How to Find New Books to Read

Tyler Cowen advises:

visit Borders every Tuesday to look for new books, go to a local public library every other day and scan the new books section, subscribe to TLS, London Review of Books, New York Review of Books, noting that you should spend more time with the ads than the book reviews, read the blogs Bookslut and Literary Saloon, read the new magazine BookMark (recommended), read the NYT, FT, and Guardian and their books sections, review lots of books on your blog and peruse the numerous review copies you get in the mail (thanks, you mailers and yes I do look at each and every one; keep them coming!). 

It’s rare that I rely on recommendations from other people.

Oh, yes, you should get free shipping on

Hmm. My reactions / thoughts:

  1. Don’t buy books at bookstores. You can get them cheaper online and of course find a more in-depth analysis. Using bookstores to find a new book (and then later buy online) is hit or miss; I usually find it inefficient.
  2. Follow for the latest business books.
  3. Read compulsively for general brain food and book review links.
  4. Read the LA Times, NY Times, FT, Economist, and WSJ book reviews sections. Some papers also have book blogs — here’s the LA Times Jacket Copy, NY Times Papercuts, New Yorker’s Book Bench.
  5. Ask publishers to send you books. You’ll be surprised how many say yes and comp you a copy, even if you’re a nobody.
  6. Use an Wish List to track all the books you want to read. I have over 300 books in my Wish List. Make a note in the "notes" section if someone recommended the book to you — so you can thank them if you read and like it.
  7. Why not rely on personal recommendations, Tyler? If it’s someone who knows your taste, consider their recommendation.
  8. Customer reviews on are generally unreliable.
  9. Go to book sales from your local library, where books should be priced at a dollar or two each. Buy a truckload, and sort through them at home.
  10. If in a bookstore, considering a purchase, don’t read the jacket copy of a book, which is often written by people in the marketing dept of the publisher who haven’t even read the book. Instead read the first few pages in the Introduction.
  11. MOST IMPORTANT: When in doubt, buy the book. You can always put it down if it’s bad (unless you have a compulsion to finish every book you open, which is indeed a tragic disorder). And there’s a chance the book will move you. Some of the best books I’ve read I almost didn’t buy.
13 comments on “How to Find New Books to Read
  • I look for books mentioned by anyone whose opinions I find interesting, from Warren Buffett to Richard Posner to friends. I buy books on occasion but since I live in Los Angeles I’ve found I can go online to get the library system to deliver a book I’m interested in to the library branch closest to me, where it’s kept on hold. Every two weeks I walk to the library branch, turn in the books I’ve read and pick up the next batch that’s on hold.

  • My approach to book reading is similar to Ranjit’s with the local interlibrary system.

    I buy books occasionally, but it is nice to have a pile of free one-offs to look forward to, especially knowing that the reading of the books will be ‘recycled’.

  • Hello Ben, great post. Thanks a lot.

    I was surprised about your opinion on Amazon customer reviews… I used it a lot… I will reconsider, paying more attention.

    Best wishes, from Brazil

  • And when you buy the book, don’t just put it down. Read it and if it has one or two great ideas or insights then it was worth it.

    Before you go and buy your next book, implement something you have discoverd from the last book!

    Most individfuals don’t do this.


  • I’m a big believer in using that “try before you buy” store called the public library. And, if I find that I truly enjoy a book and/or think that it would be a useful reference, then I buy it.

  • In addition to most of the methods used here, I also try to survey those in my life who’s learning I admire. When I was an undergraduate student, I would ask a handful of professors “What are you reading right now?” or, “What are the top 3 books you’d recommend on ‘x’ subject?” What I love about this method is that I usually walked away with some highly unpredictable pathways that, due to their source, I was a bit more likely to embark upon. And it’s fun to learn more about a person, through their reading choices.

    So, I highly recommend regular check-ins with your favourite intellects, to grab some personal perspectives on “what to read next.”

  • Great advice!

    I too find it easy to find good books online rather than at book stores.

    A speciality book store is an exception – eg: For books written in my mother tongue Kannada, or books about everything Indian written by Indians – I find book stores to be of better help than any single online site.

    A few suggestions I want to add:
    – Make friends with bibliophiles with a huge collection of books. And raid their collection frequently. Of course, you will no longer be friends with them if you don’t return the books you borrowed 😉

    – Give books as gifts to people, and be surprised by the books you get back as gifts in return!

    And of course Alex (your brother?) is right on the money : Get as many books as possible for free from the library!

  • Great stuff.

    This is for books that aren’t strictly new, but are new to you (classics for instance- always worth reading a good Tolstoy): if you have a good discount book store (good = stocks excellent books worth reading) like “Half Price Books” then it really is worth browsing and buying a stack of stuff. There’s nothing like flipping through the actual book before buying, and when the price is cheaper than Amazon, well worth it.

    Also if you have space and enjoy the aesthetic side of books- big thrift stores have literary/ classic/ biography sections. I picked up a stack of poetry the other week- always worth having around for an educational browse (and most poems are handily blog-sized…)

  • I’ve been a huge fan of Executive Book Summaries for years. It’s at It lets me go through all the recent business titles and get the main gist of each one — then if I like it I’ll check it out at the library or try to download a copy, etc.

  • If you use Firefox, Book Burro ( is a very useful tool. If it detects that you’re looking at a page about a book (I think it looks for ISBN), it will pop up an unobtrusive little panel in the corner of your screen. Click on it, and it’ll tell you which bookstores and online book vendors have the book for sale, and how much they’re asking for it.

    And even nicer — it hooks into WorldCat (, so if you enter your ZIP code, it will tell you which libraries own the book (and rank them by distance from you).

    These days, I find I almost never buy a book unless I’ve already gotten it from the library to see if it’s worth it.

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