Morgan Housel’s Book Recommendations

Read more books and fewer articles. More history and fewer forecasts. More around your field than in your field.

Morgan housel

Morgan Housel is a partner at The Collaborative Fund and a former columnist at The Motley Fool and The Wall Street Journal.

morgan housel

He’s also the author of The Psychology of Money, Everyone Believes It; Most Will Be Wrong, and 50 Years in the Making.

I’m a huge fan of Morgan’s writing. And after following him for a while, I know he’s big on reading books. Since there’s no compilation of all the books he has recommended thus far, I’ve decided to create this list.

Of course, as Morgan recommends more books over time, I’ll make sure to update this list too.

the science of fear

The Science of Fear: How the Culture of Fear Manipulates Your Brain by Daniel Gardner | Source

“The first book that opened my eyes to how poor we are at interpreting risk.”

Read the book summary

The Big Change: America Transforms Itself 1900-1950 by Frederick Lewis Allen | Source

“A look at how life in America changed from 1900-1950, got me interested in the social and cultural part of economic growth.”

The Quest of the Simple Life by William J. Dawson | Source

“Written in 1907, totally changed how I think about personal finance and life goals.”

Famous Financial Fiascos by John Train | Source

“One of the best investing history books that few people have heard of.”

The Great Depression: A Diary by Benjamin Roth | Source

“The best economics book I’ve read, written by a person who didn’t know he was writing one.”

nobody wants to read your shit

Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: Why That Is And What You Can Do About It by Steven Pressfield | Source

“Had the biggest influence on how I write.”

Read the book summary

The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy by David Nasaw | Source

“A biography of Joseph Kennedy, shows Kennedy to be one of the most fascinating people in American history even if his son had never became president.”

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing | Source

“The best example of how far people can be pushed when the stakes are high.”

Truman by David McCullough | Source

“A biography of the 33rd president, is an incredible story of the world’s biggest problems falling into the lap of someone who never thought he’d face them.”

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough | Source

“One of the best business and innovation stories of all time.”

The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Maria Francis Child | Source

“Written in 1833, shows how primitive everyday life was not that long ago.”

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang | Source

“Will make half of readers angry, but the other half will be better able to realize that no system for organizing an economy is perfect.”

The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945 by Rick Atkinson | Source

“The best World War II book I’ve read, and explains the most important event in modern history through human stories rather than bland statistics.”

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker | Source

“Taught me that you can be a long-term optimist even when things around you look pretty bad.”

30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans by Karl Pillemer | Source

“A collection of life advice from very old people who have seen it all.”

This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking by John Brockman | Source

“A series of short essays by brilliant people in a book that lives up to its title.”

Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram | Source

“An excellent story on brute-force learning, focus, and bureaucracy.”

The Birth of Plenty : How the Prosperity of the Modern World was Created by William J. Bernstein | Source

“The best explanation of how and why economies grow.”

The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success by Kevin Dutton | Source

“Shows how big an advantage you have when you’re unemotional about emotional topics.”

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi | Source

“Will make you reexamine what’s important in life and make you appreciate each day you’re here.”

Investing: The Last Liberal Art by Robert Hagstrom | Source

“The most underappreciated investment book.”

Why Don’t We Learn from History? by B. H. Liddell Hart | Source

“Shows why people keep screwing up after others before them did the same thing.”

How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff | Source

“Will make you laugh and be skeptical of almost everything in one sitting.”

The End Is Always Near: Apocalyptic Moments, from the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses by Dan Carlin | Source

“This Dan Carlin book on times when it felt like the world was coming to an end is *extremely* good. Was written last year but has a great chapter on pandemics.”

Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions by Gerd Gigerenzer | Source

“Risk Savvy by Gerd Gigerenzer shows why most people make dumb decisions: We were never trained how to interpret risk.”

Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life by Rory Sutherland | Source

“This book by @rorysutherland is as good as everyone else says it is.”

Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries by Safi Bahcall | Source

“Had breakfast with the great @SafiBahcall, whose book Loonshots is the best thing you’ll read this year. Follow him and check out the book if you haven’t.”

