to a single person from a learning perspective. Yea you can not easily turn your notes into a blog post, but you train your brain and that is more rewarding in the long run, I think.

Also, yeah, Zettelkasten.

> Disclaimer: I’ve spend hours researching this topic and simplifying things for you.It gets a bit nerdy, but if you apply these techniques -> your life can change.

Is that meant ironically? It leaves a bad taste if not.

Exactly! Also, his saying he spent “hours” researching something is a strong giveaway he’s not very familiar with, well, researching and putting an idea forward. Everyone who wrote anything worth reading has also spent hours (often in the three-digit mark) researching it. If he thinks his article is anything special because he spent a few hours doing research for it, I’m not sure I can take it seriously.

The numerous errors in the writing don’t help things much, either.

While I like the strategy in general, I want to challenge the first point "Have a clear WHY I’m reading this book". I think reading books is like exercise, it doesn't matter which part of muscle it trains, as long as you keep doing it, it'll improve your health overall. I find that the best part of reading books for me comes mostly from the unconscious influence--often after I read a book, I can't tell you what I remember specifically and how it would improve my life. But if I'm lucky, one day the idea will come to my mind at the right time. I find myself dislike the mindset of having a purpose on reading. For me, the meaty part of reading is the process of searching, not the results. And you can guess that I dislike reading self-help books. I don't think we can change our behaviors by reading a book. knowing something is easy, practice is hard.

Interestingly, the author mentions he's reading Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow. In a talk[1], Daniel says "This is not really a self-help book. And of course it's very easy for me to say because I've been studying it. Not only I've read the book, I wrote it. Didn't improve my thinking at all."

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgQutgSwY88&feature=youtu.be...

Great point! The reason behind my "Why" is that I would like to pick a book and read it as it might improve my thinking and help me make a better decision.

For example, I want to become a better manager and leader, and so I research which books might help me. And "Radical Candor" was the book I picked, and it did change the way I manage my team, improved my relationships, etc.

However, letting go of why and structure is important too, and I can see how "searching" works for you.

Thanks for the comment

Am I alone in thinking this reduces the essence of books as work instead of as leisure. Where you are more focused on extracting something of "value" out of it then to actually enjoy it. It doesn't have to be this reductionist and utilitarian.

Maybe that explains the rise in companies that will summarize long books in 15min, or the rise of the small single rotating idea books.

It really depends on the books you’re reading. Doing this on fiction/literature will kill that pace the author wanted you to have but if you’re some literary critic or something, taking notes while reading may be useful for you

While I think there are some merits to this approach, I think some caution is also needed.

There are numerous times where I've read a lot of material quickly, not really mastering it but making a mental note of where to find that later. It's easy enough to go back and look up facts, reference material, or techniques for solving a particular kind of problem later, you don't need that to change your life.

Another other problem is: it's hard to know what books will change your life. For me, Fermat's Enigma (https://www.amazon.com/Fermats-Enigma-Greatest-Mathematical-...) and The Last Lecture (https://www.amazon.com/Last-Lecture-Randy-Pausch/dp/14013232...) were both life changers, but it would have been hard to know that going in to reading them.

Still another problem is that there are multiple ways at getting repetition. One approach is to read one book really intently. Another approach though is to consume similar related media over a period of time. If you listen to a weekly podcast (like EconTalk, for one example), very often similar themes come up over and over again. Or you can read several books by one author, or a group of related authors.

Finally, and maybe this is a more minor point, the post's author mentions taking down great quotes. One thing I've realized from my reading is that great quotes sometimes help summarize and understand the flow, but pretty often they don't. One of the nice thing about reading on the Kindle app on a phone is that there are multiple colors for highlighting, and I find it helps to highlight differently for "this is an awesome quote" vs. "this sentence is important in following the structure of the argument."

I find it funny that the author chose 'Thinking, Fast and Slow' as the title image as that is one of the books I read and I am 100% certain there is so much more to learn from that book than what I have learned. How do I know?

After reading said book, I read a few other books and some of them actually cited 'Thinking, Fast and Slow' and applied some of the concepts in new contexts and sometimes I thought 'Wow, I didn't realize the implications when I read the original book'.

So I think it is actually a book that is well worth to be actively read, but currently I still find myself struggling to keep integrating the lessons from 'How to make friends and influence people' into my everyday actions.

