Book Summaries and Podcast Notes: Are they useful?

Every day we go faster. We have more information, more technological breakthroughs, global events and development. We want to keep up. We shove them up our heads as fast as we could. The more we know, the more we don’t know.

We are innundated with books and podcasts. Book summary services are popping up everywhere. People sharing their book notes. Sites like and

Here I’m gathering some thoughts on book summaries and podcast notes.

Note: I do sometimes read summaries of fiction books and wiki page of movies to get a sense of the plot and decide whether or not I want to sit through it but here I mostly mean non fiction content.

  • Timestamped podcast notes == Table of Content in books. I will almost subscribe instantly to your podcast if you include these in your show notes.
  • Book summaries help me do two things: 1) filter stuff before I read and 2) help me remember after I read.
  • Stories and anecdotes are useful to provide context, help us remember the concepts, principles, arguments, conclusions. It’s the extra velcro to stick things to. These things are often missing from summaries.
  • An overly thin summary is rarely useful to learn from. I almost never learn anything from reading non fiction book summaries. I am just informed at that point. I still need to read the book to internalise the content. Book summaries just help me index the concepts for JIT implementation / drilling down.
  • E.g. the “Concrete” chapter in Made to Stick. I had clear mission / intention when I picked up the book: to learn to speak more vividly, concretely. So I went straight to the chapter about Concreteness, pluck out the key points and principles — the howtos.
    • The anecdotes there (the story about TNC) helped me remember the points and serve as examples to extrapolate and apply the principles to my own contexts / immediate problem at hand.
  • How to read:
    • If you’re looking to get a high level understanding (weakest internalisation) aka “Just In Case” indexing for the future, then reading external book summaries to index the concepts, arguments, tactics, principles is OK enough.
    • If you’re looking to find and use tools / tactics to solve an immediate problem (Just In Time living), then skim. Skip the majority of them, and zoom in on anecdotes that’s closest to your context.
    • If you’re looking to teach / explain something / argue / persuade / convince, then you need all the examples and anecdotes you can get.
  • We can also use these three levels to answer these questions
    • “”should this book just be a blog post“”
    • “could this blog post just be a tweet instead”
  • It’s a pyramid / funnel. You often got to distilled principles from a bunch of synthesised data points. but sharing the distilled dry versions are often useless in helping other peple “get” that same thing. It’s been abstracted away, all the nuances, the mass, the flesh on the bones.
  • That’s why #lifelessons and #wisdomquotes on the internet are useless. They are useful as a signalling tool once you derived the lessons first hand. They are lagging indicators (“I agree with this quote because I know this is true after experiencing it personally, and now look at me all deep and wise”). The leading indicators for insight and wisdom are personal experience and secondhand experiences e.g. external anecdotes.
  • When learning: from flesh to bones. When teaching: from bones to flesh.

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