Sunday, April 20, 2014

How to Read Difficult Books

Some advice from Tyler Cowen:
Mike, a loyal MR reader, asks me:
How do you recommend approaching a book like Capital in the Twenty-First Century?  I’m a reasonably smart guy, undergrad econ, ee, mba from good schools, somewhat well read, etc., but the density, length and relative subjectivity(?) of Piketty’s topic has me hesitant.
Do I start with the reviews or another book(s), dive right in or find a discussion group (usually lucky if anyone actually reads even part it).  Maybe I approach it like the bible, one paragraph at a time over several years :)

For truly serious books, I recommend the following.  Read it once, straight through, with a minimum of fuss.  If you get truly, totally stuck on some point, which the rest of the book depends upon, find somebody to ask.  Otherwise just keep on plowing straight through.

Then write a review of the book.  Or jot down your notes, but in any case force yourself to take definite stances by putting words down on paper (or screen).

Then reread the book carefully, because now you know what you are looking for.  Revise what you wrote.
Of course only a few books a year (if that many) need to be read this way.


  1. I just looked up the book you mention (Capital in the Twenty-First Century) and saw this in the description:

    "Piketty ends his book with a ringing call for the global taxation of capital"

    Yes just brilliant. What we need is a one world government and global tax. If that what this moron is calling for then stick a fork in him. just another dumb shit leftist shill who wants the Great God Government to suck us all dry. Where do they find these completely mindless imbeciles?

  2. Thats how I read cases in law school. I read this advice book before law school and it said that most people sit down and try to "write" the case. That is they start taking notes while skimming and never understand the case. It had an exercise, a difficult case. It asked you to read it once, fast and and think about the case. Then it asked you to read it again, slower Then third time and then think about it. It was a different case by the third read. So all through law school I read every case three times and didn;t even try to take notes. By class discussion I knew the few cases we would cover that day inside and out. Legal cases are pretty short buut it is several cases per day for several classes so it ment spending 4 or 5 hours seriously over books doing nothing but reading five days a week. It paid off.

  3. Jerry Wolfgang:

    Please note that when reading Dick and Jane that this method may require you use Hooked on Phonics as well.