The trouble with books

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

Nick Szabo explains the trouble with books:

Most readers don’t want to spend most of their time reading verbose works by single author, when a greater variety of more relevant and thoughtfully concise works are available from a much larger pool of thinkers. Prior to the Internet they had much less choice: books were just the way educated people learned and taught. (And many people still believe that reading and writing books is the sine quo non of being educated, just as many Europeans in 1500 still lauded the superiority of scribal methods and scholastic thought).

Magazines and newspapers involve smaller form factors, but they still draw from a very small pool of authors. These authors can only write in detail about a wider variety of subjects by pretending to know things that they don’t: they take human institutions far more complicated than a single human can possibly comprehend and boil them down to a series of hypersimplified theories, what in less authoritative contexts we’d call ideologies or conspiracy theories.

Instead of being forced to read a vast number of words each from a small number and variety of authors, already widely read by many other people (making your reading of them often quite intellectually redundant), on the Internet you can read much less per-author text (and thus, potentially at least, far more thought out per word) from a much greater number and variety of authors.

Ideally you’d have someone reading widely for you and curating a list of good articles — or even presenting just the most insightful excerpts.


  1. Slovenian Guest says:

    And we would appreciate it very much!

  2. Rollory says:

    I don’t believe I’ve ever read Nick Szabo’s blog.

    I guess I now know not to change that.

  3. RW says:

    This is the approach the millennials I teach would prefer — and they tend to be incredibly ignorant about even the most basic cultural touchstones. We monks and scholastics will keep our books, thank you very much.

  4. Talnik says:

    Per the last paragraph of the entry, the most recent of any non-fiction book is generally a compilation of highlights of previous books of the same subject. Unfortunately this often results in outdated information being passed as new: for example the newest wilderness survival books might recommend the reader carry waterproof matches, a carry over from books written before the advent of disposable lighters and passed along by various authors over the years.

  5. Kent says:

    Yes. Someone should really get on that curating thing. ;-)

  6. Burt says:

    Talnik, disposable lighters aren’t waterproof nor do they work well in the wind. Stormproof camping matches will light in any conditions and can even remain lit after being buried in sand or dunked underwater.

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