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Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning

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The best-selling author of Traffic and You May Also Like now gives us a thought-provoking, playful journey into the transformative joys that come with starting something new, no matter your age Why do so many of us stop learning new skills as adults? Are we afraid to be bad at something? Have we forgotten the sheer pleasure of beginning from the ground up? Or is it simply a The best-selling author of Traffic and You May Also Like now gives us a thought-provoking, playful journey into the transformative joys that come with starting something new, no matter your age Why do so many of us stop learning new skills as adults? Are we afraid to be bad at something? Have we forgotten the sheer pleasure of beginning from the ground up? Or is it simply a fact that you can't teach an old dog new tricks? Inspired by his young daughter's insatiable need to know how to do almost everything, and stymied by his own rut of mid-career competence, Tom Vanderbilt begins a year of learning purely for the sake of learning. He tackles five main skills (and picks up a few more along the way), choosing them for their difficulty to master and their distinct lack of career marketability--chess, singing, surfing, drawing, and juggling. What he doesn't expect is that the circuitous paths he takes while learning these skills will prove even more satisfying than any knowledge he gains. He soon finds himself having rapturous experiences singing Spice Girls songs in an amateur choir, losing games of chess to eight-year-olds, and dodging scorpions at a surf camp in Costa Rica. Along the way, he interviews dozens of experts to explore the fascinating psychology and science behind the benefits of becoming an adult beginner. Weaving comprehensive research and surprising insight gained from his year of learning dangerously, Vanderbilt shows how anyone can get better at beginning again--and, more important, why they should take those first awkward steps. Ultimately, he shares how his refreshed sense of curiosity opened him up to a profound happiness and a deeper connection to the people around him. It's about how small acts of reinvention, at any age, can make life seem magical.


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The best-selling author of Traffic and You May Also Like now gives us a thought-provoking, playful journey into the transformative joys that come with starting something new, no matter your age Why do so many of us stop learning new skills as adults? Are we afraid to be bad at something? Have we forgotten the sheer pleasure of beginning from the ground up? Or is it simply a The best-selling author of Traffic and You May Also Like now gives us a thought-provoking, playful journey into the transformative joys that come with starting something new, no matter your age Why do so many of us stop learning new skills as adults? Are we afraid to be bad at something? Have we forgotten the sheer pleasure of beginning from the ground up? Or is it simply a fact that you can't teach an old dog new tricks? Inspired by his young daughter's insatiable need to know how to do almost everything, and stymied by his own rut of mid-career competence, Tom Vanderbilt begins a year of learning purely for the sake of learning. He tackles five main skills (and picks up a few more along the way), choosing them for their difficulty to master and their distinct lack of career marketability--chess, singing, surfing, drawing, and juggling. What he doesn't expect is that the circuitous paths he takes while learning these skills will prove even more satisfying than any knowledge he gains. He soon finds himself having rapturous experiences singing Spice Girls songs in an amateur choir, losing games of chess to eight-year-olds, and dodging scorpions at a surf camp in Costa Rica. Along the way, he interviews dozens of experts to explore the fascinating psychology and science behind the benefits of becoming an adult beginner. Weaving comprehensive research and surprising insight gained from his year of learning dangerously, Vanderbilt shows how anyone can get better at beginning again--and, more important, why they should take those first awkward steps. Ultimately, he shares how his refreshed sense of curiosity opened him up to a profound happiness and a deeper connection to the people around him. It's about how small acts of reinvention, at any age, can make life seem magical.

30 review for Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning

  1. 4 out of 5

    Adam Roberts

    I listened to the audio version of this book and had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it's a helpful reminder that it's never too late to learn and, in fact, learning later in life has huge advantages for your overall well-being. My favorite part of the book dealt with getting out of your own head; how to surf well or to juggle well, you can't think about what you're actively doing -- too often you're looking down at your feet on the surfboard when you should be looking at the wave. (Th I listened to the audio version of this book and had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it's a helpful reminder that it's never too late to learn and, in fact, learning later in life has huge advantages for your overall well-being. My favorite part of the book dealt with getting out of your own head; how to surf well or to juggle well, you can't think about what you're actively doing -- too often you're looking down at your feet on the surfboard when you should be looking at the wave. (This is especially helpful as a writer: too often, when I'm writing, I'm too self-consciously thinking about what my words are conveying... as opposed to just producing words, the way a surfer just surfs or a juggler just juggles). On the negative side, this book felt infinitely repetitive. The conceit -- that the author would immerse himself in various new activities, to share what he learned while learning -- felt more like a nifty idea for a book proposal than an actual journey of the spirit. I kept looking for real stakes in the story: a genuine midlife crisis or a marital crisis or something that made it all mean something. Instead, it felt like a casual stroll through a few activities with a thoughtful narrator, eager to prove that this venture has greater significance than it probably does. Still: I took some helpful things away from the book. When Quarantine ends, I'll be taking piano lessons and yoga classes and I'll have this book to thank.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Violet

