1: Nearly a quarter of American adults (23%) haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year, whether in print, electronic or audio form, a Pew Research Center found.

“According to the National Endowment for the Arts, most adults spend an average of seven minutes a day reading for pleasure,” Steven Kotler writes in The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performance Primer.

This is bad news for anyone who wants to master the art of learning. 

“This brings us to a hard truth,” Steven writes. “if we’re interested in learning, then we’re interested in books. Certainly, as an author, this might seem entirely self-serving, but hear me out.” 

People say, “A book is too much of a commitment.” Instead, they prefer to read blogs or magazine articles. 

“Fair enough,” Steven writes. “But let’s talk about what someone is getting in return for that commitment.” 

On average, an adult reads about 250 words per minute. An average blog post is about 800 words. 

Which equates to about three and a half minutes to read a blog. 

What do we get for the time spent reading a blog post?

“Well, in my case, about three days’ worth of effort,” Steven writes, as he spends “about a day and a half researching a topic and an equal amount of time writing.” 

That’s the value exchange: For three minutes of reading, we get three days of Steven’s time.

“Now, let’s look at a long-form magazine article, the kind you would find in Wired or the Atlantic Monthly. These articles are usually about 5,000 words long, meaning it takes the average person twenty minutes to read.”

What do we get for our twenty minutes? 

In Steven’s case, “about a month of research before the actual reporting starts, another six weeks spent reporting (figure twenty-five conversations with experts and far more reading), and another six weeks of writing and editing.”

For long-form magazine articles: Our twenty minutes spent reading, we get four months of Steven’s work, brain power, and labor.

As readers, our time “quintuples, but my time as an author has increased thirtyfold—and that’s a fairly incredible bargain,” he notes.

2: But what about a book?

That’s an entirely different matter altogether. 

“Let’s take The Rise of Superman, my book on flow and the science of ultimate human performance,” Steven writes. “The book is around 75,000 words long, so it takes the average reader about five hours’ worth of effort.”

What do we get for those five hours? 

“In the case of Rise, about fifteen years’ worth of my life,” he observes. “Every hour someone spends with Rise is actually about three years of my life.”

If we go on a “blog bender” and spend five hours reading blogs, we can read about eighty-six. Which means we are trading our five hours for 257 days’ worth of Steven’s effort. 

“Meanwhile, if you had spent those same five hours reading Rise, [we] would have gotten 5,475 days.”

3: The bottom line?

Not only are “books are the most radically condensed form of knowledge on the planet,” they also “pay performance dividends. . . . Studies find that they improve long-term concentration, reduce stress, and stave off cognitive decline. Reading has also been shown to improve empathy, sleep, and intelligence.”

When we add these benefits to the “information density books provide, we start to see why everyone from tech titans like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon Musk to cultural icons like Oprah Winfrey, Mark Cuban, and Warren Buffett credit their success to their incredible passion for books.”

More tomorrow!


Reflection: Am I reading or listening to enough books? What’s in the way? What strategies can I use to read more books?

Action: Do it.

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