Why I Don't Read Those Business-Book Summaries

Joe Wikert sings the praises of business book summary services like getAbstract. I don’t read "summaries."

Could the World is Flat be summed up in one sentence? Probably. Key word: globalization.

Could Freakonomics be summed up as "correlation does not equal causation"? Perhaps.

Could Execution be summed up with "Execution is more important than strategy." Definitely. This is the only thing I got out of the book.

But "getting the point" of a business book is not why I read business books. (I don’t read many business books in the first place, most are bullshit.)

I learn best reading books because it’s at once entertaining, informative, and reflective. That is, while reading I will reflect. If it’s a memoir, I’ll reflect the story at hand to my own life. If it’s about business, I’ll think about my own business in the context of the book. If it’s about economics, I’ll conjure my own theories while reading. There are very few places in today’s hyperconnected world where we have time to think. Reading is this place for me. Every so often I find myself just staring at a page and not processing the words; my mind is elsewhere. I’m "busy" to people around me, and now have time to think.

If you want to understand the three main points of a book, read a book review. If you want to dive deeper and think while reading, read the book.

8 comments on “Why I Don't Read Those Business-Book Summaries
  • I agree entirely.

    Besides, you often gather very different information from a book than the author intended–from anecdotes or historial examples, for instance. I would guess that plenty of readers first learned from The Tipping Point that William Dawes also rode on Paul Revere’s “Midnight Ride” rather than from a history class.

  • Hi Ben. Thanks for visiting my blog and adding your point of view regarding book summaries. I think you make an excellent point. I’m curious to see how many times I’ll want to read the whole book after reading one of these summaries. I don’t doubt it will happen at some point, but I’ve read 7 or 8 of them now and haven’t found one I want to read in its entirety yet. Nevertheless, I can definitely see what you’re saying and I realize I may not be the norm on this point.

  • Ben, you are reading for the experience of reading, the thinking process, and the knowledge you gain – in short, you’re reading for yourself, and no quick summaries will do for you.

    There are a lot of people who want to pretend to be more well-informed, well-read then they are, and they might get away with the shallow knowledge you get from reading summaries 🙂 So for them this works.

    As a compromise, I can imagine a situation where I am heading to a group discussion knowing a certain book will be the subject and I may quickly want to at least know what it’s about (akin to reading the preface + toc). But I would not pretend I actually read the book …

  • I take some of what I said back – not that I don’t believe in it, but it’s not valid for this specific site.
    The prices are ridiculous, $179 for 6 months or $399 for a year. Those rates exclude the casual user, this is really for the show-off types who think they can prentend they read 100 business books in a year.
    “Real” people who actually are interestes in those books might as well buy 2-3 business books per month for the same price.

  • Ben I agree that those summaries are bad but for a different reason — in order to believe something, I think that you have to be convinced of why it works or how it makes sense. From just reading your synopsis on Execution, for example, I gain nothing. I would have to read the book and agree with the point before I’d actually want to apply it to my decisions in life.

  • Hi Ben,

    I totally agree with you, especially the last sentence. I love reading books and I have learnt over time that it’s the process of reading and thinking deeply while reading that makes reading books fully so valuable. I contextualise the book with my reality hoping to find useful actionable advice or generate my own ideas as I am reading.

    Sometimes I found myself reading a book in its entirety and be disappointed. The entire time I spent reading the book was not worth the effort. Recently I also become a father and I haven’t had the luxury to read as many books as I used to read, hence I decided to give a try to reading book summaries. I am using a very cheap service called Blinkist http://jump.blinkist.com/SHSs (affiliate link) that I found extremely good as I can use it on my phone while I am travelling. There is a free trial if you want to give it a go. Over time, I developed the habit to read a book summary during my spare time instead of wasting time on social networks, and highlight key insights from those summaries.

    The main idea for me it to read the summaries to quickly get key advices and ideas and then decide if I want to invest the time in reading the full book. For example, this happened to me when I read the summaries of “Deep Work” and “So good they can’t ignore you” by Cal Newport. They were too good and I had to buy the books. I totally recommend them to anyone! This strategy worked for me so far.

    In conclusion, I agree with you. Nothing can replace the experience of reading a full book. The entire process it’s a pleasure, especially when the book is very relevant with the problems you are currently experiencing in your professional or personal life. However, reading book summaries can be a great way to identify the books you want to focu on and buy. It can be a great time saver and time management strategy.

    My two cents.


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