    This is a book I expect to find soon in the "Smart thinking" section of any bookshop, and it follows the usual recipe - a mix of personal experience, a bit of science, some interviews with experts, and nicely packed life lessons. It's exactly what "Beginners" delivers and I really liked it. I found it interesting, inspiring and easy to read. The author is inspired by his young daughter to try out some of the things she is learning - chess being the first one, then we have swimming a bit later - This is a book I expect to find soon in the "Smart thinking" section of any bookshop, and it follows the usual recipe - a mix of personal experience, a bit of science, some interviews with experts, and nicely packed life lessons. It's exactly what "Beginners" delivers and I really liked it. I found it interesting, inspiring and easy to read. The author is inspired by his young daughter to try out some of the things she is learning - chess being the first one, then we have swimming a bit later - and decides to go on a journey to learn new things. Learning has been linked to slower aging and people who keep learning throughout their lives are less likely to develop dementia. The science behind this and behind how we learn (and how come children are bettter learners??) is explored thanks to different scientists or masters of their own fields. I particularly loved the chapter on drawing and reading this book really made me think again about picking up something new and learning more. Really a very enjoyable book. Free ARC from Netgalley.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    I was lucky to indirectly get my hands on an ARC of BEGINNERS! I have been excited to share this review as it is the perfect book with which to kick off the New Year. Before we begin, you should know two things about me: Professionally, I am Certified Coach and Learning & Development professional; my job is focused on helping adults learn new things in a corporate setting. Personally, one of my top values is curiosity. I am always excited to learn something new. That said, BEGINNERS is right up I was lucky to indirectly get my hands on an ARC of BEGINNERS! I have been excited to share this review as it is the perfect book with which to kick off the New Year. Before we begin, you should know two things about me: Professionally, I am Certified Coach and Learning & Development professional; my job is focused on helping adults learn new things in a corporate setting. Personally, one of my top values is curiosity. I am always excited to learn something new. That said, BEGINNERS is right up my alley. Tired of sitting on the sidelines watching his young daughter try on new hobbies (everything from chess to Fortnite), Tom Vanderbilt, a mid-career and mid-aged journalist asks himself: “what new tricks should this old dog learn?” and commits to a year of learning, a year of becoming a Beginner. BEGINNERS is not so much a “‘how to do’ book as much as a ‘why do do’ book.” It is an account of— and inspiration for—learning new things no matter your age or stage. Vanderbilt effortlessly blends the styles of memoir, journalism, and academic writing. Plus, I found myself LOLing more than once. As Vanderbilt shares his personal accounts, he weaves in the fascinating neuroscience about our brains on learning. Spoiler alert: it’s good for us! As adults, we have an expectation that when we try something for the first time we should be “perfect” at it. BEGINNERS asks us to drop that expectation and go for it. Be aware that BEGINNERS is written from a place of privilege. From private coaches, learning vacations, and access to a network of experts, my worry is that readers may be discouraged from learning simply because they do not have the same access. Some of this can be forgiven in the name of research. It’s easy to see BEGINNERS on front and center on shelves next to the likes of YOU ARE A BADASS. You best believe I’ve notated the heck out of this one. I’m excited to *begin* 2021 and am already brainstorming what to learn. Pair With: GRIT, Angela Duckworth

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kruiser

    I read the review of this in the New Yorker last week and knew I'd love it. It reaffirms something I've been experiencing myself. I'm...of a certain age and during a major life overhaul a few years ago I decided I needed to branch out and apply myself to learning some things I had only dabbled in. Then I tried something completely new (road biking). I was enjoying it all just because I was enjoying it. Vanderbilt's plunge into a variety of new experiences would be worth reading about by themselv I read the review of this in the New Yorker last week and knew I'd love it. It reaffirms something I've been experiencing myself. I'm...of a certain age and during a major life overhaul a few years ago I decided I needed to branch out and apply myself to learning some things I had only dabbled in. Then I tried something completely new (road biking). I was enjoying it all just because I was enjoying it. Vanderbilt's plunge into a variety of new experiences would be worth reading about by themselves but he provides a lot of well researched info about why the process is so enjoyable and the effect it can have on us as we age. Cannot recommend highly enough.

