Introduction to my Book Review Series — JimReviewsBooks

Assorted books on a wide variety of topics.

Purpose

Algorithms to Live By, the first book I read when I decided to start reading for fun.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I will begin to review some of the books that I have read since December 2019. I have read about 40 leisure books since that period during my junior year of high school, and hope to read many, many more in the future. I want to review books for an audience of what I would call casual readers who want to learn. What my reviews are not targeting are people who are looking for incredibly focused, concise information about a specific historical event, etc for the purpose of research or some academic venture. If you are looking for that, I am sure there are places where you can find it but those kind of books will likely not be reviewed here. The purpose of my book review series is to be about as general as possible, surveying what a book is able to teach a normal person, and how effectively it is able to convey that information to the casual reader. While reviewed books will likely have some focus to them, many of the books should not require prerequisite knowledge, and if they do that knowledge will be explicitly stated. I have always found it a little bit silly for book reviews to contain lines and lines of text, as if the reader has come upon the book review ready to read a whole book in and of itself. My reviews come from the perspective of a college freshman at the University of Chicago who still undoubtedly has a lot to learn, but who believes that reading is one path to learning new things. The thing I think I love most is that books can truly contain anything. The local Barnes and Noble has always been one of my go-to spots for gift shopping because no matter what one’s interests might be, I can rest assured that those interests will be explored between the covers of some book. I will get into the format of my book reviews below, but first I wanted to share some sobering statistics about reading below.

Shockingly, although the numerous benefits of reading are well-documented, many people still do not read. Take a second and digest the following data points below:

  • 33% of high school graduates never read a book the rest of their lives
  • 42% of college graduates never read a book after college
  • 70% of adults in the US have not been to a bookstore in the last five years
  • 80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year

My hope with these reviews is that people can be exposed to new ideas and get a sense of how worth it it is to read a given book. This concept is also what I think is missing from a lot of book reviewers in the present — they don’t value the time it takes to read a book because they likely do it so much they do not even pay attention to the allocation of their time. A book that takes someone 60 hours to read is placed on the same scale as a book that takes 4 hours to read. This is unfair because for the first book to teach you as much as the second, it should in theory provide you with fifteen times the information/learning that the second book does. NYTimes book critics do not exactly have the same time sensitivity as the casual reader whose job does not consist of reading books.

My Background and Interests

While I hope to provide reviews on books that can provide value to the reader regardless of interest/background, I do believe that it is important to note my background because it could be important in understanding the types of books I may be choosing to read and review. So, below I just have a brief blurb about me and my interests.

Some of the books that interest me.

I am a freshman at the University of Chicago majoring in Economics and Computational and Applied Mathematics. I am born and raised in Houston, Texas, and I participate on UChicago’s varsity football team. I am interested in finance, psychology, and technology, and love reading books about different ways to improve one’s life. On top of my interests with respect to reading, I love exercising (will consider writing about this as well), playing chess, poker, watching sports, working out and especially travelling (I have been to 26 countries).

Some of the books I review may cluster around a field that does not interest you. If a book is a little bit more niche to my interests, I will include it in the disclaimer but I believe I have some recommendations that everyone should read regardless of specific personal interests. Below I will introduce the 8-point scale I will use for reviewing books as well as other things I will include in my reviews.

The 8-Point Scale

Everybody who finishes a book probably can say they learned something or another but I believe that the biggest question after anyone reads a book, to rate their enjoyment of the book they should ask themselves the following — How worth my time was it to read this book? This is the most essential question when it comes to allowing reading to fit into the context of your everyday life.

I will attempt to answer this question in all of my reviews. In every review, I will list how long I estimate it took me to read the book, which could be an important indicator for some looking to read on a time crunch.