Everything Is Bullshit: The greatest scams on Earth revealed by Priceonomics | Source

“A truly great book, basically the intersection of microeconomics and sociology”

What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars by Jim Paul & Brandon Moynihan | Source

“The best book on the psychology of down markets is What I Learned Losing A Million Dollars.

Smart, well written, timeless.”

Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World by Bradley Hope & Tom Wright | Source

“This book on the 1MDB scandal was great, hard to put down.”

Don’t Fall For It: A Short History of Financial Scams by Ben Carlson | Source

“Finished @awealthofcs ‘s new book, which is excellent as you’d expect.”

The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson | Source

Bill Bryson’s new book on how the body works is as good as you’d expect.

The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company by Robert Iger | Source

Lots of people said read this book by Robert Iger for the first chapter (which is very good), but I thought the whole book was interesting.

tribe on homecoming and belonging

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger | Source

“Loved this short book”

Read the book summary

the success equation

The Success Equation: Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports and Investing by Michael Mauboussin | Source

“Well written and analytical, this book completely changed how I think about success.”

Read the book summary

lessons of history

The Lessons of History by Will & Ariel Durant | Source

Read the book summary

The Man Who Solved the Market: How Jim Simons Launched the Quant Revolution by Gregory Zuckerman | Source

“Reading  @GZuckerman’s new book on the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, “The Man Who Solved The Market,” and it is *good*”

Super Pumped by Mike Isaac | Source

Robin by Dave Itzkoff | Source

“Biography of Robin Williams. Amazing dude”

Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys by Michael Collins  | Source

“Memoir by Michael Collins, Apollo 11 astronaut. Craziest things humans have ever done”

D DAY Through German Eyes – The Hidden Story of June 6th 1944 by Holger Eckhertz | Source

“The book D Day Through German Eyes is mindblowing.”

The Moral Animal: Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology by Robert Wright | Source

“Can’t recommend this book on evolutionary psychology enough”

Making Money Simple: The Complete Guide to Getting Your Financial House in Order and Keeping It That Way Forever by Peter Lazaroff | Source

“My friend  @PeterLazaroff has a new book out today about keeping things simple in investing — rare but so important these days. Check it out.”

Crashing Through: The Extraordinary True Story of the Man Who Dared to See by Robert Kurson | Source

“Highly recommend this book about a man blinded at age 3 who regained vision at age 46.”

Here Is Real Magic: A Magician’s Search for Wonder in the Modern World by Nate Staniforth | Source

City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York by Tyler Anbinder | Source

“The best book I’ve read in a while is this one on the 400-year history of immigration to New York City. 

Economics/politics/sociology/culture/history, and good storytelling.”

One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson | Source

This book on everything that happened in 1927 is really good. Crazy how much important stuff happened in a year.”

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman | Source

Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed by Ben R. Rich | Source

Highly recommended. It’s a fascinating story of how we built some of the most secretive and advanced military airplanes.”

John F. Kennedy: A Biography by Michael O’Brien | Source

“This JFK bio is probably the longest book I’ve read and pretty sure I was just as engaged on the last page as the first. Very well written.”

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott | Source

“This is a great book on becoming a better writer”

Fortune’s Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt by Arthur T Vanderbilt II | Source

“Rereading parts of this book on how the Vanderbilt heirs blew the family’s fortune, and it has to be one of the best business/finance books I’ve read. Just an amazing piece of work.”

The Interpretation of Financial Statements by Benjamin Graham | Source

“Ben Graham’s least-known book is The Interpretation of Financial Statements. Obviously not forensic accounting but it’s pretty good and even people who think they know accounting will learn a lot.”

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight | Source

“One of the best biz books ever.”

Where the Money Was: The Memoirs of a Bank Robber by Willie Sutton | Source

“Highly, highly underestimated book.”

The Geometry of Wealth: How to shape a life of money and meaning by Brian Portnoy | Source

“Read @brianportnoy’s new book over the weekend, and it’s as good as everyone else says it is. The idea that investing is about underwriting a good life, which is different than maximizing returns, is powerful and overlooked.”

