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After that much reading, I came to a few conclusions.
One of them is that I decided to stop reading mainstream books.
And here is why:
- 1. Mainstream books are to sell, not to inform & perform
- 2. Mainstream books are for the average man
- 3. Written to benefit the author, not the reader
- 4. Non-experts write most mainstream books
- 5. Many mainstream books only have 1 or 2 good points
- 6. Few mainstream authors are truly good thinkers
- 7. Concepts repeat… And you only need to learn them once
- What I’m Reading Instead
1. Mainstream books are to sell, not to inform & perform
The more a book sells, the more its priority is to sell.
Exceptions always apply, of course.
But in my experience, best-selling is a better indicator of:
- Author popularity
- Marketing efforts
- Writing skills
… And NOT quality of content.
Not for what I am looking for, at least.
Take Malcolm Gladwell as an example.
No dissing to the man, he seems like a good person.
Only talking about the books here.
Gladwell’s books are listed as “psychology”. (So you get to feel smart reading them, nice plus, eh?).
But they’re as captivating as a novel, so you also enjoy them.
And… You’re learning!
Maybe some people are learning.
Not in the way I define my highest ROI learning, at least.
I have very simple criteria. I define high-ROI content as what makes me and TPM’s customers better men -especially more effective men.
At TPM we focus more on practical results.
So content that produces real-life changes takes precedence over spirituality.
Feel-good books don’t deliver the type of results I’m looking for.
Random and “curiosity-based” information also doesn’t do that.
It takes a different type of content to do that.
I seldom find it in mainstream books.
So, congrats for the best-seller sticker.
But probably not gonna read it.
2. Mainstream books are for the average man
… And I’m not average.
Not when it comes to a huge sense of self, at least :).
Jokes aside, it’s simple math.
Chances are that to become a best-seller you must sell to the middle of the bell curve.
That’s where most people are.
Almost by definition, you don’t become a best-seller selling to the top percentiles.
Best-sellers sell to the middle of the bell curve. Top 10% consumes niche content that rarely becomes “best-selling”
Most best-selling self-help is ceiling advice that often caps slightly above mid-pack.
They work great for average men looking for average improvements. But not for men looking to go to the top. (Or already at the top and looking for an extra edge).
Best-sellers still get raving reviews though.
Sometimes, they’re even real.
It’s just reviews from middle-of-the-bell curve.
TPM doesn’t cater to average men. (Which is safe to say since everyone believes they’re better than average 🙂 ).
Jokes aside X2, TPM caters mostly to driven men who want top 10% advice, for top 10% results.
So, to do my job to the best of my abilities, I stopped reading books for average Joes.
You don’t need to be a cynical bastard to believe this:
An author who doesn’t even know you probably puts his interest above yours.
So here are some educated guesses about an author’s main goals:
- Sell a lot of books
- Sell his services
- Become a “published author”
- Look good -the book is PR effort
Nothing wrong with that.
A book can be part of a fair PR strategy.
And many of the author’s fans will enjoy their idol’s book no matter what.
I’m nobody’s fan :).
I’m only a fan of what makes sense, what works, and what moves me/TPM customers forward.
So I focus on content quality.
More on this mindset here:
Be Careful With (Auto)Biographies
Some smart people love (auto)biographies.
They say that you learn straight from the exceptionals.
You know, billionaires, luminaries, and men who made history.
And they do have a point.
First off, some over-achievers are also dark triads.
And dark triads aren’t exactly well-known for honesty.
But dark triad or not… Personal interests are misaligned with honesty when “legacy” and public perceptions are at stake.
So, with auto-biographies, well… Enjoy reading the ad piece :).
Even when written by others, powerful men can influence the narrative.
Starting with themselves: the main source is often the subject himself.
And the other major sources? The people closest to him: cronies and allies.
4. Non-experts write most mainstream books
… And why waste time on random guys’ opinions?
If I wanted those types of “experts” I could have stayed where I come from.
There are lots of experts in the dive bar there.
People who never opened a book, never left to see the world, and never did anything special… And still know everything.
International politics, economics, and who should play in the Italian national team. You name it.
During the Covid pandemic, many even became immunology experts.
This is cynical tongue-in-cheek.
I love chatting with locals. Many are good people and their unwarranted confidence in their unfounded opinions is entertaining.
STILL doesn’t mean I need to spend too much time there -or pay attention to their BS-.
It’s not any different with many of today’s podcasters.
And many popular books are the same.
Life is too short to read people’s opinions.
When you seek wisdom and growth, choose high-credibility sources.
4.2. Experts Who Write Many Popular Books Are Worse Than Non-Experts
Researchers are humans.
And they like money and fame just like anyone else.
Researchers who prioritize money and fame above rigor write poor mainstream books.
Example: Adam Grant. Psychology to make you feel good
A fantastic communicator and probably a great guy.
He leads with his “Psychology Professor” and “Harvard degree”.
