If you’re a serious reader, it’s the best of times and the worst of times. It’s the best of times because more books are being published than ever before. It’s easier to find them, buy them, and read them. But there are too many books. It’s getting harder and harder to do the due diligence you need to do to make the most of your precious reading time. Fortunately, there are summaries and other services out there that will help you.
I assume that you want to assess two things. You want to assess whether the contents of a book will help you do things better. Is it the right topic for you right now?
You also want to know if the book is good. There are lots of books on the right topic that turn out not to be good. You’d rather avoid them than abandon them.
Book Summary Services
There are companies which publish book summaries. These summaries can give you a reasonable idea of what’s in the book.
All these services have variable pricing plans, and for most of them, access to archives of previous summaries will cost you more. The links to each of the summaries above shows you what some of your options are.
I choose to use The Business Source Summaries. They do good summaries and they make those summaries available in several different media. I also like the fact that they provide what they call “Memory Sticks,” which are one-sheet descriptions of the key points in any book.
Search for a business book title on Amazon and you’re likely to see two things. One is listings for the book itself. The other listings for other books which are summaries of the main business book.
For example, Atomic Habits is a 320-page book. The summary an independent author prepared is 68 pages. For Trillion Dollar Coach, 240 pages is summarized in 32 pages. And for Loon Shots, 368 pages of the original book is summarized in 37 pages.
Since several authors write the summaries. That makes it almost impossible to come up with a blanket judgement of whether these summaries are any good. Check it out by looking inside the book when you consider one on Amazon.
For years, print publications printed reviews of new and popular books. You’ll find reviews in their current print/digital versions. Check out The New York Times, The Economist, and The Wall Street Journal as well as any business publication you read regularly.
Many business bloggers also do book reviews. Four that I check are: Michael McKinney at LeadershipNOW, Skip Prichard, Kevin Eikenberry, and Bob Morris. You’ll also find reviews on sites maintained by graduate schools and consulting firms.
Most of the book reviews you read will be about new books. The reviews are almost always positive.
Amazon is a great place to check out a book you’re thinking about buying and reading. There’s usually a full description of the book. You can find out a lot about the book and its quality by using the “Look inside the book” feature.
Reader reviews can tell you a lot, but you should be cautious. Most of the reviews that appear in the first couple of weeks of publication are from the author’s friends, fans, and family. They tend to be five-star ratings and don’t tell you much about the book.
I suggest that you not consider a book until it’s been out for at least six months. You’ll make exceptions for books and authors that you know you want to read. But six months gives you time to find out if people are buying a book and what they have to say about it.
When I do that, I ignore reviews that are not verified purchases. I know that many of those are good and fair reviews, but I have no way to sort out which is which. I also think that a reviewer should have some skin in the game. That’s why I buy a copy of every book I review.
I suggest starting with the three-star reviews. They usually tell you what some of the good points are and some of the things that bugged the reviewer. It’s not hard to sort out the recommendations that aren’t by people who are looking for the same thing you are.
Goodreads is a site for book readers Many of us do book reviews. That’s good. What’s better is that many of us also share our notes and highlights from the books that we read. That gives you a real insight into the content.
Use summaries and reviews to help you make wise reading choices. Unless there’s a compelling reason to do otherwise, don’t consider a book until it’s been out for at least six months. That’s time enough for the hype engine to wind down and plenty of readers like you to weigh in with their thoughts about the book.
That will help you increase your hit rate for good books. If you somehow miss, don’t keep reading the book even if your mother said you had to finish your books. Abandon it. Move on to something good. Life is too short for crappy books.
The train of thought that took me to this post began with my friend Mike Haberman‘s innocent question, “How do you feel about reading ‘summary’ books or articles?”