I've taken quite a few things from Ryan Holiday's approach to reading: https://ryanholiday.net/the-notecard-system-the-key-for-reme... https://ryanholiday.net/read-to-lead-how-to-digest-books-abo...

I also go through all notes on a subject [from other books I've read] when reading a new book to see how my new view of the whole subject might change given the new information.

Hey, I read at an average pace.About 20 books a month. Some are read in 3-4 hours, and some you won't read in a week. Sometimes I think that if there were no books, I probably would have shot myself. Working at the factory, I am the only one who sits with a book during a break - they consider me somehow strange and I look into their eyes and see such melancholy that I am grateful that I have such a hobby here https://pdfmania.com/adventure/57-peter-pan.html

Has anybody used the flash card feature of the Kindle readers to good effect? I keep wanting to use them, but I only occasionally remember to highlight things in the books I read.

Just chill man. Read whatever the way interests you. You will enjoy the process, or even learn a thing or two as a bonus.

But if people did this, how would they brag about reading pseudoscience on books about productivity? How would they come online and tell everyone they read the latest life-hack book and that made them a millionaire? Hell, how would they write such B.S. articles trying to teach something every 15yo knows?

There was no intention to give advice or teach anyone, I'm not an expert in this field. I needed a system to learn better (often times I forget great concepts from books), so I did my research and created a system for myself, and decided to share with friends and all those who might find this helpful.

My problem with all these systems for reading books is that it starts to feel like a work I have to do, instead of enjoyment. I just want to read a book in my leisure time and not fill out templates in my notebook/app, constantly worrying that I might have missed some key idea.

Well you get more out of books when you do something to interact with them more than a linear stream of text. These sort of "self-improvement-hack" BS systems are good for the kind of people they appeal to, but you don't need a form to fill out or some regiment. Likewise not every piece of text deserves the same attention. Some things don't need to be read at all, some things skimmed, some read through once, some with a bit of reflection, some with extreme studying over years.

Just the exercise of doing something regarding the text. Keeping notes in the margin, discussing it with someone, writing a review of the material in long form or in bullet points, keeping track of questions you have, etc. all enhances what you get out of a book. You might resent it as a chore, so you just figure out what works best for you, maybe it's nothing, but trying something different from time to time can't hurt.

My advice is to keep a pencil at hand when you're reading to take a note, underline a passage, or if you don't like writing in the margins, a notebook to the side to highlight things you think are important, things you think are questionable, questions it raises in you, etc.

After that, share it. When you read a section, explain it to your partner, your cat, an internet stranger, to yourself in your notebook, etc.

Not to make light of authors efforts, but the book “How to read a book” is much better, and more thoroughly thought about on the topic

It's kind of sad that his list only contains self-help book, and not a single novel, nor any classics.

On how to read books I trust and like the classic called How To Read A Book [0]. The rest, these articles, etc. always feel too fluffy and contrived.

[0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_to_Read_a_Book

I took the other route and decided to read 100 books in a year. Did that for 3 years. They were mostly top rated or highly popular or highly recommended non-fiction books of all time, including the one pictured in the article.

Most books are highly overrated. They usually take some useful ideas, usually what author perceived was useful to them, and add things to them to make it sound useful to their target readers, which may or may not make sense... enough to fill the length of a book.

Are some books life changing? Sure! But some can change how you think to your detriment because the information in books is not optimized to your life situation.

So, overall, if you're not reading any, you're not missing out.

The problem is you won't believe it until you actually do go ahead and read them. How the books are marketed and sold, it makes you feel that you are missing some vital information that will change your life... you purchase it and think one day you'll read it and conquer all obstacles (or realize that "the obstacle is the way" by reading Ryan Holiday). Well, nothing like that will happen. But again, to actually know that for yourself, you'll have to read them.

So, I can explain how I did it. If you are obsessive-compulsive like me and are single without kids and without much of a social life like I was, you may be able to do it too. This is what I did:

- Create a goal in Goodreads and obsessively track progress (which page are you in) every time you read a part of the book

- If some book is easily distracting, find the audiobook... and listen to the audiobook at high speed while reading the physical or digital copy. If audiobook version doesn't exist, find a drm-free digital copy (Library Genesis is your friend) and let Google Books or PocketBook read it at high speed for you

- Buy good quality noise-cancelling headphones and listen to books all the time... commuting, driving, working out, cleaning, cooking, whenever you can do it.

