Five More Insights from Reading Another Hundred Books

A year and a half ago, I felt compelled to share my top 10 lessons learned from reading 100 books. These lessons are still as valid for me today as they were then.

And, having now crossed the 200-book threshold, I thought I'd document additional insights gained throughout this second tranche of reading.

For context, below are the initial top 10 lessons (and here’s the post if you want to dig deeper):

  1. It's not important to remember what you've read.
  2. Reading affects how you think and feel.
  3. What you read influences your actions.
  4. It's OK not to finish a book.
  5. Reading makes you learn about yourself.
  6. Reading promotes curiosity.
  7. Reading helps you evolve.
  8. You'll never keep up with your reading list and that's fine.
  9. You're not likely to ever be “done”...
  10. And you'll never want to be.

 Another 100 Books = 5 More Insights

Another bout of reading offered five additional insights, all of which feel more global in nature than the first ten. Maybe standing on a larger pile offers a better view ;). See below for the five new additions.


  1. Augment our understanding of what it is to be human
  2. Enable human beings to communicate more effectively, more thoroughly
  3. Assist us in setting our own course of study
  4. Let us set the pace
  5. Help us innovate and create

1. Augment Our Understanding of What It Is To Be Human

I felt literature provided the best account of the life of the mind...Literature not only illuminated another’s experience, it provided, I believed, the richest material for moral reflection.
— Paul Kalanithi, M.D., When Breath Becomes Air (2015), p. 30-31

The written word is the most effective way to connect with others well beyond mere intellectual matters. The depths of insight into human consciousness we can achieve via this medium are unparalleled, especially in the areas of fictional writing & philosophical writing (and many autobiographies).

Books became my closest confidants, finely ground lenses providing new views of the world.
— Paul Kalanithi, M.D., When Breath Becomes Air (2015), p. 27

There, we can connect with each other at the raw, instinctual, visceral level. We get to a place beyond the mechanical understanding of our world and ourselves. We can bridge the chasm between science and our own humanity. We get to the essence of what matters, which in turn colours how we see ourselves and the world we live in.

2. Enable Human Beings to Communicate More Effectively

There’s no better way to get inside another person’s head than to read their well-developed thesis or explore the complex characters they’ve created that enable you to lose yourself in a story. Through the main tool of their trade, writers benefit from a willingly captive audience for many more hours than anyone could possibly get in face-to-face interactions. If you want to fully appreciate this difference, choose a TED speaker who gives a talk on a topic he/she has written about, read the book and then watch the talk.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Book / TEDTalk
  • The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz: Book / TEDTalk
  • Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert: Book / TEDTalk
  • Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely: Book / TEDTalk
  • The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor: Book / TEDTalk
  • Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton: Book / TEDTalk
  • Where Good Ideas Come From: Book / TEDTalk

3. Assist Us in Setting Our Own Course of Study

…I knew nothing except what I gathered from Time magazine and reading everything I could lay my hands on at home, but as I inched sluggishly along the treadmill of the Maycomb County school system, I could not help receiving the impression that I was being cheated out of something. Out of what I knew not, yet I did not believe that 12 years of unrelieved boredom was exactly what the state had in mind for me.
— Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
He would come back to our degreeless and gradeless school, but...[h]e’d no longer be a grade-motivated person. He’d be a knowledge-motivated person. He would need no external pushing to learn. His push would come from the inside. He’d be a free man. He wouldn’t need a lot of discipline to shape him up. In fact, if the instructors assigned him were slacking on the job he would be likely to shape them up by asking rude questions. He’d be there to learn something, would be paying to learn something and they’d better come up with it.
Motivation of this sort, once it catches hold, is a ferocious force…And, in the process of intellectual maturing that these abstract studies gave him, he would be likely to branch out into other theoretical areas that weren’t directly related to [his field of study] but had become a part of a newer larger goal.
— Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, p. 175-177

Curiosity-driven exploration deepens learning and makes it stick more than any assigned curriculum can. Assuming we’re receptive to their writing style and topic for the duration, an author has our attention when we’re ready and willing to give it, not based on a preset schedule or because we need to learn it for testing purposes.

When we read something because we’re curious to know more—as opposed to some external force telling us we have to know more—we allow ourselves to get immersed in the topic; we surrender to the subject matter; and we open ourselves to the ideas—even if we ultimately choose to remain skeptical or, ultimately, to disagree.

And, we follow our desire for as long as it sustains us—often thanks to authors’ suggested readings and references. Once we feel we have enough depth in an area, at least for now, we’re free to move on to other interests.

4. Let Us Set the Pace

The only thing I can honestly say I know that the desire and hunger for education is the key to real learning.
— Jim Stovall, The Ultimate Gift, p. 69
‘The most important thing is to eliminate all kinds of tension and anxiety” that are associated with learning.’ — Michel Thomas, language expert
— Jamie Holmes, Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing (2010), p. 3.

Authors have the advantage of providing us with all the material in one compact package, allowing us to determine the means and rhythm that best suit our ability to absorb the material. We decide when, where and how to read the book and how much time to allow between sessions. We also decide whether we want to give the material some thought between readings and, if so, to what degree.

Interest is what drives people invest their time and energy in developing particular skills and bases of knowledge.
— Give an Take by Adam Grant, p. 104.

We might even argue with the concepts presented as we read them, rereading passages and sections we don’t agree with or don’t fully yet grasp (even going so far as to look up references the author provides in support of his/her argument). We may make personal notes, look up other references, discuss our current reading with others to get their perspective—integrating the material to the extent/depth that’s meaningful to us. And we do this because it’s meaningful…otherwise, why did we keep reading?

5. Help Us Innovate and Create

[S]ameness is the enemy of vitality and creativity. From a practical point of view, we can see this in every field of human activity. Stagnation occurs when nothing new and different comes from outside the system.
— Neil Postman, The End of Education, p. 78.
[He] also knew that almost all inventions involve importing a solution from a different domain into the context of the problem at hand:
‘I’d estimate that nearly 90% of new solutions are really just adaptations from solutions that already exist—and they’re often taken from fields outside the problem solver’s expertise.’ - Tony McCaffrey
— Jamie Holmes, Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing, p. 197

The greatest insights in the work we do everyday often come to us thanks to unexpected associations. Reading up on a new topic enables us to look at our current areas of expertise with fresh eyes. And, gaining a depth of understanding in a number of areas makes us better thinkers because we have more to tap into. As Steven Johnson explains in his books Where Good Ideas Come From and How We Got To Now, innovation occurs when we take disparate ideas and bring them together to create something new.

Case in point: on occasion, when I read two books at the same time, sometimes the connections between them takes insight gathering to another plane altogether, as happened to me while reading Why We Do What We Do and Give and Take in parallel.

6. BONUS: Makes Us More Comfortable With Who We Are

The more you look, the more you see.
— Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, p. 101
To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top.
— Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, p. 183

Ok, if you've made it this far, let's throw in one more for good measure: reading makes us more comfortable in our own skin, more comfortable with living our lives as we see fit.

It (re)affirms a universal truth:

None of us have it all figured out.

No one knows everything; it’s impossible. And, the more we read, the more we realize how little we know and become more comfortable with that that fact. We also start to appreciate that we can learn something from just about anyone and from just about every experience we invite into our lives—or that life hurls in our direction.

Being nearly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information and knowledge we can’t possibly get through, let alone digest, in our lifetime—even multiple lifetimes—can’t help but make us feel OK with where we are at any given point because there’s no way to every be “done”. After all, personal growth is about the journey, not the destination—no matter what our educational system will have us believe.

Now, what page was I on?

What about you? What role do books play in your life? 

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