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Books vs. Book Summaries

BooksJohn Moore offers up his thoughts in a post entitled "Business Book Liposuction" on his Brand Autopsy blog.  I've also mentioned before that I'm a big fan of the getAbstract service and how effective it is; I've probably read at least a dozen or so book summaries from getAbstract and still feel theirs is the best summary service around.

But I'd also be the first to admit that a summary service isn't the best solution for all types of books.  Will it work for some of the classics?  It depends on what your goal.  If you're looking to understand the essence of the story so that you can be "cocktail party smart", yes, you'll probably get what you need from a summary.  On the other hand, if you really want to see the finer details of the book and have an appreciation for how the author uses words to tell the story and create visuals, you're better off reading the original work.

I used to think this only applied to novels and other, dare I say, non-serious books.  For example, every business book could easily be compressed into a summary.  While I still believe that's true, I can think of one author in particular where the summary doesn't do the book justice: Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

I read Taleb's Fooled By Randomness late last year and reviewed it here.  Great book.  He was kind enough to send me a copy of his latest book, The Black Swan.  As I started to read The Black Swan I noticed that getAbstract offered a summary of it. I read the summary last weekend, and although I'm sure it was both accurate and thorough, I didn't have the same sense of satisfaction I had when I finished reading Taleb's original work. That's when I realized that I truly enjoy all the little stories and side-bars he tends to fill his books with -- those elements simply cannot be recreated effectively in a summary, period.

So while I still love the getAbstract service, I've learned that there are occasions where it's still more enjoyable to read the book itself.  In the business book world, these cases will be few and far between for me, but it's important to note that they do exist!

P.S. -- I'll continue reading The Black Swan and will post a review shortly...



Joe, for many business books, there's an article by the author that gives you much of the meat in shorter format, but in a voice more similar to that used in the book than an abstract provides.
A couple of examples: 1. Going back a bit, I think that Mike Hammer's HBR article on Reengineering was great, and the book contained a lot of padding. Advantage article.
2. More recently, I think that, in the case of Chris Anderson's The Long Tail, the book is well worth reading, and adds a lot of value to the original article. Here my case that the book is still worth reading, despite in a sense having been pre-empted before it was published.

Joe Wikert

Hi Andrew. Yes, oftentimes an article that a book is built upon is all you really need to read. But, I almost fell into that trap with "The Long Tail." I really felt the article covered everything there was to say. Boy was I wrong! The book was well worth reading even if you had already read Anderson's original article.


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