Skip to content

To think better, read old books

2 min read

If you want to think better, read old books.

Haruki Murakami explains this best in “Norwegian Wood”:

If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.

The Cultural Tutor, who went from flipping burgers in McDonald’s to Twitter stardom, also has the same principle: he doesn’t read anything published within the past 50 years.

By reading old books, time becomes a filter that separates good books from bad books. Instead of the New York Times Bestseller list, trust Father Time, and you will find Mother Wisdom.

Reading old books leverages the Lindy Effect for your thinking. The longer something has been around, the longer it is likely to continue. If a book has remained relevant for 50 years, it’s likely that it will retain its value for years to come. If it has survived that long, it’s worth reading.

Reading old books gives you an edge because you think of ideas that no one else is thinking. By reading old books, the old can become the new. People will think of you as a genius, but all you are doing is reading what no one else is reading.

Reading is a cheat code, but you need to be smart about it. Reading the words is easy. Being deliberate about what you read is where you get an edge.

If we compare the concept of information consumption to diet, then social media posts resemble fast food. They are made in factories. They're tempting, effortless to digest, but you will feel worse after eating them. Think Twitter threads that scream AI and content crafted to game the algorithm.

Articles are takeouts. They are delicious, made with love by your local Kebab man, but they’re oily and greasy. You shouldn’t be eating them everyday.

The latest bestsellers are the food at Michelin star restaurants. Everyone raves about them, and the presentation is part of the experience. But there’s very little substance. Often, you go to these restaurants for the social reward of being able to talk about it with others.

Old books are whole, unprocessed foods. These are the most nutrient-dense food. Very little has been added to it, yet they are what your body needs.

Eat whole, unprocessed foods if you want a healthy diet. Read old books if you want healthy thinking.

Fast food was why I stopped writing online. I wasn’t satisfied with the ideas I’m writing about, and my head and my pen weren’t in sync. I was repeating ideas that everyone else already knows. Who cares about the 5832nd article about GTD?

I decided to take a different approach this year.

Psychocybernetics over Atomic Habits

Meditations over The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Man’s Search for Meaning over You Are a Badass

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still value in new books. I’m sure some bestsellers today will endure and be deemed as good old books in the future. But keep in mind that the time spent reading new books could have been spent reading good old books.

I’m not discarding new books, I still love Atomic Habits. I’m just changing my diet. Similar to how we eat, we should focus on reading old books 70-80% of the time. You can spend the rest reading books displayed in airports.

The next time you pick a book, ask yourself: when was this published?



Related Posts

Members Public

Plus Minus Next Journaling in Roam Research: An Easy Method for Weekly Review

One of the best habits I picked up recently is doing a weekly review. I'd feel lost and agitated whenever I miss doing it. Instead, doing one primes me for the next week and allows me to learn from my mistakes and successes in the previous week. Everyone knows that

Members Public

How I (used to) publish daily

How does Seth Godin write a blog post every day? That's a question I've been trying to answer for quite some time now. I'm well aware that publishing daily is a good habit for newbie writers. William Zinsser had something to say about this in his book On Writing Well:

Members Public

20 Ideas That Changed My Life

Here are 20 ideas that changed my life. My hope is that these ideas will help you think better and live happier, more productive lives. 1. Via Negativa Instead of adding things to solve your problems, remove negative things. What you don't do determines what you can do. For example,