How to Choose a Book

BooksBooks are food for the mind, and I do like to eat well. Here are some of the ways that I make sure I get the very best brain-fodder:

Get Book Recommendations

As I’ve mentioned previously, my guiding principle is to read books that have been recommended to me. The more recommendations a book receives, the more likely I am to read it.

The best recommendations are personal, both because I know the person making the recommendation and because the recommender knows me.

The second-best recommendations are those that come from people I don’t know, but whose work and opinions I already know and respect. I often note make a note of recommendations I find in blogs, internet forums or from the bibliography in other books that I’ve read.

Read Names You Already Know

The other thing I do is to choose books by authors whose work I have enjoyed in the past.  The danger here is that I’ll end up narrowing my choice of reading, or that I’ll read books other than the very best in their field. Nevertheless, it can be a useful strategy if I want to find more about a particular subject. Of course, this strategy works best if it is also backed by recommendations. Two examples where this has worked well for me is with the works of  Steven Covey and John C Maxwell.

Check Amazon Reviews

I love checking out Amazon reviews. Quite apart from their value in helping me choose books, they often contain very insightful comments on an author’s work, or even a summary of some of the main points. The disadvantage, of course, is that many of the opinions you read in these reviews are somewhat – er – less useful.

Judge a Book by its Cover

Despite the old adage, choosing a book by its cover actually does work… at least to some extent.

It doesn’t matter how good the content of a book if its appearance puts you off reading it. Back in the day I remember receiving “free” technical books with computer magazines. They were invariably printed on poor quality, yellowing paper in a poor font and with ugly binding. For all I know, they might have been great books, but I never could muster up the enthusiasm to read them. Instead, they just became more clutter.

Conversely, if the pages of a book are laid out nicely and if the illustrations are clear then there is hope that the book will be able to communicate its message effectively, and this has to be a basic requirement of a great book.

One other thing I tend to look out for on the cover of a book is the publisher:  some publishers seem more choosy than others regarding the quality of book that they’re willing to put their name on.

Read the Book

If all else fails, I may even try reading a book (or at least part of it) to see if it’s any good. I find this easiest if at least part of the book is freely available for download. Alternatively, I have been known to put in an appearance at a library or even a local bookshops so I can have a quick flip through a book before I spend my hard-earned book money commit my time and energy to reading it. For example, I recently discovered a great little book called “Getting Real” that’s freely available for download from its publisher, 37 Signals. I downloaded it on the off-chance that it was good. It turns out that it is excellent.


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