The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin

The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence
by Josh Waitzkin
2007

I’m still working my way through some of the books on that list of 40 suggestions and at the moment I’m feeling a bit like Goldilocks, because I recently started three, dropped two and absolutely loved one.

I read the first eight pages of Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi and stopped because it made me think the author was an asshole. The introduction was essentially: here’s how I inserted myself into rich people’s lives and made good off of their connections while mocking anyone who took those connections for granted.

Then I read the first twelve pages of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki and stopped because it made me think that I was an asshole. The text is very traditional zen discussion and I’m wondering how much is real and how much is playing to a stereotype, concentrating less on the actual concepts as I am on the meta relationship of author to publisher to readership.

Then I started The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence by Josh Waitzkin and continued to the end because it was just right. No really. It really was just right and I actually plan on purchasing a copy so that I have it on hand to reread at times, focusing on learning the methods discussed in certain chapters.

First, about the author: Waitzkin was a chess prodigy and national champion as a child and he has since gone on to become a Tai Chi world champion as an adult. Plus he’s a good writer and appears to be a nice guy, too, which is actually kind of irritating because surely people that good at multiple things should have a few fatal flaws.

But anyway, the book is essentially an autobiography but it shows his life by means of his training and development from a highly theoretical perspective. He picks apart how he learned and and improved his various skills, looking at both successes and failures, evaluating the advice and assistance from academic studies and training centers, and discussing his role models, as well.

Keep in mind that I like strategy games, I like martial arts, and I like theoretical discussions, so this book fits my tastes perfectly. I am willing to acknowledge that other people may not like it as much, but I still strongly recommend it to basically everyone ever. It’s a fun read and it has some really important lessons about how to think about learning.