- If you get stuck with a book, start another one. Keep doing that. Don't set goals to read specific books. That will halt you. Just move on to the next one. You can always come back and continue.

- It's OK to read 3 whole books cover to cover on a Sunday.

- It's OK to read at night when you can't sleep. It might help you sleep. I managed to fall sleep in a micro bus in Thailand when I was reading 48 Laws of Power (yes, it is that boring).

Again, it's not worth it... but if you feel like you're missing something, do it and find out for yourself.

> It's OK to read 3 whole books cover to cover on a Sunday.

It may be OK but wonder if it’s possible to do this, unless one is skimming through them heavily

Or if they were children books ;)

Nope. Reading 3 normal sized books cover to cover in one day.

Maybe skimming them? Or the books are around 100 pages each? Otherwise it seems almost impossible. Having them read out at 2x and it’d take more than a day so Im befuddled at how this is possible. I wouldn’t be able to pull this off and would probably not even enjoy much of it...

>- It's OK to read at night when you can't sleep.

I do this, but with the same book series. Have read them for what must be 10 times in a row now. They put me to sleep in minutes. I never stare at the ceiling for this single reason. One unfortunate side effect is that if I start reading in a bus or train, I get sleepy now.

Are there any books that stand out (to you personally) as must-reads out of these ~300?

I've come to a similar conclusion (Sturgeon's law) consuming CS/SE-books, and want to minimize repeating myself pursuing other non-fiction subjects.

Yes, lots. But again, I think it's a life situation thing. What is extremely revealing and useful for me could be completely redundant or harmful for you.

Having said that, I found the following, in no particular order, worth it to have read than not:


The Richest Man in Babylon


It simplified how I think about personal finance for me. I was irresponsible with my finances. This provided some basic rules of economics and personal finance that have stuck with me.


The Simple Path to Wealth


I read this one only recently but it simplified things even more for me when it comes to investing. I had been doing sort of the same thing but it gave it much more perspective on how simple things can be.


How I found Freedom in an Unfree World


I think this one has empowered me to look for things I can control rather than getting stuck up on things I can't.


The Sovereign Individual


I have a different and richer view of politics than I did before I read this book.


A Short History of Nearly Everything


Gives a different perspective of scientists. I think I believed "science" much more before I got to know personal stories of scientists.


Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind


Good read just because it's popular and referenced in other places... and is interesting if you're into "history" of humans. It's fictional (in that, it's his take on what happened) obviously but he makes it look like that is actually what happened.


All books by Nassim Nicholas Taleb


He has the same kind of hatred of the academics that I do, which I think I resonate with. And the ideas are interesting.


Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy


Simplified (sometimes oversimplified) economics which is a good read for American conservative view on economics.


Propaganda by Edward Bernays


This was written when the meaning of propaganda was changing to something nefarious (previously, it has a positive neutral or positive meaning to it, in that it meant "propagation of information" - implied to be for public good). Edward Bernays is the father of what is now known as Public Relations.

Related to the same book:

* http://www.paulgraham.com/submarine.html (this one is among the most shared links on HN)

* Tim Wu's books: The Master Switch and The Attention Merchants


The Complete Guide to Fasting


Even though I met people who were fasting, I needed to read this before I would start doing it myself so that I felt I understood what I was getting into.


High Output Management


I was a follower of "management is unnecessary" meme which pervades the dev community. This gives a first principle view of what's happening in management.


The Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (and the newer edition of the same)


It's just an insider view on international organizations. I had second hand knowledge of how corrupt these organizations are... but it is just one more confirmation. Do I think the author is biased? Yes. It's only his view and I'm sure other people many have a more positive outlook and intentions in these organizations... but at least I'm familiar with this one.


Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat


Again, it's one view of how food science works, and it confirms my personal experience with information I get from science, whether on the internet or from the doctors (who basically say the same thing that ends up in WebMD).

These are not all of them but it covers a lot of them that I consider have enriched me in one way or other.

More and more I feel like some submissions are here to nerd-snipe the HN crowd into a furor.

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