[ Question ]

What are the best self-help book summaries you've read?

by willbradshaw1 min read3rd Jan 202010 comments



There is an adage: "Every book should be a blog post."

I disagree with this adage as a general rule, but one specific context where it does seem fairly true is self-help books. Books in or close to the self-help domain seem reliably to be horribly padded, excessively anecdote-laden, and generally somewhat mawkish.

But they're so damn attractive, though. They promise so much, and some seem to have the capacity to be generally transformative to those best-suited to hearing their advice. There's a decent list of 10 or so self-help-ish books whose insights I'd genuinely like to have (in expectation), if I didn't have to wade through a self-help book to get them.

This combination of traits makes self-help books prime candidates for blogification. But any old summary post won't do; a lot of blog-post summaries of books manage to be just as badly written and excessively hype-y as the original while also being too short, vague or unconvincing to be helpful.

What we ideally want is some resource accumulating longer-form, high-quality (think Slate-Star-Codex-level) summaries of self-help books, from trustworthy authors who we can expect to apply some basic due-diligence to the claims being made.

Some day I may get around to co-ordinating a project like this (with enough interested parties we could cover a lot of books in a fairly short space of time) but in the meantime: what are some particularly good summaries of self-help (or self-help-adjacent) books you think more LessWrong readers should read?

New Answer
Ask Related Question
New Comment

6 Answers

Speaking of SlateStarCodex, Scott Alexander's review of 12 Rules for Life is a really good summary of the main points of the book.

Here's (short) summary of Mini Habits that I wrote a while back. I wouldn't say this changed my life or anything, but the technique basically works. YMMV.

The summaries in the back of Olivia Fox Cabane's books and Superforecasting.

7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. You can find most of the useful ideas in it online, although compared to the average self-help book this one is merifully terse.

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. Basically just what it says: lean into doing things that feel scary. Most of the book is junk and you shouldn't read it. I did write a blog post about this advice, though.

Have a look at www.blinkist.com, it sounds like what you're looking for, there's a website and a phone app. "Founded in 2012 by four friends, Blinkist now connects 6-million readers worldwide to the biggest ideas from bestselling nonfiction via 15-minute audio and text."

Also, this Atlantic article had a good comparison of Blinkist vs Wikipedia vs Reading The Book: www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/11/please-be-brief/417894/

I find it unlikely that Blinkist provides Slate-Star-Codex-level review's. That a very different intellectual level then a mainstream outlet hiring a few people to write summaries.

3 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 4:13 PM

I don't think "Reading a book" is a particular high bar for acquiring self-help knowledge.

Look at the struggle CFAR had with releasing their handbook because they think that just giving people the book won't be as impactful as their workshop. Worries about possible bad idea inoculation should be even stronger if you just read a summary and then think you understand the underlying concepts.

In a world where professors at prestigious universities write crappy books like Why We Sleep or Willpower about their research domains I'm not sure who you mean with "trustworthy authors".

Instead of simply taking claims at face value because an author is supposedly trustworthy, it's worthwhile to think harder about them and how they apply.

Books in or close to the self-help domain seem reliably to be horribly padded, excessively anecdote-laden, and generally somewhat mawkish.

Just want to say I strongly disagree with this. Narrative and emotional arc are in general useful for most books, but Especially self help books which are trying to make immediate change to your actions.

I think there's a skill to reading with your system 1 such that you can update your aliefs from anecdotes and sentimentality, and would recommend learning that skill rather than skipping those vital parts of the books.

(It may be that there's an even greater skill of just reading a bare bones summary then updating your aliefs, but I haven't seen it)

Seconded. In my view, the anecdotes are there such that the idea is more salient and hangs around longer in your head.

Sure, you can read 10 self-help summaries in an hour, but I don't think that gives you 10x the same amount of benefit as reading about one concept for an hour. (If anything, I don't even think you get 1x the same amount of benefit, as you have to factor in potential confusion sorting everything out, etc.)

The padding can also be useful if you're trying to learn via example, or learn what the stereotype of The Concept looks like.