Book Summaries: A Minimalist Approach to Self Improvement

woman dreaming about book summariesAccording to Rich Roll, you shouldn’t hack your life.

I agree.

But…there’s no reason you can’t take a minimalist approach to personal growth.

Book summaries are a great example of this.

With so many great books out there, it’s impossible to read even a fraction of them.

Between work, family and self-care, there’s hardly time left for anything other than sleeping. How on earth are you supposed to find an extra hour in the day for self improvement?

If you’re like me, bedtime is when you do the majority of your reading. While a great way to end the day, it’s not the time to take on new ideas.

I tend towards easy reading at night, opting for books that don’t require much concentration or brain power. They’re usually stories that can simply wash over me as I slip into dreamland.

Fast Tracking Your Personal Growth 

man at desk with lots of books

But what about books that foster personal growth? How does one read more of those when time is in short supply? And equally important, how do you decide which ones to give your attention to?

It seems like everywhere we look someone has put together another list of must read books on everything from mindfulness and meditation to entrepreneurship and stoic philosophy.

Aaaargh…so many books, so little time. 

Enter book summaries. Essentially, someone else has done the legwork for you. They’ve identified the key points of a book and distilled them down into bite-sized chunks, making it easier to digest the information.

Of course, this is only helpful when done right. Plus, it can be subjective. Your idea of what’s important will differ from mine, for example.

For the most part, however, you’ll definitely be able to decide whether or not it’s worth your while to read the whole book.

In some instances you’ll glean all you need from one of two of the main points. Book summaries allow you to do that without reading the original cover to cover, which is both time consuming and costly.

On the other hand, you may decide after reading a book summary that you’d like to know more. Perhaps the author’s message or style resonated with you. Maybe the topic is appealing.

Either way, you’re guaranteed more wisdom in less time, as my favourite philosopher Brian Johnson likes to say. And honestly, who doesn’t want more of that?

Okay, so where do you find these fast trackers of self improvement? I’ve narrowed it down to two. Mainly because they’re the ones I know, but also because mentioning all of them would result in a TL;DR.

Given our ever shrnking attention spans, I’m already pushing my luck.

Blinkist Versus Optimize: Who Has the Best Book Summaries?

There are plenty of book summary websites out there. Which one you decide to go with depends on how much money you’re willing to spend (some are free), the types of books you’re after, whether you’d like to read or listen (or both) to them, etc.

Blinkist: big Ideas in Small Packages

By far the most well known dispenser of book summaries, Blinkist has a lot to offer. With more than 4000 titles in 27 categories, their library is impressive to say the least.

Do I use Blinkist? No. I’m all in on Brian’s Philosopher Notes (more on why below). I’ve got nothing against the platform, mind you. I just prefer a single-focus approach to personal growth.

I used to suffer from shiny object syndrome, always looking for something better. Eventually I realised that mastering my focus yielded the best results. It also helps me avoid decision fatigue, which in turn conserves my willpower.

If you want to learn more about it, BookSummaryClub’s review of blinkist is super in-depth. Erik has done a great job of drilling down into everything you can expect from the platform. He’s also gone to the trouble of highlighting the cons along with the pros, which is helpful.

It’s easy to be biased when you really love something. I should know, I love everything about Optimize and won’t hear a word to the contrary.

Impartial is a trait I have yet to fully master.

Optimize: More Wisdom in Less Time

I first came to the idea of book summaries via Brian Johnson. A lover of wisdom, Brian playfully says that he created his own Ph.D. in Optimal Living when he couldn’t find a school that integrated everything he wanted to study. 

His 600+ Philosopher Notes are the result of this deep dive into the greatest personal growth books he’s read to date. Since then, he’s expanded his offering on Optimize to include over 50 Optimal Living 101 master classes and more than 1,000 “Optimize +1s” where he shares his wisdom in super-short daily bursts.

My (impartial) take is that Optimize is hands down the better product. You get way more personal growth bang for your buck, as it offers a lot more than just book summaries.

The 101 master classes alone are worth the monthly subscription. That said, if you’re not currently in the market for master classes and only want to focus on books, Optimize isn’t for you.

When you consider the sheer volume of Blinkist’s library, Brian’s 600+ Philosopher Notes pale in comparison. The other thing to take into account is that Brian is the only one summarising books.

This means you’ll only ever get his take on what they have to offer. For hardcore fans like me, this works just fine. However, if his style doesn’t resonate with you, you may not get as much from his offering.

Fortunately, both platforms have free trials and offerings, giving you a chance to sample the wares before making a commitment to either.

Are Book Summaries Worth It?

bookshelf full of books

Are book summaries worth it? I’d offer a resounding yes. They can save you time, money and frustration. (If you’ve ever been disappointed by a book you’ll know what I mean.)

Another benefit is that they allow you to dip into topics you might otherwise not consider. Faced with the prospect of reading a book on psychology for example, I’m inclined to wander off. However, give me a summary of the book and you’ll have my attention. 

I’ve discovered many authors and even developed newfound interests this way. Some say it’s a lazy approach to learning, I think it’s smart. Why waste time on something you’re not sure about when you don’t have to?

If you’ve yet to dip a toe in the book summary water, I highly recommend giving it a go. Whether you opt for Blinkist, Optimize or one of the other websites, it doesn’t really matter to begin with.

Once you decide it’s for you, you can shop around for a platform that suits your needs and interests. Until then, have fun and happy reading.

Photo by Sajjad Hussain MShopify Partners and Matthew Henry on Burst

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One Comment

  1. My husband loves New York Times book reviews. Then I get summaries from him. Am I cheating? Neither one of us rarely reads books. We’re cheating.

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