Have you ever wondered about the habits of successful people? One common denominator I see in the folks I admire, whether it’s Charlie Munger or Bill Gates, is they are avid readers. While I can’t afford to spend hours a day reading, I have found a service that allows me to prioritize my non-fiction reading by providing functional book summaries. Each can be read in about 15 minutes. The beautiful part is that I can read and sync these across all my devices. Kind of like a “books to go” program.
I can’t change the number of hours in a day, but I can change my reading process. A couple of years ago, I started using a service called Blinkist. It’s one of the few times I can say, “I’m one in a million” because they have that many subscribers.
Blinkist Book Summaries
The phrase “book summaries” turns some people off. They insist that summaries miss key points. These are the same folks who like to tell the Woody Allen joke about speed reading.
I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.
Although the summaries are short, there’s value that I think critics overlook. From my perspective, these summaries offer other benefits:
- They set the stage by telling me what I’ll learn
- They provide enough content for me to determine if I want to get the full book
- They offer key points as text and audio
- They provide a way for me to review what I learned
- They suggest related books I might like to read
- They work on the web and mobile devices
Discovering New Books and Lists
At the time of this review, the company has over 2200 non-fiction books, including classics, and is adding about 40 a month. There are several ways to find books.
You can search by book title or author. Below I entered the book name. As I type, the entries start to appear.
You can click a title to see more information. The page includes 5 useful sections:
- Title, author(s) and category tags
- Book Synopsis
- Who would benefit from reading this book
- Author bio
- Similar books
From this page, I can get a pretty good idea if the book is one I want to read. While some people may jump in and immediately click the Read now button, I glance at the Who should read these blinks. If I don’t fall into one of the defined groups, I move on to a different book.
The system also allows you to drill into a number of predefined categories by using the Discover link at the top.
I find these two methods cover most of my needs. However, if you’re into lists, you can go to the footer section and choose from some curated lists such as NY Times and Amazon bestsellers.
Setting Expectations and What’s In it For Me?
Let’s face it, there is no shortage of books that could benefit us. The question is quickly determining if the book has value now. That’s why I like to have a goal in mind when I read a non-fiction book.
After you click the Read button to open a book, Blinkist helps answer that question. Some of the material is the same as the initial panel, but there are differences.
- The blink title answers the question, “What’s in it for me?”
- Provides more details about the book
- Offers several questions about what you’ll learn
- Provides an audio version of the current page. (Based on your plan)
This is enough information to let me know if I want to continue. Even though I can read a book summary in 15 minutes, I still want to make sure it’s one that will help me. The questions at the end also conditions my mind to start looking for the answers once I start reading. This process is similar to what Mortimer Adler called “inspectional reading”.
The Structure and Blinks
One item that appealed to me about Blinkist is the summary structure because it works well across all platforms. Each summary contains a series of “blinks.” You might think of a “blink” as 1 page dedicated to an essential insight or “big idea.” On average, each book has about eight blinks and a final summary with actionable advice. Some books like, Abundance, had fifteen.
Regardless of the device you’re using, it’s easy to read and is free of images. The fonts are clean, and you can adjust the size as needed. In the example below, you’ll also see that I can highlight text with my mouse or finger.
The service nicely condenses the titles of these pages onto an “Insights” page. This structure is ideal if you’re on a mobile device. At a glance, you can see the key points and tap to see the full page. I find this page very useful when reviewing books, kind of like my method of spaced repetition. The Insights page includes:
- The title from each page or blink
- Green items show unread items
- Menu control to get to other sections.
Another feature of the service is you can highlight items within a Blink. I find this another useful tool for reviewing. I prefer reviewing from my phone because each note fills the phone’s width. On the desktop, I get staggered notes that are two columns wide.
If you’re a Blinkist Premium member, you can link your account with Evernote. As I highlight something on a blink, it goes over to Evernote. Evernote assigns it the proper notebook and tags.
Plans and Pricing
As you probably noticed in the screen snap above, I’m a Premium member. I started out with a trial and then upgraded. I did try the Free plan for a bit but it didn’t work with my reading process. I couldn’t select which book to read.
It’s a great plan if you want to get exposure to different areas, but I’m still focused on my time. I prefer to pay and be able to choose my books.
The Premium plan also adds an audio version of the book. For complex books or ones I really want to grasp, I will listen and read. The audio is also useful when your eyes are tired. The Evernote integration is great as I can leverage my highlights. I also find it easier to read my highlights in Evernote if I’m working on my desktop.
As with most services, there are competitors. One service that started in the print format is SoundView Executive summaries. The service concentrates on business books and produces about 30 new summaries per year. You can purchase a yearly subscription which can work with your phone. You can buy individual summaries.
Some folks have also used WikiSummaries, but it just isn’t my learning style. There’s a limited selection, and they mix fiction and non-fiction. However, there’s no harm in getting another summary as reviewers do see things differently. The big drawback to me is that I can’t do my quick reviews and I’m not sure how it would look on mobile devices.
There are also some book summaries you can purchase on Amazon. I’ve had mixed luck with these. I’ve mostly used them when I couldn’t find my book in Blinkist.
- Ease of Use
If you find yourself falling behind on your reading and can spare 15 minutes a day, you'll cherish Blinkist. You can take advantage of your commute times, scheduled breaks or downtime to quickly catch up on a book either from the web or your smartphone. The format makes it easy to gather the salient points of the book and decide if you want to read more or purchase.
The Insights page and highlighting features also make it easy to revisit these books and reinforce the points.
Cost: Ranges from Free to about $80 per year.
- Large and rapidly growing book catalog
- Premium plan included audio
- 30 Day no questions asked guarantee
- Cross Platform (Web, iOS & Android)
- Share highlights via social media or email
- You can vote for books to review
- Pricing is on annual basis
- Free trial is just 3 days
- Desktop highlights use columns
URL: Blinkist *
* The link above is an affiliate link and I will receive a small commission if you choose to sign up for the service. You may also go directly to the site at www.blinkist.com