The summary at the end of the book is shorter than this blog post and contains the big takeaways.
I love this book as much as the other person does, but there are much better reads to go deeper into some of the inspiration:
Additionally the major influences on the book:
Tiny Habits for example is super underrated and one of the better habit books if you enjoyed this one.
The original title "The Thinner Book: Atomic Habits by James Clear" is explicit on its nature:
> The most important ideas in your typical 300-page book can usually be distilled into several pages. These several pages are the thinner book.
But, there is also a role for longer summaries, which are still short relative to the book, but include useful points and some of the illustrative examples not present in the shorter summaries. Reading a 250 page book has ample scope for the mind to wander and lose track of the important issues which is not an issue with a 10 page summary.
Further, summaries at this level are less available, and it would be a good thing if more books had such summaries. (The downside being people might be more likely to skip the original book and the author is not rewarded - this can be corrected to an extent if the author themselves give these shorter summaries at the end of the book or as a separate short book. Also, some others might be motivated to get the original book after reading the summary).
I tried a bunch of iOS apps, but wanted no friction, no tracking, no cloud, no social, etc. so eventually built https://flathabits.com. Also wanted to own my habit data (as plain text), so I made sure Flat Habits stored its data locally as an org file.
I'm an Emacs nutter and can say the strength of a habit tracker lies in removing daily friction from the tracking process itself. The plain text part is cherry on top (bringing piece of mind around lock-in). In my case, it's been months since I looked at the plain text file itself.
As for forming habits themselves (the actual goal)... it's been well over a year since I started running. I've kept it up since reading Atomic Habits (and started tracking).
Please let me pay you for this app.
If you wanna send me money, you can buy my other app ;) https://plainorg.com
How do you do this bit? Is it documented anywhere? (or maybe I'm missing the obvious)
Nice one :)
For the sake of sharing I'm looking at setting it up the same as my Obsidian dir from here. Get it all chucked into git using the synced dir option in Working Copy, and a pair of Shortcuts to resync the git repo whenever I open/close the app (just the on close one if it doesn't play nicely with the file changing after opening the app)
e.g. https://img.imgy.org/rAxr.jpg plus a shortcut triggered by app close to run this shortcut
Ad-free and FOSS: https://github.com/iSoron/uhabits
The laws are: Make it obvious, Make it attractive, Make it easy, Make it satisfying; Each law maps to one of the four steps of habit formation: Make it obvious → Cue Make it attractive → Craving Make it easy → Response Make it satisfying → Reward; Make it Obvious To effectively build a new habit, make the cue for that habit blatantly obvious
It's easy to do Y and Z after you already got up and did X. It's much harder to persuade yourself to do Y so that you can do Z so that you can do X when you're lying in bed fighting to get out 15 minutes earlier.
Make it easier to do the good habits, and harder to the bad ones.
I'd recommend looking into the research that Prof. Wendy Wood at USC Marshall has been doing on habit forming behaviour in humans.
I'd be very interested in authors (I mean book authors) to provide direction on the mindset and shortcomings of the summary culture (e.g. Blinkist et-al)
Surely, every 10th article on my FB feed is about reading books and there is perhaps enough justification to read books
Maybe don't try to read the whole book in one week, but rather space out each chapter over a long period of time so that the message "sticks" with you.
If you're just looking for the point or thesis of one of these books to satisfy your curiosity, you obviously don't need to bother with however many hundreds of pages there might be, especially if you view reading as a chore.
I wish someone would fill this niche. There's definitely a need for a good book summarization service. The service shouldn't try to replace the book-read. They only need to help you decide whether you should buy/borrow the book.
The core message is quite insightful and worth knowing, but the author doesn’t respect the readers time.
Edit: some book notes from Derek Sivers-
It’s like a modern open world video game in book form.
My goal is to explore new ideas, expand my second brain, and share the learnings with my audience.
First impressions of this blog post are good, going to think of ways to change my identity and behavior, and report back in a month or so with the outcomes here.
Hacker news is not really any different, it is just easier to justify as “I might find something useful here”.
But all I achieved here is fav & forget smart sounding articles, and point whored at the comment section for easy dopamine.
It’s a trap.
Basically, I have a midrange phone that cannot play the latest games at 60fps, and has a crack on its tempered glass running through the middle. This functionality and appearance makes it much less appealing than say, a Kindle with no scratches to spend time on.
Due to this, I basically forget my phone is next to me on my bed, and it only serves to take calls if needed in the middle of the night and wake me up next morning with the alarm.
