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.
Hi Max. As your high school German teacher and an avid reader, while teaching this was my summer reading approach. After visiting the Michigan Holocaust Museum, that summer I read books about survivors, enablers, and resistors. Than after visiting Berlin in 1996 and hearing about the Candlelight Revolution, the next summer I read five perspectives on the Fall of the Wall. Unfortunately I was never given the opportunity its to share my findings whether in print or person. Nice blog. God bless your endeavors. Alles Gute.
Max!!! This post has done more for me than you can ever know. I was feeling discouraged about my project, and your feedback gave my attitude a complete 180-degree turn. I’m so happy that you found them informative and I especially appreciate your input on Plato – since you are well versed on the topic. I spend a lot of time writing these little books, and it is nice to hear from a fellow reader. My next installment in the series is “Indian Independence” – maybe we can meet up one day, and I can give you a copy in person :). Thanks again for this, it gave me the motivation to continue pursuing my passion.
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This is a really interesting concept! I have a few things I could write books about… 😉
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Yes, it appeals to me a lot, but more as a reader of others like you and your friend, (and Jillian, -Gone with the Wind,?) tacking the library than to me, (time constrains.) I’m also thinking about writing another short essay. (My first one was on homeschooling, and I may say that I wrote a 75 page essay injected with my personal experience, for which I probably had read the pages your friend recommends).
I’ve missed you. I think you’d like knowing I’m reading Slaughterhouse Five, it’s grabbed me from the first line.
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