Why we read books

I’ve not been writing reviews recently for a number of reasons, but I keep reading. We’re in Week 20 of the year and I’ve read 19 books. I hope to finish my 20th this week to keep on schedule. But we don’t read books to review them, or to meet a quota, but to learn, to grow, and to deepen our knowledge.

Peggy Noonan (whose book on John Paul II I’m currently reading) spoke at Catholic University’s commencement last week. She puts it this way:

Reading books forces you to imagine, question, ponder, reflect, connect one historical moment with another. Reading books provides a deeper understanding of political figures and events, of the world — of life itself.

Watching a movie about the Cuban Missile Crisis shows you a drama. Reading histories of it presents you with a dilemma.  The book forces you to imagine the color, sound, tone and tension, the logic of events:  It makes your brain do work.

But, oddly, it’s work the brain wants to do.

A movie or documentary is received passively: You sit back, see and hear.  Books demand more and reward more. When you read them your knowledge base deepens and expands.  In time that deepening comes to inform your own work, sometimes in ways of which you’re not fully conscious.

Not to put too fine a point, but your brain gets bigger, stronger. You become smarter and deeper.  That happens with books.

The video of her address is here.

“It’s work the brain wants to do.” Put down your iPhone, your iPad, and your remote control and grab a book. You’ll be better off for it.

Tools of Titans (Tim Ferriss)

On my holiday reading list is Tim Ferriss‘s new Tools of Titans. I’m waiting to receive my copy (Christmas can’t come soon enough), but I wanted to encourage others to read the book even though I haven’t. I’ve listened to the first chapter that Tim has read on his podcast. This is going to be worth every penny. (His other books are great, too. See here, here, and here.)

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Zero to One (Peter Thiel)


Many things have been written about Peter Thiel’s book, Zero to One, and I thought it was about time I should read it. Thiel is interesting because he and I have so many similarities: we both studied philosophy in college, we both went to law school, we both clerked for a judge, we both worked in a law firm, we are both chess masters, and we both went on to found a company and make billions of dollars. Ok, the last two are not true. I do love chess, but given the way I’m playing recently, the likelihood of me being a chess master is probably less than my likelihood of becoming a billionaire. Given our similarities, though, Peter Thiel has paved the way for me. Perhaps there is Thiel-like success in my future, too.

Thiel’s book, co-written with Blake Masters, is derived from notes that Masters took during a course that Thiel taught in 2012 at Stanford on startups. The title of the course, “Computer Science 183: Startup,” would not have convinced me to take it during law school. It may not even convince me today. But now I’m glad we have the book because Thiel’s wisdom can be spread to the hoi polloi that did not attend an obscure-sounding course at Stanford Law School in 2012. On to the book…

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