- 10 PM - Stop chores.
- 11 PM, settle down. Means no "active" things anymore, like gaming, HN. I lie down. Reading a book would be best then, watching TV is a bit worse but still more passive. Audiobooks or podcasts get me sleeping then right away.
- 11 PM: Go to bed. Getting up from the couch, brush teeth, go to bed. I think a routine like this is very helpful.
I have an older iPhone, and a triple tap of the home button will toggle grayscale. Incredible difference in my sensory experience when everything looks a bit…dull.
I've been putting off buying it for a long time as I'd assumed it was another great blog turned into a book that contained 90% filler.
As someone else said below, there's a small amount of filler in here, but it feels like the right amount and allows you to take the time to absorb the content more fully.
I honestly feel like this book has fundamentally changed the way I view work, side projwects and tasks in general. I've procrastinated on a number of things as they felt like huge efforts that were not achievable - reading Mr Clear makes me realise that I can achieve those by not focusing on the end goal but getting into a habit, a system, and chipping away at it over time.
You could say the book's content is obvious stuff, but it's certainly opened my eyes and changed my thinking.
There just wasn't much there to grab a hold of me. Nothing new I had not heard in multiple poscasts or read in articles elsewhere.
Not saying the book is bad, just not so phenomenal when the ideas aren't new to you.
Does anybody ever really read them cover to cover? Does anybody retain all these words?
For me the volume of filler in most books is overwhelming.
Tangential: Is the whole good habits thing not a bit overdone at this point? I meant "Practice maketh perfect" isn't a new message -- every new generation is taught the value of discipline in schools by teachers and sports coaches, Outliers popularised the 10000 hours rule more than a decade ago.
Why do then people still find books repeating obvious advice like this life changing when all it's doing is giving you momentarily high? I am people.
Yup, a lot of them are basically written out versions of blogposts. I mean one of the "original" self-help books, Dale Carnegie's one about people, can be summarized in a list of bullet points - the book itself is padded out with anecdotes.
True, but as children become teenagers and teenagers become young adults, they often need their own form of guidance, and perhaps this is a new cycle that will rinsed and repeated. Sometimes , some new research can also help illuminate some best practices that somebody 20 years ago would not have known. For example, I have found the Pomodoro practice really useful for myself, and though I don't follow it to a tee, it has helped me become more productive. Plus I use Trello for personal tasks and Jira for work, that has helped me be more productive.
It isn't. But it takes a lot of effort to make the obvious, obvious.
That's where unfortunately you need these things.
For example merely saying Where there is a will, there is a way, doesn't exactly cut it, until you actually watch somebody go so some distance doing a what you considered a impossible thing.
Agreed which I why I would love to see more anecdotal evidence or stories supporting these messages. And by anecdotal evidence, I really mean n=1 stories not some controlled group studies.
Right now it feels like everyone from a lifestyle youtuber to a VC are telling us that _this_ is the way but I don't hear/see enough people turning their lives around or achieving the so-called "impossible" just because they adopted some good habits. Basically the ratio of people striking gold to people selling shovels seems too low to me.
Makes perfect sense because hard things are hard to do, I'd like to believe a lot of people quit mid way. You will never hear from them, those that succeed become the few exceptional cases no wants to believe in because, they can't imagine themselves taking all the trouble like the drop outs to get to where the exceptions are.
>>Basically the ratio of people striking gold to people selling shovels seems too low to me.
Yes that's exactly how its supposed to be.
Plus, the point of habits isn't to achieve goals, but have a better system in life to do things.
However, it's hard to learn without spending time committing content to memory, which reading a book does well due to the apparent large amount of filler content. Perhaps re-reading a summary multiple times can have a similar effect.
Or, even better, you can read the book and prepare a summary just like the OP. Reading - the book, the summary, or both - is mostly a passive activity.
Even worse, a lot of them cannot be trusted... Atleast in Japan, I've seen many books on the bookshelves of big bookstores with clickbaity titles like "The Real Effects of the COVID-19 vaccine! Will you be safe after 2 years!?" written by "reputed doctors" who have a dubious history of peddling weird things.
I have, in principle, stopped buying and reading these nonfiction books unless and until they were written atleast 30 years ago, either written by people on the level of Richard Feynmann in their field, or have a reputable track record and enough (preferably decades) experience about the topic they're writing. This filters out 99.99% of the books flooding the market today. I still run into weird things though.
There are few merits though. First, people learn better through examples than through theory alone. If the book can lay down some distilled observations and then show actual life situations where these concepts are presented in context, the subject becomes more clear and understandable. Second, summarizing book information may preserve the gist, but for habit-changing concepts to take hold they need to be repeated and ingested over days and not minutes. Third, not all have the same power of focus and most people need relatable stories to keep their attention.
The Atomic Habits book has good summaries of each chapter and of overall concepts, so you are free to digest it in your own way.
Regarding your principle of reading only 30+ year old books, I would be worried that the contained knowledge has gone stale, is based on data that was proven to be wrong, or just that the language/cultural context has shifted enough for me to misunderstand the author. Also, if a person is a top talent in a specific field, it doesn't mean they are a good writer, or that their interests are aligned with reader's.
A book that does this terribly is the "The Checklist Manifesto." ~250 pages of filler when the original article was 20 pages, the exact same information but distilled down to its essence:
I haven't read Atomic Habits, but I did get the audio book but after reading this summary (which is very good, and much appreciated) I probably won't give it a listen.
I'm curious if people feel the same way about other books?
For many non fiction titles Blinkst (or similar services) offer a perfectly good summary of the important content. I get that some people have moral issues since the author is not compensated for his work, but I think buying copies of books where you found the summary helpful is a gold compromise.
Allow a second axis for quality, and only consider the best. If you think a book is padded or leaves out important details, then ignore it for our comparison.
Shorter and longer books are no better or worse (in this comparison, we removed that component above). So what are they?
The right length for a book is between the reader and the topic. It's not inherent to the topic or about the author and the topic. It's between the reader and the topic.
Longer books have a lower density of insights, and take up more time, but there's more to latch onto. This is essential if you need it and a waste if you don't.
Imagine a 50 year old football coach looking to learn from a new perspective. He could read incredibly dense coaching advice and it would land well. He has a whole career to relate to the book. He can come up with examples proving or disproving claims. He's well served by the short book.
Imagine a 20 year old who wants to become a football coach. He has a little experience, having assisted another coach one summer. Advice that is too dense may slip past him. There's not as much experience to latch onto*. He'd be better served by a longer book. More stories, examples and exercises.
You can expand or contract a book on your own to match your needs. If you were going add some exercises to the end of this chapter, what would they be? Do them if it seems valuable. What's a story that would illustrate this example? Skim the book to make it shorter. Start a reading group to make it longer.
The best authors help you with this. How To Solve It has a two-page summary of the whole book. That summary can be reduced down to just four steps. You get three levels to match.
* On the other hand, younger people seem better at learning things without reference. Older people have more experience, but seem to need that experience. I think this is why learning entirely new things generally gets harder as people get older.
Regular chapters were about the topic itself. And sidebar chapters explained what's going on with the framework behind the scene.
The first time when I read the book I skipped the sidebar chapters and later once I had some experience with that framework I went through the sidebar chapters.
So, yeah I also believe that "The right length for a book is between the reader and the topic." And wish to see more topics/technologies covered in that manner.
This is kind of begging the question because between the original setup and this statement, we're assuming the two axes are orthogonal whereas I'd wager they're not.
If we create an axis, and then say “let’s just only focus on the really good ones” is there still any spread on the axis? If not, that axis is a subset of “good ones”. If there is, then we have some other axis to think about.
Extreme example, but if we’re talking about creatine (a nutritional supplement) and we considered the axis of purity and then only the good ones, there wouldn’t be a large range. At least to me, I don’t think there’s any creatine that’s both super high quality and less than 99% purity.
Not the case for books. I can think of great short ones and long ones. And the point of me constraining things this way is to avoid the “a book isn’t good if it’s too long” or “I once read a book that was long and bad” which just isn’t super useful.
Don’t need to keep things isolated though! I’d certainly rather have the average book be half as long versus twice as long. So there’s a trend there, at least for me.
I read this book earlier this year and quite enjoyed it. The main idea could undoubtedly be written in even less than the 20 pages (referring to the original article).
What made this book super interesting were all the deep-dives into how complexity is managed in aviation (his visit to Seattle/SEATAC airport), construction (the myriad complexities in managing construction of a high rise), and the author's main field (healthcare). I found the various stories fascinating on reducing malpractice rates/preventing overworked professionals from carrying out the wrong procedure on a patient.
What I appreciated about this book is, it's not so much as the author saying, "Hey... here's a silver bullet for managing complexity". Instead, it's these semi or psuedo case studies of how problems in the real world have been solved using checklists. One of my key take aways (which I also happened to learn at my job) was that "Simple solutions scale."
