Why you should aspire to an unlimited book budget

A photo of Tom in a field in Corsica. The sun is shining!
August 20, 2021
August 20, 2021

I have always aspired to have an effectively unlimited book budget. If I see a book that I am remotely curious about or interested in, I pick it up. Let's talk about why I think you should do the same.

A quick pit stop - this does not have to be expensive!

This isn't about money - it's the mindset. You can make this work without money.

As a student, this principle meant carrying home big piles of books from the university library and vicariously reading journal subscriptions with my university access.

Today, it means being a bit trigger happy on Kindle orders.

One day, I'd like to think it will mean walking into a home library (ideally complete with a sliding ladder), but hey, a little bit of work is still required before we get there.

Why I believe in an unlimited book budget

My principle is heavily influenced by three ideas:

  1. A big pile of unread books is menacingly motivating. It is a visceral reminder of how much more there is to explore and understand (an idea from the Black Swan by Nicholas Nassim Taleb)
  2. Writing a book is an enormous undertaking. For about ten pounds you can buy what is often the outcome of years of effort by the author.
  3. One good idea from a book can have a tremendous impact on your life that far outweighs the cost.

The sum of this is that reading is a significant leg-up in an unequal world. It is a way to live vicariously and learn from the mistakes of others, identify patterns of effective approaches to solving problems, and uncover a deeper understanding of the world around you.

“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time – none, zero.” Charlie Munger

How can you find good books to read? Tune your antennas to scan for them.

Here are some of the ways I like to discover books to read:

Follow the scent. If you come across an article, quote, or video you like, pull on that attraction and quickly google the person. Have they published a book? Have they recommended any books? Add them to your queue.

Ask your friends and colleagues. What are they reading? What's their favourite book? What problems are they facing & have they found any good books to solve them?

Sign up for discounted eBook alerts. Right now I am reading a book about America's race to the moon. Alan Shepard (the first American to travel into space) and Deke Slayton authored the book. You're hearing straight from the people who were right there making history. The book cost 99 pence. What... a... steal. (The book is Moon Shot, which I am very much enjoying). Check out KindofBook to get email alerts for eBook deals. I tried out a few services and KindofBook had the best signal to noise ratio.

Harvest interesting communities for good books. Seek out web communities for your interests. I've picked up loads of interesting books about cycling from TrainerRoad Forum, investing from Bogleheads, and all sorts of hobbies from Reddit. If you like reading Hacker News, check out Hacker News Books which aggregates books mentioned in discussions each week. I love that weekly email. I always come across interesting books from outside my bubble.

Go deep on people you wish to emulate. Find their influences and absorb them. When these people that you look up to recommend a book, buy it without question. For me, these are people like Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett, Joshua Kennon, Derek Sivers, Tynan, and Admiral Hyman G. Rickover.

Tips for reading more

Great, so now you have a huge pile of unread books. What should you do with it? Here are some tips that have helped me:

  • Get a kindle, and basically glue it to your hand. Bring it with you when you leave the house. Sleep by it. Eat breakfast with it.
  • Uninstall social media apps from your phone and put the Kindle app in their place. Your reading position will sync between your phone, tablet, and kindle effortlessly.
  • Put physical books everywhere - by your desk, by your bed, by your seats. They will grab your attention and a quick leaf through will quickly become an evening sat absorbed into them.
  • Carve out time for it. I have got into a habit of reading before bed, but this can impact your sleep if you get glued to a book.

Buy books, always look for more books, and try to read some of them

Simply put, that's my theory. It's a huge way to speed up your learning in life, and the returns are outsized given the cost of most books. Let me know if you have any favourite sources for finding good books to read - I'm always in the market!

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