I think the reason I read so much is that each next book might have the secret that makes everything else easy.

When I was younger, the promise of a library was new stories. Now, the promise of a library is new knowledge. Nassim Nicholas Taleb places a special emphasis on the value of the libraries of what we haven’t yet read:

The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull.1 He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others—a very small minority—who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.2

This antilibrary is a compelling concept, and I know I often feel overwhelmed by how many books are out there waiting for me, unread. This desire to always know more is a useful motivator, but my search for a silver bullet is more troubling.

I have to be careful to not substitute learning for doing. I often get stuck in the the planning phase, assuming at some point I can know everything. I know enough to to take action—on just about anything—but I need help taking that first step. Once I’ve begun, I can make adjustments when I eventually do learn more.


  1. Taleb never compliments anyone, if he can’t simultaneously insult a vast swath of other people. ↩︎

  2. The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, link↩︎