The following 8 points, with related questions following each point in parentheses, will be used to contstruct a rating out of 8 on any given book:

  • Readability (How easy is this book to read? How fast was I able to finish the book?)
  • Transparency (How easy is this book to understand? Are the ideas in the book relatively clear or does there not really seem to be any purpose? Does the book use unneccessarily big words for no real benefit?)
  • Applicability (Does the book spell out how the ideas explored in it can be applied to everyday life? To what extent is this application clear?)
  • Excitement (How interested am I with the actual content of each page? Is it rather humdrum or is it providing me with substance that makes me not want to stop reading?)
  • Importance (To what extent is the application of ideas actually important? How valuable would it be if I treated this book like my personal bible?)
  • Accomplishment (Do I feel accomplished after reading this book?)
  • Integration (How hard is it actually going to be to integrate some of the ideas in this book into my everday life?)
  • Idea-Shaping (Has this book changed or reinforced, in some way, the manner in which I see the world?)

Books will be graded on this scale. Also, it will be noted if I did not finish the book, which has been the case with a couple books that I did not really want to suffer through the rest of (usually longer books). I will begin reviewing specifically non-fiction books, though in the future I may make subtle adjustments to this 8 point scale if I decide to begin reviews on fiction books. I will attempt to transcribe the 8 point scale into a recommendation below:

  • (7.6+) — This book is foundational in the way in which I attempt to live my life on a day to day basis.
  • (6–7.5) — This book taught me a ton and there were likely 1–2 key takeaways that I apply on a day to day basis.
  • (4.5–5.9) — This book was rather exciting or easy to read, and it felt great to read it, but I am not sure how important the main idea is going to be in my day to day life. It could be important, and I would recommend it to you. I learned a lot, but there was not that “it” idea that will affect me long term.
  • (3.0–4.4) — I learned a couple tidbits from this book and if you want to read it already, I say go for it, but it is not my first choice because some elements of a great book are missing from it.
  • (2.0–3.0) — I read this book, but getting through it felt like a task. I would not say I enjoyed it the way I should have nor do I think I will take really anything away from it. There are better ways to spend your time than by reading this book.
  • (0.1–1.9) — I likely did not finish this book because I felt it was not worth my time. Likely repetitive, jargon-filled, and not really accessible along with pages that go on for days and no concrete lessons that teach me how to better my life. Please do not read this book because in my opinion, you will regret it unless you have some overwhelming interest in what I find a rather dull topic.

It should go without saying that any book I find rather poor another person may find rather good, but I think what is important is the distinguishing books into distinct rankings that actually showcase which books are the best. I find it very difficult with present day reviews to be able to distinguish at all which books are good and which aren’t because the reviewers have something good to say about all of them and do not really even provide direct comparison. In the next part another element of the review will be explored.

Skin in the Game by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Big Takeaways

For every book reviewed, somewhere between 1 and 10 big takeaways will be provided so as you can get a summary of what the book taught me when I read it. Again, it is important to note that what the book teaches me is likely not exactly what it will teach you. These will be in the forms of bullets with some short sentence being the big takeaway and then maybe a sentence or two corresponding to the takeaway and explaining it.

The more big takeaways I have, the higher rating I am likely to give the book. This takeaway section is also important because it can give you a sense of what you are likely to learn, and whether or not you actually want to learn it. Some people are likely to not want to read about the robot revolution because it scares them to the point where they will not be able to think straight the rest of the day. So be it. After all, these takeaways are supposed to enhance the way you live your life, not leave you rife with fear.

Summary

In summary, I want to create these book reviews because it is a good way for me to remember and understand what I read, but foremost for prospective readers to get a taste of a wide array of books and be able to see what they are gonna be able to learn. If you already read 100 books a year, I doubt you will find these reviews helpful as you will have probably already read most of the books I am reviewing, and you should probably read even the books that I do not finish because you read more than me.

Instead, if you are looking for a review and you have very limited time and are just starting to get into reading, I think these reviews may definitely be for you. It is difficult to fit reading into everyday life and so these reviews, which have the utmost sensitivity to time spent reading, will likely be more effective for the average reader (or non-reader) to get into reading and learn some big lessons from some of the best books published in recent years.

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Jim Rouse

Jim Rouse

peace.

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