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Book review

The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance

The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance
Read date: Mar 2018

The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance by Josh Waitzkin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really wanted to like this book. It’s a blend of an autobiography and a text on how to think about learning, viewed through the story arc of Josh Waitkzkin’s life. He has clearly lead an extraordinary life, both as a Chess master and as a Tai Chi Chuan champion, and I found the autobiography elements perhaps the more interesting, although they are often surprising un-introspective for someone who clearly is smarter than almost everyone on the planet in some domains, and who spends a lot of time thinking about and analysing and optimising the processes of his own mind.

Ultimately though this is a book about the process of learning, and that’s where I felt a little let down. If you’ve ever heard of “flow”, that state achieved by elite athletes and even us mundanes in particular circumstances, that’s what he’s talking about. He never uses the word flow itself (or not that I spotted), instead approaching it through a series of steps (“slowing down time”, “searching for the zone”, “building your trigger”). These are relayed through personal anecdotes, many of which were certainly interesting to read about. He does add some additional material outside this – I particularly liked the concept of “investing in loss”, and that’s a thought I will definitely carry forward.

In the end, though, I didn’t find the book either uniquely insightful or particularly elegantly written, although of course I acknowledge others may do so. They may write their own reviews, but for me, this approach ultimately didn’t add anything, and by not referring to the existing literature on flow, of which he surely can’t be ignorant, he appears to be rebuilding a path across land that others have already extensively surveyed.

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