Why Smart People Should Read Fewer Books

And listen to more podcasts.

Nick Wignall
Aug 26 · 3 min read

One of my favorite interview questions ever is: What’s something you believe that almost no one else does?

My answer: Smart people read too many books.

I know that sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out…

Most books are 90% fluff and not worth your time.

Reading is one of the most important and beneficial things anyone at any age or in any context can do. But like any decision in life, you can’t determine the true benefit without considering the downsides, especially opportunity cost.

The opportunity cost of reading a given book is all the other things you could be doing with your time and energy besides reading that book, including… reading a better book.

A lot of smart people fall into the trap of indiscriminately reading lots of books and assuming that their time and energy is well-spent simply because they’re reading.

Because they’re smart and have always read a lot, reading is simply a habit. But as with all habits, this can create costly mindlessness in the long-run:

There’s a lot of crap out there disguised in book form. And it’s surprisingly easy to waste precious time and energy wading through that crap.

Many books these days–especially self-improvement and business-style books–are stuffed with stories and anecdotes that don’t really add much value. And so we end up with 300-page books whose core ideas could have been perfectly well articulated in 30 pages. Or 3.

But even if you’re a good skimmer, it can still take 2–3 hours to get through a 200–300 page book.

And what do you typically end up with? Maybe one or two interesting or useful ideas.

This is horribly inefficient at best. Tragically so, when you consider the accumulated opportunity cost over time.

While there are many ways to become a more efficient reader, one of the most overlooked is to use podcast interviews to filter out mediocre books and find the ones that are really worth your time.

Why podcast interviews are the ultimate quality filter for your reading.

There are three kinds of books:

  1. Bad books. This is at least 90% of all books out there. Fortunately, these are pretty easy to spot and avoid. It’s the next category that gets us into trouble…
  2. Pretty good books. This is at least 90% of the remaining 10% of books out there. They’ve got some good ideas and interesting points, but those few morsels aren’t really worth the 2–5 hours of time and energy it takes most of us to read the entire book.
  3. Great books. This is the 1%, maybe even the 0.1%. This is the precious few books that are not only filled to the brim with genuine wisdom and insight, but the books for whom reading them is itself a beneficial act and always time well-spent.

You shouldn’t waste your time reading anything from the first two categories.

The trouble is, most of us still want access to the few interesting ideas from the pretty good books without the time and energy investment required to read the books…

Enter podcast interviews.

The average interview podcast is somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes long.

If you’re listening to a good podcast—which, among other things, means the host is smart and has done their research on the person and read their book—only the most important and/or interesting parts of the book are going to be asked about.

And especially if you’re listening on 1.5x speed, you can often extract the one, two, or three interesting ideas from a pretty good book in a fraction of the time it would have taken you to actually read the book itself.

So, find yourself a few good interview podcasts (here’s a good one to start with) and stop wasting time reading pretty good books.

Be ruthless in your commitment to only reading great books.

Too many smart people waste thousands of hours of precious time and energy reading pretty good books, which are no more than over-priced and inefficient vehicles for communicating ideas.

You can get these ideas much more efficiently (and cheaply) by listening to good podcast interviews with the author, thus freeing you up to read great books, the onestruly worthy of your time and energy.

After all…

Do you really have time to read anything but great books?


Originally published at https://nickwignall.com on August 26, 2019.

Personal Growth

Sharing our ideas and experiences.

Nick Wignall

Written by

Clinical Psychologist and writer interested in practical psychology for meaningful personal growth. https://nickwignall.com

Personal Growth

Sharing our ideas and experiences.

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