Big Mistakes: The Best Investors and Their Worst Investments by Michael Batnick | Source

“Michael is one of the best investment writers of our time and you’ll love this book. Read the last chapter first. It’s the best.”

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker | Source

“@sapinker’s new book is great. 400 pages of fascinating facts woven together with excellent writing. A rare feat.”

The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date by Samuel Arbesman | Source

“I re-read @arbesman’s book The Half-Life of Facts and I gotta say it’s included in the category @patrick_oshag talks about of books that fundamentally changed how I think about stuff.”

The Art of Profitability by Adrian Slywotzky | Source

“Underrated investing book”

The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough | Source

“David McCullough’s book on the Johnstown flood is epic. Such an amazing story.“

Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World by Donald Sull & Kathleen M. Eisenhardt | Source

“… is my kind of book. Highly recommended.”

Bull: A History of the Boom and Bust, 1982-2004 by Maggie Mahar | Source

“Reread Bull! and never cease to be impressed by how good it is. One of the most underappreciated investment books.”

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John Barry | Source

“The 1918 flu pandemic is one of the craziest stories I knew almost nothing about.”

1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History by Jay Winik | Source

“I just finished the last of Jay Winik’s three books, and he is probably the best U.S. historian I’ve read. Amazing storyteller. Highly recommended.”

April 1865: The Month That Saved America (P.S.) by Jay Winik | Source

“I just finished the last of Jay Winik’s three books, and he is probably the best U.S. historian I’ve read. Amazing storyteller. Highly recommended.”

The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World, 1788-1800 by Jay Winik | Source

“I just finished the last of Jay Winik’s three books, and he is probably the best U.S. historian I’ve read. Amazing storyteller. Highly recommended.”

Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon by Robert Kurson | Source

Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong | Source

Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin | Source

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History by Kurt Andersen | Source

Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World by Graham Allison, Robert D. Blackwill, Ali Wyne | Source

“Really enjoyed this book on Lee Kuan Yew”

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari | Source

“It got mixed reviews but Home Deus is one of the best books I’ve read in a while.”

How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson | Source

“”How we Got to Now” is a great book about the unforeseen inventions that come from an initial discovery.”

Too Much of a Good Thing: How Four Key Survival Traits Are Now Killing Us by Lee Goldman | Source

Hiroshima Nagasaki: The Real Story of the Atomic Bombings and Their Aftermath by Paul Ham | Source

Jesse Livermore – Boy Plunger: The Man Who Sold America Short in 1929 by Tom Rubython | Source

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz | Source

The Lords of Creation: The History of America’s 1 Percent by Frederick Lewis Allen | Source

“Frederick Lewis Allen is my favorite author. I didn’t know this book existed until recently but might be his best”

Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor by Tren Griffin | Source

“If you haven’t read it @trengriffin ‘s book on Munger is really good.”

Dealing with China: An Insider Unmasks the New Economic Superpower by Henry Paulson | Source

“Hank Paulson’s new book on China is really good.”

The One-Page Financial Plan: A Simple Way to Be Smart About Your Money by Carl Richards | Source

“There’s a new book out by @behaviorgap. You should get it”

Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much by Sendhil Mullainathan | Source

“Scarcity is at the root of what makes people unhappy. But it also has some amazing benefits.”

Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer | Source

“There are normal people who can remember almost anything — a string of 1,000 random numbers, the order of multiple decks of cards, the names of a hundred strangers in less than a minute. Foer writes about the science of memory before tackling the strategies himself, becoming the U.S. Memory Champion.”

Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Hiding in Plain Sight by M.E Thomas | Source

“Lawyer M.E. Thomas writes about her life as a functioning, law-abiding, closet sociopath — which, in her telling, is about 4% of the American population”

What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster by Jonathan Last | Source

‘When countries get rich they have fewer babies, and when they have fewer babies everything we know about business, the economy, politics, education, and retirement is thrown up in the air.”

Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil by Paul Bloom | Source

“There are a lot of jerks in the world. Why? Paul Bloom argues that we’re all born with a natural sense of morality; it’s just prone to being robbed and misshapened.”

Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me) by Carol Tavris & Elliot Aronson | Source

“”Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)” is one of the best books I’ve read in a while. Highly recommended.”

The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World by Daniel Yergin | Source

“Yergin won a Pulitzer Prize for his first book, The Prize. The Quest follows up with what I am convinced is the most detailed-yet-readable summary of how global economies find, secure, and maintain energy ever written.”

Here’s the Deal by David Leonhardt | Source

“Here’s the Deal — a short e-book that will set you back $1.99 — lays the federal budget bare, exposing exactly what’s causing our deficits, what poses the biggest risk to future deficits, and how we might address the nation’s growing debt. He doesn’t yell or spout ideology. He uses numbers.”

The AIG Story by Hank Greenberg and Lawrence Cunningham | Source

“For as much rightful anger and disrespect the letters “AIG” elicit, this book actually changed my view of the insurance giant.”

Family Fortunes: How to Build Family Wealth and Hold on to It for 100 Years by Bill Bonner | Source

“Bill Bonner is rich. He’s also a good writer. The two combine for a book that is as entertaining as it is informative.”

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman & Paul Clark Newell Jr | Source

“This is one the best books I’ve read this year. Fascinating and highly recommended”

Conversations With Wall Street by Peter Ressler & Monika Mitchel | Source

“Peter Ressler and Monika Mitchell interviewed Wall Street traders, often anonymously, to figure out what was going through their heads leading up to, during, and after the financial crisis of 2008. My big takeaway is that most of Wall Street’s “dirtiest” players are actually good people who believe in morality — but good people do crazy things when you dangle a $10 million carrot in front of them.”

The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption by Clay Johnson | Source

“Someone in the middle of nowhere with a $50 cell phone has access to more information than Ivy League scholars did just a few decades ago. But we are any smarter because of it? Are we making better decisions? Probably not. And it’s our fault.”

Ignorance: How It drives Science by Stuart Firestein | Source

“Knowledge is a big subject,” Firestein writes. “Ignorance is bigger. And it is more interesting.”

It’s Getting Better All the Time by Stephen Moore & Julian Simon | Source

“This book was published in 2000, at the end of the longest economic boom in modern history. Bad timing? Yes. But the authors’ main points — people like progress, and things generally get better over time — is still relevant.”

Life Without Lawyers by Philip Howard | Source

“Howard persuasively argues that Americans’ obsession with suing everyone in sight has suffocated people’s ability to do what is right. The lawyers now make the decisions. He then offers a set of solutions, with laws that both protect society yet are flexible enough to let people make reasonable decisions.”

Superforecasting by Philip Tetlock & Daniel Gardner | Source

Since Yesterday: The 1930s in America, September 3, 1929–September 3, 1939 by Frederick Lewis Allen | Source

“Broken record but I’ll always recommend this for anything related to the 1930s in America”

The Alchemy of Finance by George Soros | Source

Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America by Chris Arnade | Source

“This by @Chris_arnade is excellent.“

Polio: An American Story by David M. Oshinsky | Source

A History of the Twentieth Century: The Concise Edition of the Acclaimed World History by Martin Gilbert | Source

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee | Source

The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee | Source

Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice by Bill Browder | Source

“I’m the 1,000th person to recommend it, but Red Notice by Bill Browder is an amazing investing story. Basically Ben Graham meets John Grisham.”

