The Way You Read Books Says A Lot About Your Intelligence, Here’s Why

This is why the smartest people in the world own tons of books they don’t read.


“Even if you do not have the time to read them all, overstuffing your bookshelf or e-reader is good for you.” Jessica Stillman

“I maybe start half the books I get, and I probably finish a third of the books I start. And that works out to finishing 1–2 books per week.” — Patrick Collison

Smart reading hack 1: View books as an experiment

Smart reading hack 2: Do Fractal Reading

  • It’s free. This allows you to try more books before you buy them. Therefore, each book buying “experiment” has better odds of succeeding.
  • It’s multimedia. You can access this information as text, audio, and video, which makes it easier to incorporate into your lifestyle (e.g., your daily commute or chores).
  • It has a high signal-to-noise ratio. The shortened formats cut out the fluff and get right to the big ideas.
  • Read 2–3 book summaries (Google search). For almost any book, you’ll find several book summaries, which often contain the best information in the book (the 20 percent of ideas that create 80 percent of value). And to clarify, I’m only talking about nonfiction books here. This, of course, would not be relevant to fiction.
  • Listen to an author interview (podcast, Google). Interviews are engaging, and the interviewer does the work for you, asking the author the most pertinent and compelling questions they’ve gleaned from reading the book.
  • Watch an author presentation (TED, Google, or university talk). When an author is forced to whittle down a 200-page book into a 20-minute talk, they share their biggest idea and best story.
  • Read the most helpful 1-star, 2-star, 3-star, 4-star, and 5-star reviews (Amazon). Amazon helps us all quickly sort the most well thought-out reviews from readers who loved the book down to those who hated it.
  • Read the first and last chapters of the book. The first and last chapters of a book often contain the most valuable content in it (this obviously doesn’t work if you’re hoping to get lost in a novel). In addition, the first and last paragraphs of each chapter contain the big ideas of each chapter. With Google Books, ebook free samples, and Amazon’s Look Inside feature, it’s often possible to get the first and last chapter of a book for free.

Smart reading hack 3: View your unread books as a reminder of how little you know

  1. Personal Knowledge
  2. Humanity’s Current Knowledge
  3. All Potential Knowledge
Personal library of Jay Walker, founder of
Thomas Edison’s Library
Personal library of Bill Gates

Smart reading hack 4: Abandon good books for great books.

Smart reading hack 5: Use books to create space in your mind for great ideas to collide

Smart reading hack 6: Read books like magazines

  • It helps find the most important knowledge that’s worth going deep on.
  • It helps us slow down so we get the most from what we do go deep on.
  • It makes reading easier to do, which means we are more likely to actually be consistent.

Ultimately, it’s not about how many books you finish.

  • Smart readers create a consistent learning ritual. I recommend you follow the 5—Hour Rule, spending about an hour a day reading like many of the the world’s top entrepreneurs and leaders. I spent dozens of hours creating a free webinar that helps you find the time to learn and stay consistent. Today, I spend 4–5 hours per day in deliberate learning while growing my company and raising two kids.
  • Smart readers learn how to learn. In other words, they maximize the value they get from the time they put into reading. I created a free email course to help you learn mental models, one of the keys to learning faster and better. Inside, you’ll learn the models that self-made billionaire entrepreneurs and investors use to make business and investing decisions — tools you can apply immediately to your life and business. You’ll also learn how to naturally use these models in your everyday life.
  • Smart readers take action until they get the result they’re looking for. The value of theoretical knowledge comes from its application.



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Michael Simmons

I teach people to learn HOW to learn / Serial entrepreneur / Bestselling author / Contributor: Time, Fortune, and Harvard Business Review