But when he went mainstream he left rigor behind:
- Originals has no science, it could have been written by Seth Godin
- Power Moves was feel-good self-help about power
- Give and Take shows that strategic givers win at life. But he white-washed that with the (misleading) frame that givers -in general– win at life”.
Naive self-help of the worst kind
His latest book seemed even worse to me.
Not that I will ever know for sure, though :).
5. Many mainstream books only have 1 or 2 good points
And the rest is padding.
Heck, in some cases, the only good point is the title.
No disrespect to Mel Robbins here.
She’s a great speaker and maybe also an awesome person.
And still… You don’t need a full book to explain the “5 seconds rule” -start counting from 5 to zero, then move your ass. That’s it-.
Few can make sense of a complex world.
And far they’re outnumbered by those who don’t make sense at all :).
But no shaming here.
Making sense of complex things is hard.
And thinking well is a skill that nobody teaches.
So few people have it.
It isn’t even about brains and IQ.
It’s more about processes of logic, deduction, biases exclusion, etc.
6.2. Adding IQ to Poor Thinking Makes It Worse
IQ is no solution to poor thinking.
Indeed, IQ may make things worse.
Adding IQ to a poor-thinking brain is like adding more horsepower to a shoddy car.
You increase the noise and it may look powerful.
But without effective transfer of (brain)power to performance, it’s sizzle with no steak.
Sorry guys, this car actually looks awesome and may even perform well LOL. But the concept is: more IQ to poor thinking is like a bigger engine to a shoddy car. It won’t do much to improve ultimate performance
This is how it works:
- Smart men without evidence do good-sounding philosophy to cover up their lack of substance. Yes, they may produce interesting “food for thought”. Or make good “opinions papers”. But still not accurate descriptions of reality.
- Smart men without evidence, experience, & good thinking bamboozle you with poetry. They add complexity, flowery language, and references to old high-authority philosopher… but they’re just “showing off their smarts” with mental masturbation.
Yes, I’m looking at you, Jordan Peterson.
The hell you love talking about is trying to make sense of Maps of Meaning.
Jokes aside, nothing wrong with philosophy and poetry.
Philosophy is awesome.
Poetry is awesome.
It’s just not what I’m looking for.
This phase of my life, I seek accurate descriptions of reality.
Or strategies that work in the real world.
You smooth-talking men bring experience, or evidence to the table.
If not, we’re not a good match.
7. Concepts repeat… And you only need to learn them once
Do you read for the pleasure of reading, or to achieve certain goals?
Because if you’re reading for the pleasure of it, this post is not for you :).
If you’re reading to achieve certain goals, you eventually acquire all the book-knowledge you need to achieve your goals.
So the more you’ve already read about a subject… The less time you should spend reading.
To me, this is particularly true for…
7.2. No more general-purpose self-help
I feel I’ve read enough of these.
Little to gain from the latest motivational coach guru book.
And no dig to motivational speakers and self-help coaches.
There are plenty who are truly awesome.
Just… Probably not reading their books :).
What I’m Reading Instead
- More textbooks and handbooks
- More podcasts instead of audiobooks
I queued up books written by researchers, reviewing and presenting the full literature on given topics.
Luckily, many researchers also are critical thinkers.
So they provide you with incredibly high ROI.
They can synthesize decades of research and reams of research papers in one single book.
Sure, nothing is perfect.
In TPM’s 3-pillars approach to knowledge, textbooks lack personal experience.
But if you have the experience yourself, you’re good -we only deal with what we’ve experienced here anyway-.
Exceptions Always Apply…
Some exceptions I make:
- Mainstream books by researchers
Yeah, I’m dragging that list out to covertly brag about the quality of our resources :).
Anyway, great researchers sometimes write mainstream books.
But when they do their job well, they mix “ease of reading” with high information load.
- Opinion-books by researchers
You wanna be careful with untested hypotheses.
But you can still learn a lot from the arguments.
- Authors who consulted research and researchers
Some journalists can write great books if consulting several researchers.
One example is Will Storr’s The Psychology of Status.
Consulting researchers is important because most people can’t read research.
Exceptions apply, as always.
Robert Wright is not a researcher himself.
But he is scientifically-minded and thinks well.
- High-expertise authors (even without science or advanced thinking skills)
For example, I’m interested in dating products from proven players.
Or, say, a book on intersexual manipulation by a successful escort.
Even if it references zero science.
As a matter of fact, better without science.
Few people can properly assess studies.
So they’d only try to appeal to authority, but make a mess out of it. (Again, no finger-pointing. Assessing research doesn’t come naturally and it’s a big skill on its own).
High-expertise and poor-thinking authors can’t explain why what they do works.
They fail to “systematize” their experience and develop strategies that work for all.
But their experience is still valuable.
Especially if you can put it into context.
I chose to de-prioritize all mainstream books.
And to fill my reading list with textbooks.
Good news for you as well.
TPM content and products have long been best-in-class and scientifically thorough.
And will get even more so :).