Chains of Information
Let’s begin with an example: The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel is one of the better and efficient books I’ve read lately. It’s short-ish but information-packed, and not dense in terms of jargon or otherworldly concepts. It’s an intro to a handful of personal and even global finance and economic ideas and also sidetracks to a set of more general psychological concepts. It pushes the reader to ponder whether logical facts should overrule emotional needs. Quite often, no, they should not. Doing illogical things that brings you calm of mind is not stupid, but oftentimes wise. It presents ideas useful in other aspects of life in general.
For example, compounding may be an obvious or at least a known concept in terms of investing. But really, compounding works in personal relationships too. It applies to any effort one spends on a hobby. “Time in the market beats timing the market”, applies to life-long friendships or business ventures.
Housel’s book pointed me towards Hans Rosling’s Factfulness, which I had previously started, but never got very far into. They very much complement each other, as Factfulness is not so much about money, but statistics, reason, and well, facts instead of feelings and assumptions.
Compounding and other mental models both Rosling and Housel describe, even if not necessarily presenting them as mental models, brings me to Shane Parrish and Farnam Street’s growing library of blog posts and books on Great Mental Models. Which brings us to the actual topic of chains and depth.
Read deeply #
Going through a whole book and then following that experience by reading the references in it might at first seem redundant. Most non-fiction books themselves repeat a few core ideas and present their message through stories and anecdotes. Repetition is, in many ways, pointless and on the other hand, very useful. Repetition creates exposure and a better chance of producing more lasting memories.
Reading into a topic via another author’s words creates even more connections, as well as exposes one to more viewpoints and perhaps even conflicting ones. The two books mentioned above are not about the same topic but somewhat layered and in the same ballpark. They share a common meta-topic, which is flawed and often hard-to-explain human behaviour within fields where data and information are prevalent.
Reading for depth means going into a topic through different books, articles, authors, and sources - and synthesizing your own opinion on them. Ryan Holiday talks a lot about the importance of focus, simplicity and repetition, it being one tenet of Stoic teachings. Shane Parrish at Farnam Street very much praises learning things smartly, not via speed or quantity.
It’s the matter of understanding and application, not the amount or number of books one can devour in some set of time.
Depth and momentum #
This isn’t to say one shouldn’t be interested in different themes and subjects. I have a few handfuls of non-fiction books unfinished, a few fiction ones, and am reading perhaps too much topical stuff via newsletters and other Internet sources. I believe it’s valuable to upkeep a reading habit even if that means changing what you’re reading and doing it often.
But. To improve retention and understanding, re-reading or re-exposing is good but not enough. To understand, expose yourself to different sources and viewpoints on the topics you care about. Create a personal web of ideas to generate new insights. And to quote Musashi in the end; “when you know the way broadly, you see it in all things”.
- The best way to relatively quickly view what topics The Psychology of Money contains, is to glance through Housel’s blog post of the same name here.
- For what Factfulness represents, see https://www.gapminder.org
- Reading for depth, see Ryan Holiday’s “Swarm Strategy" here
- More depth via Farnam Street here, see the last section on "Syntopical Reading”