No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II by Doris Kearns Goodwin | Source

The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer | Source

“If you haven’t read True Believer, on the science of mass movements, go ahead and do so. Relevant to so many topics”

Stocks for the Long Run 5/E: The Definitive Guide to Financial Market Returns & Long-Term Investment Strategies by Jeremy Siegel  | Source

Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think by Peter Diamandis & Steven Kotler | Source

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson | Source

The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War by Robert J. Gordon | Source

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari | Source

Everything Is Obvious: How Common Sense Fails Us by Duncan Watts | Source

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell | Source

The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power by Daniel Yergin | Source

A Few Lessons from Sherlock Holmes by Peter Bevelin | Source

The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge by Matt Ridley | Source

Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street by John Brooks | Source

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance | Source

Shaky Ground: The Strange Saga of the U.S. Mortgage Giants by Bethany McLean | Source

Clash of the Financial Pundits: How the Media Influences Your Investment Decisions for Better or Worse by Josh Brown | Source

“@ReformedBroker ‘s new book is as entertaining as it is informative. Go get it.”

Backstage Wall Street: An Insider’s Guide to Knowing Who to Trust, Who to Run From, and How to Maximize Your Investments by Josh Brown | Source

“Highly recommend @ReformedBroker ‘s new book. Very informative.”

American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race by Douglas Brinkley | Source

“The best book I’ve read on the 1960s space race, telling the story of not just the scientists and engineers who made landing on the moon possible, but the anxiety of what would happen if the Soviets did it first and the political panic behind the scenes.”

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard | Source

“The story of President James Garfield’s assassination, and how the doctors who tried to save him didn’t believe in germs, which is what probably killed him in the end.”

Science of Storytelling: Why Stories Make Us Human and How to Tell Them Better by Will Storr | Source

The best story always wins, and I loved his book on why that is and how to do it.”

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor | Source

“Incredible book about something most of us spend little time thinking about: breathing. Odds are you’re doing it wrong, it’s impacting your day, and you can improve it dramatically without much effort.”

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson | Source

“A fascinating story about the sinking of the Lusitania, one of the first events that drew America into global politics in a significant way.”

Progressive Summarization: How To Design Discoverable Notes

Recently, a friend messaged after I posted one of my book notes:

“I am quite curious, do you take notes while reading the book or after you are done reading? Quite a thorough summary.”

Well, incidentally, I’ve been thinking of writing on this topic for a while now. So, here it is.

What I want to talk about is something called progressive summarization. I learnt this note-taking technique from Tiago Forte, and I’ve been using it ever since.

Now, before I describe what progressive summarization is, there is a prerequisite.

You’ll need to keep a commonplace book.

What is a commonplace book?

According to Ryan Holiday, a commonplace book is:

“… a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and information you come across during your life and didactic pursuits. The purpose of the book is to record and organize these gems for later use in your life, in your business, in your writing, speaking or whatever it is that you do.”

As a person whose main job is to write (and speak occasionally), the value of such a tool is obvious. I can easily extract facts, stats, quotes, etc. whenever I need it. And depending on the variety of materials I consume, I can gain access to unique ideas (or create unique ideas.)

But a commonplace book isn’t just for writers or speakers. If you’re a knowledge worker, this tool will benefit you.

You can use it for your presentations or pitches. You can use it to recall vital information that might strengthen your arguments against whoever you’re debating with. You can use it to inspire yourself when you’re stuck. Or you can use it to cross-pollinate ideas from various areas.

I’m sure you can imagine the infinite uses of a commonplace book.

Now, the key question is: how do you keep one?

Well, it doesn’t have to be complicated.

If you’re going the offline route, you could store notecards in a shoebox. Or you could use a Moleskine notebook.

If you’re going online, there are even more choices. Google Drive, OneNote, Apple Notes, Evernote, Trello, Notion, etc.

Currently, I use Notion.

I’ll have to admit I’m probably using <5% of Notion’s capabilities. But since my company uses it, I consider it somewhat familiar. Which is why I chose it.

Here’s a glimpse into how my commonplace book looks like:

SQ's commonplace book on Notion

This is one of the many categories I’ve created. Each item you see here is a new page I’ve created for a book, podcast, article, etc. I’ve taken notes on.


Now, back to progressive summarization.

Progressive summarization: 5 layers

At this point, I’m going to assume you’ve set up a commonplace book, or at least have some place to store your notes.

So, what is progressive summarization?

The term “progressive” suggests that it has levels. And indeed it has. Let’s go through them.

