Skip to content

Slava Akhmechet on reading in clusters

This is a great take on the benefits of reading clusters of books on a common theme.

I like the way it takes the idea of creating networks of related books and builds on it to explore the usefulness of having a network-of-networks in your mental laboratory. Recommended.

Questions and links below.

Reading twenty books a year gets you a lot. Consider: one book gives you more knowledge about a subject than almost every other person on the planet, because people don’t read. Two books on the same subject give you more knowledge than almost any reader, because people don’t read two books about the same thing. How many people who read The Power Broker went on to read a second book about Robert Moses? I’d wager not many.

Beyond two books on a subject, there is a long utility dip. People who bothered to read more than two books about Robert Moses, are either obsessed with him or study him for a living, which means they’ve read much, much more about him. So two books on a subject, at least with respect to competitive edge, is an inflection point. After you read two, you get diminishing returns.

There is a way to get around this limitation. A single book is a pinhole view of the world set up by the author. You have no input into its contents, and therefore cannot change the orientation of this view. But you do choose the books you select. That means you can stitch together multiple pinhole views into a unique lens to examine the world— one that no one else will have unless they use the same list of books to stitch together the same lens.

I settled on clusters of five and almost never read a single book in isolation. Less than five feel lacking; more than five gets repetitive. Every cluster has a goal of the form “study X through Y“. Study American history through technological expansion, or study failure through one term presidents are just a few examples. I try to be creative and make Y unusual. For instance, everyone likes to read about presidents who are believed to be successful. A simple trick is to inverse it and read about unsuccessful ones instead. Or skip the presidents altogether, and read about vice presidents. It doesn’t matter what Y is because you’re trying to study X, and it’s more fun to make Y unusual.

Slava Akhmechet – How I Read

Questions for Slava:

  • How important is fiction in your model?
  • Do you always follow a plan? To what extent is there space for serendipity in your reading?
  • What do you read for fun?

HT: Fergus McCullough

See Also:

Trilogy: Books as Network
Broker books
Tyler Cowen on reading fast, reading widely, and reading well
Marvel MCU Movies as a value creating network
Books as Network opportunities
Scrapbook: Niall Ferguson on culture, text-for-profit, libraries, search and literacy
Paul Romer on literacy, dyslexia, inequality and the joy of reading
Deep Literacy: what it takes
Kevin Kelly on deep literacy
Neil Gaiman on reading fiction, empathy and changing the world
Folk art and reading as rivals
Misreading the mind: Ezra Klein and Nicholas Carr on transactional reading and contemplation
C.S. Lewis on reading the originals
Schopenhauer on reading yourself stupid
Steve Levitt on the user experience of reading David Epstein and Malcolm Gladwell

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...