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In Less Praise of.. Books

While I had considered writing a post on this theme, I had not intended to write it so soon after yesterday's post. What has made me change my mind is a post by Daniel Miessler stating:

If you aren’t reading at least one good book a quarter, you are basically a sedated version of yourself. You are on low-power mode. You’re firing on one cylinder. You’re playing chess after being hit with a tranquilizer dart.

I agree with Daniel that it is important to keep learning, pushing yourself to understand new concepts and keeping up to date with recent advances in research. Where our views differ is that he seems to believe that this can only be achieved by reading non-fiction books. I believe that books are not the only way of achieving these aims and that for some people (myself included), there are better ways.

So what is my problem with books?

Books require focus Books require the reader to fully focus on them. You can't do anything else with your hands, you can't look at anything else, just focus on the book. This can be good for if you have plenty of spare time to devote to it, but not so much if you:

  • Work full time
  • Don't commute by public transport (for example cycling or driving) and
  • Have family to spend your evinings and weekends with.

This doesn't leave many other opportunities to devote to reading.

Books are slow. Slow to produce, slow to distribute and (if you are dyslexic) slow to read. Truly cutting edge stuff will be out of date by the time it is published. Then by the time a reader finds it and reads it a long time has passed. This is fine for timeless ideas and concepts, but not as good for keeping up with research.

Books can be bloated. I have found many books can contain a few good ideas, but to create a full sized book they can get padded out. If someone is writing a blog post or news article, there is less incentive to add excess padding and instead just get to the point.

So what is the alternative?

I believe you can still gain many of the benefits that Daniel describes in his post without relying on books alone. You can gain information from a number of other sources such as news websites, blog posts and podcasts. These formats can often produce information in shorter, briefer packages. The good ones will also reference where they got their information from and allow you to research further if you want to. As I mentioned yesterday you can get a lot out of a good podcast while carrying out menial activities.

So to summarise, books are great, but not the only option for continuous learning.

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