Level 1: Your original set of notes

As you’re reading a book, you should be taking note of anything that is insightful, interesting or useful.

If you’re reading online—like on Kindle—this should be quite easy. Just highlight the parts you like.

If you’re reading physical books, you can highlight too. (That is if you own the book.) If you borrowed it from the library, or you just loathe the idea of “dirtying” your book, you can use post-it flags—which is the method I use currently.

example of a book with post-it flags

When you’re done with the book, extract your highlights.

If you’re using Kindle, you can use Bookcision to export your highlights. If it’s a physical book, I’m sorry, you’ll have to type it out.

SIDENOTE. I’m assuming you’re using an online commonplace book, since that is what I’m using. Pen and paper is perfectly fine.

Add your highlights to your commonplace book.

Level 2: Bolding

This is the next round of summarization, where you bold the best parts of the notes you’ve imported.

bolding of my notes in my commonplace book

Level 3: Highlighting

The third round of summarization is where you highlight your notes. This is where you’re looking for the “best of the best”.

highlighting my notes in my commonplace book

At this point, you’d have a core set of notes that truly represents the “gold”. The next time you review this set of notes, it’ll be much easier to notice the “best of the best” insights from the book.

Level 4: Executive summary

At Level 4, you’ll take what you’ve bolded and highlighted in Level 2 and 3, and rewrite it in an executive summary at the top of the note. Restate the points in your own words.

Level 5: Remix

For the small set of notes that make it to Level 5, you add them into how you work and think. You can do that by “remixing” these notes, i.e. recreating them in a new shape or form.

This could be an article, a Twitter thread, an Instagram post, a critique, a book, song, etc. I’m sure you can come up with all sorts of ideas.

Pretty easy, right?

Here are a few more subtle points you should take note of:

1. Each level is done in a just-in-time manner.

You don’t run through Levels 1-5 at one shot. Instead, you do them opportunistically.

That means: each time you are reviewing your notes, you do the next level.

Here’s an example of what I mean.

Let’s say I just finished reading the book Weapons of Math Destruction. I’ll add all my highlights into my commonplace book (Level 1).

And that’s it. I don’t need to do anything else.

Level 2 will be completed when I next access this set of notes. For example, I might need to review them because of a blog post I’m writing. Since I’m already reviewing my highlights from the book, I’ll complete Level 2: bolding the important parts.

Then, the next time I’m reviewing it again, I’ll do Level 3: highlighting. And so on.

If you’ve noticed by now, there is a “repercussion” in using this technique.

Which is:

2. Only a very, very small set of notes will reach Level 5

That’s okay.

You only need a few very important insights for your life to change.

While the commonplace book’s goal is to store the notes you’ve taken from your readings, your true goal is to surface the “quake notes”: ideas that will shatter your current worldview and transform your life.

Instead of thinking that most of your notes “won’t make it”, celebrate the fact that you’ve discovered the few insights that will alter your life for the better.

Now, those are the exact steps I’ve learnt from Tiago. But I’ve done it a little differently.

For most of the books I’ve read, I’ve jumped immediately to Level 4. And I’m not doing an executive summary either. I’m writing a full book summary.

My reasons for that:

  • Writing a full summary helps me digest the book better;
  • Writing the summary helps me view the larger themes, trends or ideas in the book;
  • Writing the summary helps me join ideas from different books;
  • Writing the summary helps me form an opinion. This is invaluable for a writer. A writer cannot be afraid. He/she must stand forward and present a well-structured, well-researched argument that influences.
  • Writing a summary allows me to share the notes with others;
  • This allows me to share useful ideas that could potentially change someone’s life;
  • This also indirectly builds my personal brand: as someone who shares great ideas. Personally, I’ve benefited from this multiple times;
  • I hope that, with my summaries, I’ll encourage more people to read;
  • And even if people don’t want to read, I hope they, at the very least, read my summaries and learn something new.

Those are my reasons for not following the exact process.

But you’re most likely not a writer. So, you don’t have to copy what I do. Instead, follow the process I’ve laid out above – it should be more than sufficient to improve your reading and note-taking.