How To Read A Book

Questions This Guidance Answers: 
  • What mindset should I have when reading?
  • How should I take notes?
  • How do I remember to take action?

This cast gives a guide to reading non-fiction with the aim of enhancing your career.

Some of us were taught how to read non-fiction in school. Some of us were taught how to critically review the arguments put forward and to analyze for ourselves whether the arguments made sense to us. Some of us were never taught, and some of us have forgotten how.

Some books are so good we want to try everything they suggest and we become overwhelmed and/or quickly burned out. That's where we get the 'flavor of the month' label. Sometimes we read ten or fifteen books and don't implement anything. That's wasted time.

So what is the best way to get value from the books we buy?

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Book Review - The People Principle

The People Principle, by Ron Willingham. Subtitle: a revolutionary redefinition of leadership. Willingham owns a very successful sales and customer service training company, and I've seen his training packages in a couple client sites. As you might imagine, I read LOTS of books like this, and unfortunately for Mr. Willingham, I am probably way too discerning. This book was terrible. It certainly wasn't revolutionary.

Book Review: The Box

I almost recommend The Box, by Mark Levinson.

Part of the book is fascinating: it talks about the history of the lowly-seeming shipping container, which revolutionized shipping through standardization.

The Effective Manager

I promised everyone monthly updates on the progress of my book, The Effective Manager. The last 4 weeks have not been good ones for the book, and I only achieved about 50% of my writing/volume goals.

That said, I'm not worried. I have added some more sessions in the next few weeks, and am reasonably certain I can overcome the slight fallback. This has happened before a couple of times, and each time I was able to get back on track. The desire to write is quite palpable.

I admit that the culprit lately has been Manager Tools growth.

Marshall Goldsmith

One of our members posted that Marshall Goldsmith, a truly outstanding executive coach, as famous to many as Tom Peters, has decided to release his archives for free to everyone. Here's the post:

Now here is an inspiring thing regarding intellectual property.

Marshall Goldsmith, one of the top 10 management consultants, has decided to give away his work for free. And, this from a guy who doesn't get paid for 18 months when he signs up to be your coach.

"In my older years, I have decided to "give away as much as I can".

Book Review: Managers Not MBAs

This book is by Henry Mintzberg, another brilliant and effective management consultant. I've read much of his work, and he is routinely sharp and insightful.

But I don't recommend this book, for three reasons.

First, it's terribly academic, even more so than Pffeffer's recent book, The Knowing-Doing Gap. Maybe it makes me a Philistine, but whenever a business book has, on virtually every page, 3-5 parenthetical references to other scholarly and academic works, it comes across to me as intended for other academics.

Book Review - The Soul of a New Machine

I almost didn't review this book, and when you read the review, you'll wonder why. The reason I almost did not review it is because it was originally published in 1981. I thought, "Naah. Too old... old technology, everybody's either read it or I won't be able to get anyone to read it."

Then I remembered Peter Drucker, whom people shy away from. I thought about when he started writing (those books still have traction), and I thought...

Book Review: The Knowing-Doing Gap

I was hoping that this book - The Knowing-Doing Gap, by Pfeffer and Sutton - was going to be great. I mean, really great – the kind that makes me stay up late one night finishing it, and then another week of nights writing and re-writing my own book.

It is not. I don’t recommend it.

I thought that it was going to talk about something that I’ve been noticing for years.

Books and Reading

[I've gotten several emails and private messages related to a 'cast comment I made a while back and then a blog post reply, regarding my reading habits. Because it's easy for folks to miss comments, I thought I'd bring it to the forefront here. It also relates to my recent post regarding reviewing books. - H]

Yes, I read 200 books a year. To be candid, I never thought it was a big deal until I mentioned it in a speech several years ago, and got inundated with questions like yours.

I do have some suggestions, but they aren't specific to reading faster.


2. Decide to read that many books a year. It's very helpful to know that you have a couple of days to finish. This helped my speed. I skipped some sections that seemed unnecessary - this was VERY hard for me.

3. It doesn't hurt to be a fast reader, and there are some comments about this in a thread called 'Reading Skills' in the General category in our Discussion Forums. I did a test (it's easy - just time yourself and count) and I am a very fast reader, I admit, though I HATED speed reading.

3. Have a book or books with you always. I travel with several, even on short trips. When Sony's e-reader comes out, I will buy, in hopes that my purchase will stimulate content providers to port them over. This will stop the FRUSTRATION of having no unread books with me because I couldn't carry any more.

4. Read at work at lunch. Take an hour, get away from your desk, and read.


6. Turn off your TV. ;-)

7. NEVER use books on tape. WAY TOO SLOW. I resisted podcasting initially because of my BOT experience, until I realized that I could distill an entire book's worth of knowledge into 30 minutes if I focused on WHAT TO DO. So, I'm not against learning this way, but not a whole book. (And I'll hide a surprise here for you: good luck trying to find other podcasts that are as rich in value as ours is. I keep trying, and find most (all so far) to be incredibly light on utility and FULL of irrelevant chatter.)

If you're thinking BOT is good for commuting, fair enough, but you won't get to 200 books that way, nor probably 50. Use commuting for staying in touch with people - get on the phone. (I have no commute, but this is what I did when I did drive to work.)

8. Read quickly initially, and then re-read if you feel so compelled.

Regarding price: USE YOUR LOCAL LIBRARY. Full disclosure: I do not. I live in a small town, and they don't easily get the business books I want. My brother Walt in Charlotte uses his all the time, and saves a great deal of money. I think this is very smart if it will work for you. You are losing NOTHING by waiting on a book: the vast majority of managers DO NOT READ.

Books and reading are my hobby, so I spend a lot of money on them, I admit. A LOT. I don't like cars, I don't have nice *things* in my life beyond a really good laptop and an expensive phone - Treo 700p - which is so helpful to my life I'd give up my car before I gave up my phone.

Amazon likes me a LOT. And I write them all off, too!

And I hate to say it, but remember that I also read the Wall Street Journal every day, Fortune, and Harvard Business Review (which is slow going but an absolute delight every time).

"The man who can read and doesn't is indistinguishable from the man who can't."

It's a privilege.


Book Reviews – An Update

I'll be posting more book reviews on the site in the coming weeks and months, as Manager Tools starts its second year. (Happy Birthday, Mike!). Nearby this post is a re-print of an answer I provided to a member question, talking about reading and my habits related thereto.

You'll note that I read 200 books a year, probably. I do this because I truly love to do it.