A blogger I follow recently wrote about his hardship in trying to find readers to review his books. Moved with compassion for his trial and seeing that his books were about topics of interest to me (Plato and the French Revolution), I purchased a couple of them myself so as to provide some reviews. What impressed me the most about the two titles was the concept behind their writing, which the author calls tackling the library. This is how you do it:
- Pick a topic worth knowing about, that you know very little about.
- Find the top 5 books on that topic.
- (You don’t have to use a library, but that is often the cheapest route.)
- Read them.
- (This is the longest step: Oldham had 2100 pages of reading on the French Revolution and 4000 pages on Plato. I read over 12,000 pages last year, so this is certainly a plausible amount.)
- Write a book with your newly acquired learning.
That’s it. The idea is that once you’ve read several thousand pages on a topic, you know enough to write a book about it. And I think it works: In each case, Oldham produces a 75-page book on the chosen topic that serves as a balanced introduction, with a bit of personal touch as well.
Of the two books I read, one was on a topic I do not know well (the French Revolution) and the other on a topic I have read and studied up on (Plato). This allowed me to judge how successfully the one works as an introduction and how accurately the other one reflects what I know about the subject. In both cases, the works met the mark. With respect to the French Revolution, I know have in mind an outline of the key events, a list of persons I want to research further, and some of the common misconceptions have been corrected or put into context. I expected to be much more critical of the book on Plato, but I found that Oldham introduces each theme in a reasonable order and treats the difficulties in such a way that readers can understand why Plato spent so much time on them. I will always recommend that someone interested go directly to the writings of Plato, but for readers daunted by those dialogues or merely curious about the ancient thinker, Oldham provides a compact summary.
More than these two books, I am intrigued by the notion of tackling the library itself and I hope to try it when I am situated more closely to an American local library. Does this method of learning appeal to you? For what topic will you attempt to tackle the library?
An odd coincidence: Jon Oldham and I were at the same high school for three years, but I don’t think we ever spoke to each other and only hardly knew of each other. Just this last summer, I was at a pancake house in Benton Harbor when he recognized me, introduced himself, and we were able exchange our appreciation for the other’s love of learning. The world seems to get smaller every day…
Check out Jon Oldham’s blog: Dare to be Wise.