Introduction

I’m not a reading researcher or a reading policy expert and I don’t have a Ph.D. in reading. In fact, English isn’t even my first or second language! It’s my third. My source of credibility is that for the first 18 years of my life I never read a book. By 23, I read over 396. Most of which are non-fiction, New York Times bestsellers, Amazon best sellers or Goodreads bestsellers.

If you wish to get the most out of this book there is one indisputable requirement: you must have a deep, driving desire to learn.

Readers Are Made, Not Born

We all have a right to not have a degree but we have no right not to have an education. We can all finish formal school, but we never finish our education. A college education allows us to get a job. But, a life of reading allows us to flourish.

The old adage, “The more you read, the less you know” is a lie. What’s more true is, “The more you read, the more you see.” Or as Warren Buffett, the world’s second wealthiest person, said, “The more you learn, the more you earn.”1

Plato’s Skepticism

Plato didn’t like books. He said,

If men learn this it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they will rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder. And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only its semblance, for by telling them of many things without teaching them anything, you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they will know nothing. And as men filled not with wisdom but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellow-men.

However, as the Roman Emperor Titus said in a speech 300 years later, “Scripta manent, verba volant.” Meaning, “What is written remains, what is spoken vanishes into air.” And, as Northrop Frye remarked, “the written word is far more powerful than simply a reminder: it re-creates the past in the present, and gives us, not the familiar remembered thing, but the glittering intensity of the summoned-up hallucination.”

The written word isn’t like speaking at all. It’s miraculous! It appeared that way to those who invented it. In fact, it’s no wonder that the Egyptian god Thoth who brought writing to the King Thamus was the god of magic.

The Medieval Ages

In the early years of Christian Europe and well into the 12th century, ornate beds and books became symbols of wealth. To be seen owning books and elaborate beds became indicative of one’s social standing. The bedroom became not only the room in which the bourgeois slept and made love. It became the repository of collected goods —including books— which at night could be guarded from within the stronghold of the bed.

At a time when women were allowed to possess very few private goods, they owned books and passed them onto their daughters more frequently than to their sons.

The Benefits Of Reading & How This Book Is Structured

Before I go further, I want to make sure that you know that when I speak of reading, I’m not talking about fiction. I’m strictly speaking about non-fiction. Most people read fiction rather than non-fiction. But I invite, request and plea to the reader, young or old, smart or ignorant and rich or poor to read non-fiction. If you’re not having one epiphany a week, you’re not reading enough non-fiction. Which means you’re not growing. In this book, it’s my goal to convince you to explore the other half of the library —the non-fiction side.

Reading is its own reward. It’s a degree in life. Here are three minor benefits:

  1. It’s a way to make friends. Reading is a communal act that connects us to other readers —comrades who have traveled to the same remarkable places and been changed by them too.
  2. By reading, we can witness all that’s noble, beautiful and horrifying about human beings.
  3. By reading from the author’s life and stories we can learn how to conduct our own lives.

Now here are the 11 major benefits. These are 11 results you’ll get from reading non-fiction and they make up the first 12 chapters of this book:

  1. You’ll know the truth.
  2. You won’t be ignorant.
  3. You’ll have different perspectives on the same topic.
  4. You’ll absorb wisdom from timeless teachers.
  5. You’ll see that books are priceless.
  6. You’ll see that books make you rich, intelligent and keep you out of jail.
  7. You’ll see that knowledge sparks change in you.
  8. Books will make you a more critical thinker.
  9. They’ll you smarter by increasing your vocabulary
  10. Reading gives you background knowledge of countless topics. It develops your “holy” curiosity.
  11. You’ll become a protector of democracy.

Leisured reader, these are the reasons why you must read. What follows is an advocacy for reading.

P.S. Do what all great readers have always done: steal my ideas, highlight, write in the book, put Post-It notes wherever you feel! This is your book.