You need to stop reading book summaries! Period. It’s not that I have anything against the firms in the business of selling book extracts. But if you think you are reading books by reading summaries, you are deluding yourself. You are reading the main themes of each book, but you are not getting much from them.
The Treasure Called Books
Books are one of the best resources available for learning, enjoyment, and growth. I have hundreds of them all over my home. There is an ongoing joke in my family that I have a book for everything. One day my son saw a book titled Waking Up in my bookshelf and said Wow! You even have a book on waking up!
The fact is that I love reading. I remember saving money as a teenager to buy the books I wanted to read. In fact, if I look back, reading books was the best activity I could have undertaken.
Books – The Great Equalizer
You see, I was born in a lower middle-class family in India. And I didn’t have access to the knowledge you have today with the Internet. And if you are born in a resource-poor niche, you remain unaware of a lot of things that can make you successful in life. As a result, you do not know a majority of options and response strategies possible in life. Such conditions can leave one relatively marginalized in society.
But by ravishing books, I was able to learn from the best minds in the world. I remember spending time in my teenage years at book shops and street sellers of books. One of the very first books I can remember reading was Life Triumphant by James Allen. It changed my perspective on life. I can go through a long list of books that guided me through life. Recently, I stepped back and reflected on the books that shaped my thinking on management. I can make similar lists of books on finance, capitalism, philosophy, and a range of topics. The point is that I have gained immensely by reading.
What Happens When You Read?
What happens when you read a book? You enter into a conversation with the author. The author takes you on a journey with a well-defined beginning, middle and the end. He takes you through his way of thinking. And what you get is a lot more than the destination in that journey. It shapes you and your thinking, provides a deeper understanding of the world and of yourself.
A Writer’s Perspective
As an author of two books, I can share what goes on behind the scenes when one writes a book. I took years to write my first book. It took me a process of reading hundreds of books and articles and half a dozen rewrites to get it done. If you are my reader, you will take four to five hours to read The Dark Side of Innovation. When you read a book, you get the knowledge that an author spent thousands of hours to collect. In a way, books have this multiplier effect. Every few hours with a book helps you gain from hundreds and thousands of hours of work by the author.
I have always loved to read. But once I became a writer, I gained a new insight. That for ten or twenty dollars I can get as much knowledge as the author collected in thousands of hours. And that is why I do not hesitate for a minute to pick a new book if I want to learn something. I would rather spend two hours reading a book that I know someone spent hundreds of hours writing than spend the same time searching on the internet.
The Cumulative Effects of Reading
Learning is associative, and as you read more, you keep building your model of the world. A book is like a story and what you get out of it may not be the same as what another person gets out of it. You get out of a book what you are ready to get. And the more you read, the more you connect the dots. The more you grow.
Hidden Gold in Books
Think of a book not just as the main idea it contains but also all the related stories and detours the author takes. And there are many nuggets of gold in each alley. It is in those alleys and detours where a lot of the value of a book exists. The fact is that if you read 50 books in the next 50 weeks, you will be a transformed person. But if you read fifty book summaries, you won’t get the same benefit.
Book Summaries Can Be Helpful but Only Rarely
So what is the value of a book summary? There is a place for it. When I am researching a topic, I don’t read the entire book. I skim through it in a matter of 30-60 minutes. I know I don’t get the benefit of the whole book by doing so, but I have a different purpose when I skim. I am going through dozens of similar books and building a deep base of related knowledge. When reading tens of books in the same area, you come across a lot of redundant information. When I want to avoid spending time on redundant information, I find skimming an efficient method.
So yes there is some place for book summaries. When you are the expert in a field and doing research, it can be useful. If you are looking for a good book to read and are going through a few summaries to find the right book, abstracts can be helpful.
Stop Reading Book Summaries!
In short, book abstracts are no substitutes for reading a book, but in some cases, they may be useful. But if you think that by reading fifty book summaries you are getting the same knowledge as from reading fifty books, you are deluding yourself. In such cases, stop reading book summaries!