A book is worth 1000 hours

Reading a book on a topic can be faster than practical experience

2020-12-29

I remember a particular moment that washed over me as I was reading Programming JavaScript Applications by Eric Elliot, I'm not sure at what point in the book it was, but when it happened I stopped and actually said out loud to myself: "This is everything I know about JavaScript!". All of the years of experience, all of the trial and error, summed up in a book that could be read at a casual pace over a few days.

I had never been an avid reader up to that point, while I certainly didn't fall on the side of the scale of never reading at all once I left school, my reading had been few and far between in comparison to my other methods of learning. It had seemed to me that in an age in which there is more information available for free than could ever be consumed, that buying a book was the most expensive way to obtain information, especially on an ever changing topic like programming.

I thought to myself that resources like YouTube, articles and documentation would be way more up to date for the information I was looking for and better yet, cost way less than those animal books.

Lack of Dedication

The trouble with free online resources is the lack of dedication, first and foremost by you, the reader. Honestly, as a programmer, have you ever read the entire set of documentation for a language or framework? There are certainly those dedicated individuals who do, no doubt, but a lot of documentation is skipped over once we feel like we have the solution to our problem.

The second reader based problem is the amount of options for resources. When it comes to gaining knowledge via articles and videos, there is no curriculum, no set structure. You have to define the structure, but you don't know what you don't know. To top this off, many articles may have different views on a topic, different opinions that greatly affect the final take-away that you should be receiving from your research.

Finally, with articles, you don't know when you are done, when you read a book it is easy to track how far you have come and how far you have to go, but you can give up your article reading and close all your tabs without that dreaded sense of un-achievement that leaving an unfinished book at your bedside gives you. Feeling progress adds motivation to want to complete something, and books provide a great interface for this.

Structure

The issues with articles and videos online are not only on the side of the reader, the process of writing a book lends itself to better Quality Assurance. In general, books follow an outline, a set structure and a set of goals for the knowledge that the author wants to impart on the reader. Books also take longer to create, going back and fourth between Author, editor and proof readers. This gives the Author time to self reflect as well as respond to feedback. Blog posts, articles and YouTube videos are rarely tested on an audience before they are released. It is completely possible that the reason you don't understand that article on Kubernetes is because the person who wrote it is just bad at communicating, as an article what you see is a final product, in a book it may have been called the first draft. Reading one well written book on the topic could have saved you countless hours sifting through articles to find the right one, and again an article's quality will never be up to book standards.

The long form process of authoring a book does not guarantee that it will be good, but it counts as points in favour of it being a more worthwhile time investment and contributes to books being information dense resources.

Books are so information dense in-fact that I found that I can even learn things that are tangential to the topic of the book itself.

I recently read a book called Nomad Capitalist, this is a book aimed at nomadic serial business owners, a demographic that I do not (at least for now) belong to. And while the purpose of that book is to help six and seven figure earners diversify their assets globally and have fun in business class, I feel like I still learned a considerable amount about taxes, travel, types of economies, and how your money isn't safe even if its in a bank.

Rather read a book

I honestly feel like I would have been two years ahead of myself in my career had I picked up that book instead of reading hundreds of JavaScript related articles, trawling through Twitter and YouTube and learning a lot through mistakes I made over those two years. Lessons learned over hours and days that were summarised in a single paragraph.

I encourage anyone who thinks that information can be found on the internet for much cheaper; read a book, make sure it's a good one, one that is well recommended. You will see the difference in the quality of the information and realise that you can save thousands of hours of going down the wrong path over the course of a lifetime.