Archive for the ‘Book’ Category

The Lost Art of Reading, Writing, and Conversation

December 14, 2012

I am in the airport awaiting my flight. I am reading a book. I look up and around and see one person reading a newspaper (USA Today), a few  people texting on their cellphone, many people intently focused on their mobile device (doing what, I have no idea), one person is talking on her cellphone, a couple people are sleeping. No one is talking or involved in a conversation.

I think back 5 years and remember many people reading books, writing with pen and paper, and discussing events with others.

What has happened to our society?

Someone just pulled out “The Economist” and started reading it. That’s exciting.

I received this feedback from a learned friend: People don’t read except “tweets.”  It used to be that young people learned Latin, Greek, and the Classics in high school. Now they struggle to learn Remedial English in college.

Four phenomenal books

June 26, 2010

There are four books that I have read which I have found to be phenomenal. Until recently I have not been able to put my finger on why I found them so phenomenal. Now I know why: they start with simple concepts and gradually build on top of them. Each step adds a tiny bit of knowledge on top of the preceding steps. Each step logically follows from the preceding steps. Here are the four books:

  1. An Introduction to Mathematics by Alfred North Whitehead.
  2. Economics by Boyes/Melvin.
  3. Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith.
  4. Elements by Euclid.

Do you know of other books which follow this approach of starting with basic concepts and gradually, incrementally building up a vast body of knowledge?

Seek clarity of thought? Here’s how

September 8, 2009

Are you struggling with a problem, but are unable to obtain clarity on a solution? Here’s an approach to get clarity that has worked for me: read a book with great clarity; that is, a book that expresses fundamental ideas in a simple, clear way.

I am on my fifth read of An Introduction to Mathematics by Alfred Whitehead. Every time I feel my thoughts getting muddied I pull out this book and read it. This book takes the complex subject of mathematics and describes its fundamental ideas with brilliant clarity. Reading this book brings clarity to my mind, in all of my thoughts.

Do you have a book that you enjoy reading because of its clarity of thought?

Stuck on a problem? Here’s how I get inspired with new ideas

February 20, 2008

I get my most inspirations by reading books. Oftentimes I will be reading a book on a totally unrelated subject, and it will say something that suddenly connects to a problem that I am working.

Stuck on a problem? Want to get inspired? Raid books for inspiration!

Read a book to receive knowledge, not just words

February 19, 2008

Here’s a test to see if you understood something that you read: “State it in your own words.”

If, when you are asked to explain what the author means by a particular sentence, all you can do is repeat his very words, with some minor alterations in their order, you had better suspect that you do not know what he means.

Ideally, you should be able to say the same thing in totally different words.

If you cannot get away at all from the author’s words, it shows that only words have passed from him to you, not thought or knowledge.  You know his words, not his mind.  He was trying to communicate knowledge, and all you received was words.

How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren

Master a Book and Become a Peer of the Author

November 24, 2007

A good book deserves an active reading.  The activity of reading does not stop with the work of understanding what a book says.  It must be completed by the work of criticism, the work of judging.

There is a tendency to think that a good book is above the criticism of the average reader.  The reader and the author are not peers.  The author, according to this view, should be subjected to a trial only by a jury of his peers.

There is a certain truth here, of course, but there is also a good deal of nonsense about the impeccability with which books are thus surrounded, and the false piety it produces.  Readers may be like children, in the sense that great authors can teach them, but that does not mean they must not be heard from.

It is true that a book can enlighten its readers, and is in this sense superior to them, should not be criticized by them until they understand it.  When they do, they have elevated themselves almost to equality with the author.  Now they are fit to exercise the rights and privileges of their new position.  Unless they exercise their critical facilities now, they are doing the author an injustice.  He has done what he could to make them his equal.  He deserves that they act like his peers, that they engage in conversation with him, that they talk back.

How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren

Outsource it or do it in-house?

November 20, 2007

When should an organization outsource a job and when should an organization do the job in-house? Let’s consider an example.

Consider a book publisher. Rather than having a staff of full-time writers whom it would pay to write books, the publisher bids for books and negotiates with agents.

Book publishers outsource because they want to have access to the maximum diversity of ideas and information. A publisher thinks its chances of publishing interesting books are better it leaves the door open to lots of different writers, and so it’s willing to endure the hassle of having to sign each book on a case-by-case basis. The benefits of leveraging the actions and intelligence of the crowds outweigh the costs.

Need to tap into the collective intelligence? Then outsource it.

Need things done quickly? Then do it in-house.

— Extracted from The Wisdom of Crowds by James Suroweicki

Learn how to learn from books

November 3, 2007

For those of us who are no longer in school, it is necessary, if we want to go on learning and discovering, to know how to make books teach us well.  In that situation, if we want to go on learning, then we must know how to learn from books, which are absent teachers.

How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren

The person who says he know what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks

November 2, 2007

It is an old saying that you have to “read between the lines” to get the most out of anything. The rules of reading are a formal way of saying this. But we want to persuade you to “write between the lines,” too. Unless you do, you are not likely to do the most efficient kind of reading.

When you buy a book, you establish a property right in it, just as you do in clothes or furniture when you buy and pay for them. But the act of purchase is actually only the prelude to possession in the case of a book. Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it — which comes to the same thing — is by writing in it.

Why is marking a book indispensable to reading it? First, it keeps you awake — not merely conscious, but wide awake. Second, reading, if it is active, is thinking, and thinking tends to express itself in words, spoken or written. The person who says he know what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks. Third, writing your reactions down helps you to remember the thoughts of the author.

Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author. Presumably he knows more about the subject than you do; if not, you probably should not be bothering with his book. But understanding is a two-way operation: the learner has to question himself and question the teacher. He even has to be willing to argue with the teacher, once he understands what the teacher is saying. Marking a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreements with the author. It is the highest respect you can pay him.

How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren

Intellectual swing

October 12, 2007

In his 1985 book about Olympic rowing, The Amateurs, David Halberstam writes:

When most oarsmen talked about their perfect moments in a boat, they referred not so much to winning a race but to the feel of the boat, all eight oars in the water together, the synchronization almost perfect. In moments like that, the boat seemed to lift right out of the water. Oarsmen called that the moment of swing.

Similarly, consider a small group of people in a meeting. A successful face-to-face group is more than just a collection of individuals; it is more than the sum of the individuals. Everyone

  • works harder,
  • thinks smarter, and
  • reaches better conclusions

than they would have on their own.

When a boat has swing, its motion seems almost effortless. Although there are eight oarsmen in the boat, it’s as if there’s only one person — with perfect timing and perfect strength — rowing.

A small group which works well has intellectual swing.

— Extracted from The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki