Scott H Young

Are Blogs Better Than Books for Mastering Complex Ideas?


Let’s say you want to be smart about a given topic. What’s better: read several books on the topic, or subscribe to a couple blogs and passively read the latest articles?

If you had asked me this question a few years ago, I wouldn’t have hesitated: reading books will make you more well-informed. Books explore ideas in more depth, have stricter editorial standards and have more highly respected authors.

Now I’m not so sure.

Books are Higher Status (and Therefore Overvalued)

Here’s a seemingly straightforward question: why have William Shakespeare’s plays retained their popularity, hundreds of years after they were written?

Ask an English major and you’ll get a suitable answer: because they’re some of the best works of English literature. We study them, because they give particularly deep insights and have particularly beautiful prose.

Another, more cynical, explanation would be that we study them because they’re high status. The reasoning is pretty straightforward:

Reading Shakespeare is difficult. The English used differs substantially from how people speak today. Therefore, to enjoy Shakespeare, you need to be able to decipher it, meaning you’re probably intelligent.

Shakespeare also has a large cultural footprint in the English-speaking world. Enjoying Shakespeare often requires interpreting the connection to these cultural artifacts, meaning you’re probably more cultured if you enjoy Shakespeare.

People want to appear intelligent and cultured, so they profess a greater love of Shakespeare than they actually possess. This becomes a positive feedback loop, as wannabe Shakespeare lovers exaggerate its virtue to signal qualities they want associated with them.

Of course, most people probably aren’t doing this intentionally. Humans are sophisticated self-deception machines. However, many people will acquiesce to Shakespeare’s talent, but wouldn’t read a copy of Hamlet for fun.

The point of this little diversion isn’t to argue that Shakespeare doesn’t have literary value (the positive feedback cycle needed to start somewhere, so why not with works of merit?). But rather that many supposedly more virtuous activities can become overvalued because people want to associate with their virtue more than they actually benefit from it.

My sense is that reading books on intellectual topics suffers from this more than blogs. Tell someone that you read a dozen books on economics and they’ll admire your erudition. Tell someone you subscribe to a dozen blogs and they’ll think maybe you need to spend more time away from the computer.

This shouldn’t be seen as convincing evidence for the virtue of blogs over books, but rather to expose a common thinking trap we engage in. Namely, that we shouldn’t be too quick to praise or dismiss an activity, merely by its association to perceived virtue or vice.

Why Might Blogs Be Better for Understanding Deep Topics?

I see a couple major advantages blogs have over books, in terms of the amount of knowledge you possess after reading them.

One is simply spacing. A great deal of psychological research shows that studying in a burst is less effective than study sessions spaced out over time. Blogs naturally embody the latter method, dripping out ideas over weeks and months instead of in a burst.

Another is interactivity. Many blogs I follow have considerable more interactivity than any book I’ve read. This doesn’t usually manifest in the reader-to-author channel, but in the author-to-author channel, as bloggers comment on each others’ ideas. Good bloggers will link to opposing views in their debates, which will broaden your viewpoint more than an author who carefully conceals a counterargument in his endnotes.

An underrated virtue of blogs is that, quite often, they’re simply easier to follow. Books often require more concentration and investment to get at the same information. A blog can drip that information out over our shorter attention spans.

One might argue that perhaps the difficulty of books is a feature. That reading books trains a higher attention span. That might be the case, but it also might be that many people give up on hard books mid-way, wasting the rest. I say the decent habits you do follow are more virtuous than the perfect habits you don’t.

Finally, technology gives blogging a depth many books (including ebooks) currently lack. The format of books is still stuck in paper mode, even if we no longer live in that world. The average academic blog I follow makes Wikipedia-style references to jargon, so that I can either dive in to explain a difficult point, or breeze over concepts I already understand.

Some Arguments in Favor of Books

My titular question wasn’t intended to be rhetorical. I still see some problems with blogs in their current status, and my professional bias hardly permits me to see the problem objectively.

Here are some potential things I see books beating blogs at:

1. Ideas which can’t be explained neatly in one post.

Some ideas can be delivered in bite-sized drops. Others require so much background knowledge to fully appreciate an argument, that even a long blog article won’t cut it.

My thought is that this strikes both ways. Perhaps the truly long ideas are better delivered through courses, instead of books? Books may handle middle ideas, but technology seems to be attacking them from both the short and the long ends.

Some bloggers avoid this problem by entirely glossing over the background. This is left to the reader to piece together through links to Wikipedia and links to other background material. This lacks the handholding of a good book, but perhaps it is faster for a reasonably sophisticated reader.

2. Higher editorial standards.

Books, as of this moment, still have editors and publishers. Although you can self-publish books and skip this step, it’s usually fairly easy to separate the amateurs from the pros in book publishing.

Blogs largely go unedited, and when they do it’s typically retroactive, in the form of retractions. This means people can be faster and looser with the truth. It also means ill-conceived ideas bubble up to the public when they would have been squashed by a decent editor.

Ryan Holiday, in his excellent book, uses a variant of this argument to condemn blogs. However, I see it as mostly being a condemnation of the more newsy blogs that live off traffic, and less on the blogs which rely on a regular reader base. Still, the lack of editorial oversight is a blow to the overall quality of blogs.

3. Books are better researched and well-thought.

This point is separate from editorial standards. Getting a book contract usually means investing a lot more time in research than writing a blog article. Although some bloggers invest dozens of hours working on a post, most bloggers will jump off one or two sources and provide quick commentary. The posting pressure on the typical blogger encourages a hastier, treadmill-style idea generation which may not be as valuable as spending a year or two deeply invested on a single idea.

The advantage is that books can cull hundreds of different research points to coalesce on an idea, while a blog may organize that information in a more scattered manner. Book writing forces a different kind of thinking than blogging, and that might ultimately be more valuable.

However, part of me suspects this worry will become outdated. As blogging becomes more popular as a medium of communication, it will create more competition, raising the standards. This is easy to see since the last several years when blogs were largely glorified diaries and are now increasingly platforms for ideas.

New Year’s Resolution: Read More Blogs?

I’m certainly not going to stop reading books. However, I’ve recently pushed myself to read more high-quality blogs. I might not be able to pat myself on the back for an extensive library of collected blog articles, but I might learn more along the way.

What are your thoughts? Are books still the clear choice for learning about deep topics? Which blogs have you read that helped you think more deeply? Share your thoughts in the comments.

EDIT: Some people have been asking which blogs I read. Here’s a temporary list (I change my reading habits regularly, so this only happens to capture my current subscriptions):

Economics:

Languages/Linguistics:

Entrepreneurship/Business:

Science/Data:

Other:


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48 Responses to “Are Blogs Better Than Books for Mastering Complex Ideas?”

  1. kaerber says:

    Well, relatively modern (50 years or so) Shakespeare translations to Russian are still quite popular, and they use mostly modern Russian.

  2. Christopher M. Vanderwall-Brown says:

    My only real issue with the argument comes down to plays being meant to be performed as opposed to read. Who reads Shakespeare? That’s like asking, “Who reads film scripts?” or “Who reads plays like Phantom of the Opera or Death of a Salesman?” They are all stories whose intention is to be acted. While some people read plays for particular purposes, the vast majority of people have no purpose to read a play because as viewers we are meant to experience it. The idea of reading Shakespeare is a very different linguistic and pedagogical purpose than simply watching it. The thought is that in reading the play, one can gain a deeper insight into the characters that one might write better characters or play them better or discuss them better, but ultimately, plays are meant to be performed.

    I think a more apt analogy would be why do we teach Pride and Prejudice or Huckleberry Fin? These stories along with all of the other great hallmarks of fiction like Sherlock Homes we are often compelled to read for sake of culture. Yet, why do we? Is this really for sake of status or pleasure? Should we do things strictly for pleasure or must our tastes and preferences be honed as some like the great rhetoric and of the 18th century claimed?

    this I’d be interested to discuss. If a book is better, or a blig, is it always so, or is it a matter of the form and the particular audience in question? Are some things better for different people?

  3. Jasmine says:

    Lots of great points here Scott. Thanks!

  4. Christopher M. Vanderwall-Brown says:

    Rhetoricians* of the 18th century argued.

  5. Arjan says:

    I’ve read a quote somewhere: “The problem with many books is that they’re simply too thick” (I can’t recall to who this quote is attributed to). In my opinion, that’s true. Sometimes, when reading a book, it occurs to me that the author just wrote for the sake of writing.
    I believe that a great advantage of blogging over books is that it forces authors to be concise (or else the article won’t be read).

  6. xyz says:

    what is a blog anyway ? if not the summary of a book with personal stream of idea added….
    what is internet anyway ? if not a gigantic interractive bookshelf ….

  7. Christopher M. Vanderwall-Brown says:

    Neil Postman and Jay Gould both make a rather interesting claim about books: often that textbooks or technical scientific works are simply poorly written. The problems in our understanding and concentration come down to poorly written prose and poorly organized and enacted ideas. Bad uses of rhetoric, etc.

    Gould make an emphasis of this in a series of editions of great prices of scientific literature that was intended to demonstrate how the science community has failed the reader.

    I’ve noticed this for quite some time. I can include a link to the associated works in case someone is interested..

    This noted, I feel of major concern is the methods by which we come to our conclusions about writing. It may just be that blogs are better written and we therefore associate bad writing (which can be hard to read) with difficult to digest ideas and therefore, blow ideas out of proportion or simply ruin them for those they might inspire.

    Writers like Gould and Postman make articulate points about this matter, and I just wonder how much is truly format and how much is the content included.

    Studies also demonstrated that if you are entertained you are far more likely to remember than something that is not entertaining or informative.

    From a subjective perspective, I’ve found that if something is well written, even with my ADHD (which is a double distraction), I remember it better than if it is dull and I oractice. Having a true interest and having really engaging writing (irrespective of the format be it blog or book) helps my remembering far more than whether I study it over three days vs. 1 vs. Two months.

  8. tjerk says:

    A mixed-form could be ideal.

    I tend to read non-fiction books only half. I glaze over the introduction to get a sense what’s all in it, and then skip to the chapters that I find most interesting.. sometimes being forced to catch up with earlier chapters.

    What I would like is a blog site which is not structured chronologically, but thematically, with regularly updated introductory and conclusion pieces.

  9. Niranjan says:

    I have been reading James Clear’s blog and Nerd Fitness and I must say that it has transformed my ideas about fitness and happiness and has brought in a lot of improvement regarding the same. When it comes to technical subjects, I prefer books and courses over blogs. But in case of something like learning a new language or improving your fitness, blogs score a point over books. As you have said, blogs present ideas in a spaced manner- for example, an email each week. We don’t have to keep some time aside for these emails- they can be read on your smartphone when you are commuting to work or when you are having a snack. These are some things I have found which makes blogs highly effective.

  10. Steve O says:

    Great point, Arjan!

  11. Henrik says:

    Great post! It would be interesting to hear what blogs you read and plan to read.

  12. Lie says:

    Do you have examples of blogs do you recommend to learn from besides this one? I would love to see this for myself.

  13. Brian says:

    This is a great post, an interesting read. I especially liked your use of Shakespeare to make your point, which made me chuckle out loud. I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve heard someone say, “Oh, I love Shakespeare…” but they are at a complete loss to tell you anything about the works of Shakespeare. Name a few characters and you get the deer-in-the-headlights blank stare. But it sounds sophisticated to mention Shakespeare in an adult conversation. I also really liked your point about the interactive aspect in blogs as opposed to reading books. It’s been proven to my personal satisfaction that learning is best and most productive when it is interactive. I see the days of a gathering of people who listen with attention to one speaker for anywhere from 1 to 4 hours, and then rise to go home, are fading. The trend even in churches is a speaker may present a subject and then it is opened to interactive discussion, questioning, even debate. When I compare my personal experiences in such activities, I almost always feel I leave the session better informed, and retain a higher amount of the discussion and subject over the long term. I can even remember “who said what” better when there is a diversity of participants. Great blog, Scott. I’ve been following your work since you started, I think I was one of your earlier subscribers, can’t even remember how I came across you, somewhere in the course of research on-line. I have enjoyed all of it! Best of luck to you in this year’s language goals! Sounds terribly exciting.

  14. Ariana says:

    Here’s what I think: I think you’re spot on except when you say that blogs are better for understanding *deep* topics. I’d rather say they’re better for understanding *wide* topics. My experience is, that when you want to get to the *depth* of a subject, you should read books. However, when you want to broaden your horizons, or rather we could say explore the *width* of a subject, you should read blogs. For all the reasons you mention.
    Reading blogs has made me more aware of the subjects I’m really interested in, and often helps me select the books I want to read (esp. nonfiction).
    (BTW, your blog has really *widened* my understanding of learning processes. eheh)

  15. David D says:

    While it depends on the blog or book, the snack size bites of information in a blog are much like reading the cliff notes into an idea. A book may dive deeper, thus providing more mastery of an idea. For example, a blog about the history of the last century versus a book about the same subject. How are they different? I imagine a long blog post (or several short ones), but the book appears to be 500+ pages. Both avenues provide the audience a chance to learn, but is one learning breadth or depth?

  16. John says:

    Great article.

    I also think that the question is not exactly: should I choose blogs over books or vice versa? It depends. For example, if I want to engage in English literature and become an expert about it, I would rather read books than blogs. However, if my goal is to understand mathematics (which is a more practical understanding, with huge applications), I would rely in courses and video lessons than books or blogs. Still, if my objective is to understand economics, I think blogs are a great resource to keep me well informed. Summarizing my view: 1) large and/or cultural complex subjects: books; 2) practical skills or pragmatic views of reality: courses; 3) short term topics/trends that requires updated information: blogs.

    Even yet, I don’t see any problems to use the approach of conciliate blogs to complement books. Information is always evolving.

    By the way, Scott, what blogs do you read?

  17. Phil says:

    any tips on how to find the best blog on a paticular subject?

  18. Rohit Gupta says:

    Great article!
    One point I would like to add is that blogs usually can afford to be more politically incorrect as compared to books, at least for now. You are more likely to come across fresh insights through a blog rather than a book, because publication of books in the classical sense requires acceptance from many gatekeepers— who can be defenders of the status quo.

  19. Michael Toback says:

    It really depends on the subject. Many topics move quickly, such as law or software development tools, so a well written blog focusing on single complex topics can really help keep you up to date. Other topics like french, calculus or shakesphere have been pretty much the same for the last few centuries and so would probably not lend themselves to a short insightful post.

    As a lawyer and an engineer, I would rarely rely on a book except maybe to give me a grounding in the subject, then would focus on blogs for individual issues. Learning algorithms, french syntax, or understanding the concepts of English common law would be better covered in a book or lecture series, as it requires a broader view of the topic.

  20. Marvin says:

    What blogs are you reading Scott?

  21. Julie says:

    As an English major required to take 3 classes in pre 18th century literature, I’d say Shakespeare is important because the study of his work provides a frame of reference for what we as a (US) society value in literature.

    Blogs have another advantage over books- they can be flexible. Writing follow up posts on topics that engage the author isn’t possible in the same time window in a larger formally published work. I heard a story about a painter bringing his paints to a museum to work on one of his paintings hanging there- blogs (and online publishing) allow for a similar extension of topic exploration.

  22. Cougar says:

    Actually, the age of the e-reader changes many things. I have an older e-reader that doesn’t connect to anything, and even if it did, I use it where wifi isn’t available, but I really appreciate having my library in my purse, and I would continue reading books if I had connectivity. (I repurposed one of my wife’s purses to carry electronics and other stuff. But I refuse to call it a murse. I’m not so testosterone-challenged that I need to use cutesy masculinized names for things.)

    As a writer, I can tell you that I approach a project differently if I’m writing for a blog or a book. For one thing, when I’m writing a book, I’m thinking about a subject with the same level of commitment that one would approach a two- or more-year stint at anything, which changes my thinking process. For example, in working on an outline for what I’m creating, I’m literally planning for what I’m going to be writing in a couple of years. The fact that I throw those plans away, replace them, rework them, or transform them into something new doesn’t invalidate the act of planning on such a deep and broad level.

    I have never seen a great novel on a blog, not counting Project Gutenberg. Fanfic doesn’t equal the original. Some novels are available online on bootleg sites, but that’s not really the topic we’re discussing. Shakespeare is hard going with its archaic language, but there are literally thousands of great literary works available for free from Gutenberg, and e-books are generally cheaper to purchase than hard copy books. e-readers are boosting reading, just as blogs are providing competition for it.

    Blogs are an entirely different medium from books–with both shortcomings and advantages. They tend to be less in depth; they’re more likely to be selling something, either overtly or as a hidden agenda; they tend to be more transitory than a book in my library that I may want to reference in ten years; they tend to be less well crafted than a good book. On the other hand, doing research without the internet was once a difficult, painful, easily shirked responsibility that writers failed at again and again.

    Ultimately, blogs and the internet are an addition, not a substitution. In my own work, my personal discipline causes me to severely restrict browsing and blogs to research that I actually need for the project at hand. Even with my very restrictive rules as to what I allow myself, online research provides me with far more richness and value than what was once available.

    But books rule!

  23. Cougar says:

    I’m not sure if and how websites show up on this comment stream, but if anyone does go to mine, it requires JavaScript enabled in order to even be sensible.

  24. David says:

    Some blogs are authored by true experts in their field…offering you the condensed results of their years of in depth study on a subject. At minimum, that can add a great deal of perspective to a topic very quickly.

  25. Carl says:

    You mentioned that one of your new years goals is to read more high-quality blogs.

    What are some of the dimensions you measure a blog’s quality on? In other words, what are some of criteria or intuitions that let you conclude a blog is worth following?

  26. Radhika says:

    Loved this, especially the Shakespeare reference. Shakespeare is ridiculous, and that is the appeal. He goes to the extremes of human nature and makes it relatable. That’s why so many people confuse Romeo and Juliet with an epic love story, when it’s really just a mockery of teenage love. (Anyone who actually read it without the background of movie remakes would understand that).

    Also, I’d like to say that blogs don’t cover everything that books do. I made a most about this exact topic (http://rmorabia.com/read), and here’s the most important sentence:

    “But if you want to reach the widest arsenal of wisdom, knowledge, and perspective, books have a track record for sticking around.”

    Blogs have only been around for so long, you can’t read the words of Marcus Aurelius or other great figures in history through a blog. Books have so many more possibilities.

    Either way, great post, Scott.

  27. Nitin says:

    Scott, the context of this article is “learning”, right? How can you learn or study complex ideas on a blog? I don’t see myself learning the basics of really complex subjects like Medicine or Astronomy or Physics on a blog. Blogs mostly revolve around things like productivity, life-hacking, and at the most, maybe about finance, investing and money management.

    I don’t see where I can go and find blogs that will teach me Calculus. To me, blogs wouldn’t even figure when I’m looking to learn a complex idea.

  28. John says:

    Scott,

    Great post.

    From my personal experience, reading is a very INEFFECTIVE METHOD for learning. Reading is like going to beach and seeing all of the sunlight everywhere and expecting your body to absorb all of sunlight.

    I think learning has to include large amounts of practice. Neuroscience has shown repetitively that neurons that fire together wire together. So our goal as learner should be to fire neurons instead of trying to passively absorb information from a book.

    In conclusion, I believe that blogs and books are ineffective in the transfer of knowledge. The truth is, if you cannot recall something it does not exist.

  29. Robert says:

    I have the same question as Phil does, how would I go about finding some good blogs on specific subjects? besides google of course just wondering if theres any tricks

  30. rok says:

    I think, when you read a thing you must ask questions think about what did you read, and than you can understand much beter, mybe imagine, how all things are connected, reading reading not thinking it not a good idea, mybe the best thing, is to read and write/draw in paralel. (sory for my bad english)

  31. Dave Small says:

    Nice post Scott!

    I just read Pride and Prejudice and it might be the best thing I ever read. Austen develops characters and ideas that would be nearly impossible in a blog (or a movie). There is only one way to get stuff like this — books.

    But when it comes to skill-building and specialty topics, blogs are superior and much more accessible than books.

  32. Parag Shah says:

    I tend to prefer books as the first source of knowledge on a new topic, because the content is well organized. Once I have basic knowledge and a better picture of the overall landscape, I move to reading blogs and asking questions on forums.

  33. Sumedha says:

    Just a couple of pointers . As an occasional Blog user and reader, I have picked up certain skills off Blogs. The best part about them being how easily I have access to varieties of ways to learn the same subject .I’ve used blogs to learn stuff, and practise German. I found that blogs in that sense, are curated by the blogger himself/herself, so it’s more likely that what you get out of them is practical stuff, and they’re great for tips on learning.
    If the subject in learning is something you start off with , and then move ahead on your own, I would recommend blogs hands down.

    But I wouldn’t substitute them for books, because, firstly, your eyes hurt less, because you aren’t staring at a screen. The experience of actually reading and studying from a book is a joy in itself. In contrast, blogs , being on the internet, tempt random surfing. Secondly, a book is complete, the author(s) frame the learning experience to be a thorough A-Z experience, with capacity for extensive cross referencing . The author, through publishing, is accountable for what he/she writes.
    A blog on the other hand is not obliged to be complete, accountable, cross referable or thorough. Most of them being personal initiatives, there are many blogs where the author’s credentials are vague, untraceable, and unaccountable.
    Also, one can doodle and make notes in a book, but not on a blog :-)

  34. Ryan says:

    I still vividly remember poring through David Diamond’s ‘Guns Germs and Steel’ when I should have been doing lots of other things in college. Some great works of non-fiction like that can suck you in and take you on a journey of ideas to a degree no blog post could possibly do, in blogging’s current format. In cases like this it is to the advantage of the reader to let the expert in the given field set the stage, provide the necessary details (in as much detail as is necessary) to create a full and living image of the theories he proposes. Even if those ideas are challenged later, which some of Diamond’s have been since he wrote that book, following the stream of thought he had and understanding the process ends up being just as important as any conclusions reached in the final chapters.

  35. Hanna says:

    Hi Scot,

    Great post! I think blogging has a lot of potential. It is still a small medium, but there’s a lot of potential as an alternative source of information.

    One of the things I like about blogs is that that many of the articles discuss a very personal and often alternative view of a given topic. This forces its readers to be reasses things they thought they knew, and in this way blogs offer a great way to broaden your opinion on this topic.

    Of course, blogs also have a few drawbacks, the most important one being that a blogs misses a good structure. The chapters of a book are thought-out units that are placed together logically. On blogs, the articles are posted chronologically, and readers have to go and look in the archive to find past posts they want to reread. A good tagging system can help to lift some of this problem, though.

    Finally, when you learn something from a book, you can edit it to help you master the contents. I always use markers when memorizing a book, and I often write reflections in the margin. This learning strategy cannot be applied to blogs.

  36. Tony says:

    Scott, great post as usual. I personally use both books and blogs to flesh out new knowledge areas. Blogs are excellent ways to find out what books to pursue. The reason for the interest tends to drive how I go after the information; if its for work, I need to have a quick turnaround on my investment which means blogs and articles. If I’m learning something because I’m personally interested in it, I use articles, blogs, and books. I think they compliment each other.

  37. Mary Ann says:

    Very enjoyable read.

    I’m a reader…books, blogs, the backs of cereal boxes, and in the past few years, I’ve been finding a more symbiotic relationship between blogs and books. One often leads me to the other.

    Blogs may not be more effective at mastering ideas but the good ones excel at marshaling ideas. A great blogger is one who writes in such a way as to spur people to comment and often, the comments and blogger replies take the ideas to a higher and more developed level than is possible in a medium with no interactivity.

    Your use of Shakespeare followed by a mention of editors had me wondering what an editor would have done with the Bard’s words. He had a reputation for making up words and phrases, liberally borrowing from other languages and street talk. I imagine pages full of red pen markups.

  38. Chris says:

    What links do to us doesn’t stop at providing more sources and information but it also makes an electrifying party in our brains. Spotting a link in the middle of a blog post instantly turns on our frontal lobe (decision-making region), making our regions of the brain responsible for attention and memory less able to absorb the information afterwards.

    Not only that, but since all our brains plastic, both reading through a screen and on paper will bring a trade-off: we will get used to either screen reading or paper reading. Blog readers will adapt to short writings with short paragraphs whereas book readers will go to opposite way.

    There are numerous other ways in how our brains get used to both digital and print-reading but the clear distinction is that constant exposure to online textures will inevitably constrain our depth. The sensory interactions in print-reading provide for far deeper attention span, allowing your brain to get used to deep immersion whereas blog-reading will make your brain want to read in a way more shallow.

    Therefore, more blog-reading will make print-reading harder and vice versa. However, I think it’s true that we still occasionally need short bits of information, and blogs are great sources for them. They are more easily accessible than books are and many of them have invaluable information not frequently mentioned in papers. But we should only take advantage of blogs in a minimal way–not only will we favor small splits of information more but we’ll also grow less patient as the Internet is accessible anywhere.

    That said, I think while it’s totally useful to sacrifice our print-reading skills at least partially, it could also be dangerous when the balance starts tilting toward the digital world. Both are great for learning, but attention is what determines how much we learn, and that is only trainable with books, not both.

  39. Pete says:

    A real teacher is best yet. One who can teach in a variety of methods, and who has unlimited patience. Instant feedback is where it’s at

  40. Gary says:

    This is a refreshing post because while I feel that some books cannot be discounted for their value (certain textbooks, classics, whatever your fancy is), I’ve found good blogs to fill up an important gap in a field such as computer science, development, programming. There are a certainly books, many of them theoretical and thick and unreadable for the beginner or hobbyist, then there are learn-coding sites, which I find perhaps a bit too simple for someone who has already learned the basics, and then now it feels like I’m only left with StackOverflow and other people’s GitHub profiles, many of the content which goes way over my head.

    With all that said, if anyone has any good CS/development/programming-related blogs, please share :) .

  41. Zico says:

    Firstly Scott,
    We live in a world where nations have millions of poor people. Leave alone the fact that they don’t have proper food and clothing..SO HOW CAN THEY HAVE COMPUTERS ? :(
    These “BLOGS” are a limited luxury to people from limited section of society.
    For such people the only reprise is “Books”.You cannot compare these two.
    Also the leisure of reading a book cannot be compared with reading a blog.
    Thank You. :)

  42. rakgadi says:

    Hi Scott

    Could you by any chance post a list of good blogs to follow. Or some of the blogs you follow. Be it academic or news , etc

  43. Leo Gura says:

    Some interesting points in favor of blogs here, but I still get my deepest insights from books. There is something special about sitting down and studying and savoring a book. I can get insights from blogs, but books for me are just BAM! In your face! Go out and implement this right now!!!

    Part of this is just time. I spend 10-20 hours on one good, deep book. I only spend 1-2 hours on a blog. If I spent 20 hours on a blog, maybe the effect would be the same, but that’s too much time at the computer screen.

    Also, with blogs I get a mental-masturbation effect too easily. But hey, to each his own. I think it is what you make of it. And really, you should be doing BOTH, not either or.

    Leo

  44. Kane says:

    I think you are on the money with the bit about Shakespeare. Tolstoy wrote a critique of Shakespeare which you can read for free from project Guttenberg or download from ibooks.

    While staying on topic I don’t think what you’ve written about Shakespeare would change peoples preconceived notions on the topic. Mainly because you don’t give a complete argument for his strengths as a writer. Tolstoy’s critique being more comprehensive will stand a better chance at changing peoples opinions on the topic. This is an argument for longer forms of writing.

  45. Wan says:

    I think of books as a source of knowledge that I need to think for myself while blog is a source of condensed knowledge.

    I love both of them and I don’t think blog is of lower status than a book. In both forms, it depends on the writer to write about things that can increase people knowledge.

  46. […] Are Blogs Better Than Books for Mastering Complex Ideas? – Or should they be used in tandem? […]

  47. […] Scott Young had a good post the other day asking the question, “are blogs better than books for mastering complex ideas?” […]

  48. Erica says:

    The “Hacking Chinese” link is broken.

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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