Yes, most business book fit this pattern. There are services like https://www.summary.com/ that provide similar summaries for business books.
In non fiction however, the lack of progress indicator combined with fillers totally takes away the what next phenomenon. On top of this, most non-fiction books try to convey the core of the meaning in repetitive language. Probably there is some science to this. The more you find repeated words sprinkled across, the more they tend to stick in your head. Apparently something that advertisers and marketers use all the time. So may be that's what drives this repetition and filler materials. I've seen this pattern in quite a few non-fiction books. Hooked, Deep Work, Grit etc.
Which is why I think, it's incredibly hard to pick a reading habit if you start with non fiction books. Also I don't think developing a reading habit with fiction will lead to a non fiction reading habit. Personal anecdote, I used to devour fiction as a teenager and in my early 20s. I remember reading Partner by John Grisham in one sitting, without even getting up to eat. Now I can hardly muster the energy to finish a book. I mean, I can but it's no longer that easy.
I think I’ve observed the problem getting worse over the years where there is more popular garbage which gets far more attention. People have sort of learned how to optimize and market this kind of book for a broad audience.
It would be nice if there were a marker for pamphlets or books the length of chapters, which is what many things really should be.
For example, “the subtle art of not giving a fuck” is mostly fillers, but books from robert greene or malcolm gladwell are always filled with interesting stories that don’t feel like fillers.
In a way it's equivalent to packaging a small item in a larger box to make it easier to keep track of. Wasteful on the surface, but there's an undeniable value to it that would be hard to achieve more efficiently.
A meta-lesson from the author perhaps, demonstrating his art.
For books like Atomic Habits in particular, I enjoyed the length, as it allowed me to read that book for a longer period of time, and practice what it was teaching (which lead to habit development). Had been a 50 word tweet, I would've never bothered - but it being interspersed with motivational tales and other filler, I found it far more effective in actually getting me practicing what it taught.
I don’t need 30 made up fake sounding anecdotes to understand a principle. I can tell when someone is making shit up to prove a preconceived conclusion and to sound more convincing. Also I’m a slow reader and get annoyed easily.
I find interviews with writers pitching their book a good example of acceptable information density.
I've definitely read books that were way too long and full of filler content. But I've also scrolled through tweet-sized brilliant insights that I forgot the next minute.
In my opinion, Atomic Habits was not a filler book (I also listened to it on audiobook), but as always, YMMV.
I agree that being wordy can be a waste of time! And I agree that many business books blow up small ideas into large books. I also think that sometimes expanding on an impactful insight can help you teach it better.
Let's consider that writing a book, in terms of typing, doesn't take that long. However, the perception of value is proportional to the size of the book: are you going to pay for 10-20 pages of information?
Now, let's consider the cost of researching that information. In some cases, it can be the output of years of doctoral research. In others, it's "only" six months of dedicated research. That's six months to research an idea, find evidence, challenge it with alternative explanations, test its efficacy, and determine the best way to present that information. (We won't even talk of the issues of marketing and the other parts of a book that don't involve writing it.)
That is, you need to put together 600 pages of research. You can then distill it into 200 pages or 20 pages. If you distill it into 20 pages, people will think it is less valuable. That is, you spend more time and get less out of it.
(It's something I struggle with. I am part way into research that could increase the productivity of non-great (that is, average or worse) developers 5-25%. The core idea can be explained in 5 pages. The extended idea takes 20. However, it's currently a hypothesis and doing the work to prove it out is estimated at 3-4 months of solid work.
How would I present that information? I can say it wouldn't be a 20 page article or blog post because it's not monetizable. So, how do you change that business model?
Short books for solving a problem that readers have, long books for entertainment.
People will absolutely pay good money (thousands) for a 20 page pdf that solves a painful problem. But they’ll fidget and squirm at the prospect of $20 for 300 pages of edutainment.
Summaries like this one are a godsend, I'll look for the same for other similar books.
My experience with not so popular book is very different. "The democracy in America", "India After Gandhi", "Spin and other turns", "A corner of a foreign field", "The idea of natural inequality and other essays", "Scaling" are a few books that I really wish were longer.
Reading more and more books will keep you prepared for the deja vu that happens when reading future books.
Now, I, either read faster till I hit something different or skip ahead.
I am an avid notetaker and most books I have read, I can summarize in less than a page, sometimes half a page. I do try to condense though, so 3 pages is probably realistic.
I think it’s because if it’s a larger or longer book the author can charge more, but I hate that.