  5. 4 out of 5

    David

    The author tackles new skills: chess, singing, surfing, juggling, drawing (and a few others). The book focuses too much on the author's personal experiences as he learns these. There are pearls of wisdom sprinkled throughout the reading that you can generalize to other new learning experiences, but you'll have to sort them out from within these stories. I was hoping for a more generic book, with generalizations from many data sources/persons. There were definitely good references mentioned (noted The author tackles new skills: chess, singing, surfing, juggling, drawing (and a few others). The book focuses too much on the author's personal experiences as he learns these. There are pearls of wisdom sprinkled throughout the reading that you can generalize to other new learning experiences, but you'll have to sort them out from within these stories. I was hoping for a more generic book, with generalizations from many data sources/persons. There were definitely good references mentioned (noted in the appendix). But the learning felt like it was based too much on just this author's experiences. You will need to like these specific skills and have the patience to read through personal travel stories to pick out those end-of-chapter summaries typically found in a self-help style book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Paul Ryan

    Liked this book a lot. Warmed very much to its idea that rather than thinking of learning a new skill as some kind of obsessive desire to become an expert, the idea of beginning and trying new things is good in itself. Lots to think about and very inspiring, especially at the moment

  7. 4 out of 5

    smalltownbookmom

    Just okay. Some interesting information on the science and benefits of learning new things as we get older. To be perfectly honest the book read more as an excuse for the author to do cool things with his family under the guise of being research for his latest book. Kudos to him though since its already on the NYT bestseller list.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Milan

    Tom Vanderbilt decides to spend a year learning new skills, sometimes getting inspired by his young daughter. He tries to learn singing, juggling, surfing, playing chess, drawing and other things. In 'Beginners', he interviews many experts, psychologists, other beginners and teachers of the activities he has chosen to show the benefits of lifelong learning. He tells how he struggled with various beginners' mistake and then try to overcome them and gained some experience in a chosen activity. We Tom Vanderbilt decides to spend a year learning new skills, sometimes getting inspired by his young daughter. He tries to learn singing, juggling, surfing, playing chess, drawing and other things. In 'Beginners', he interviews many experts, psychologists, other beginners and teachers of the activities he has chosen to show the benefits of lifelong learning. He tells how he struggled with various beginners' mistake and then try to overcome them and gained some experience in a chosen activity. We adults usually do not try to learn anything new, we get comfortable in the activities that we are already pursuing and don't give ourselves a chance to try something new unless it is related to our chosen field of work. This is a mistake. We should always try to learn new things. A few good points: • Don't learn just for the sake of learning an activity, learn something you have always wanted to. • Learning anything new is about challenging your mind and body. • The process of learning a new skill is itself comforting. • When learning anything becomes another form of work, you should stop doing it. • We should enjoy the process more and focus less on the results. • Try to have a beginner’s mind. • Learning any new activity makes you see the world differently. • Be a lifelong learner, it's good for our brain.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rex Kovacevich

    This book has enough real content for a decent magazine article. Beginners goes on and on with little entertainment value and few true insights. I didn't feel like the content was enough to support a book. This book has enough real content for a decent magazine article. Beginners goes on and on with little entertainment value and few true insights. I didn't feel like the content was enough to support a book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    I liked hearing the little details that Vanderbilt picked up while learning his chosen skills. I disliked the occasional pseudoscience he inserted. While the story is very self centered, Vanderbilt tries to balance this by giving detailed descriptions of some of the other beginners whom he meets. Especially in the swimming chapter, this got tiresome and didn't add much. > In the larger chess world, I was a patzer—a hopelessly bumbling novice—but around my house at least I felt like a sage, benev I liked hearing the little details that Vanderbilt picked up while learning his chosen skills. I disliked the occasional pseudoscience he inserted. While the story is very self centered, Vanderbilt tries to balance this by giving detailed descriptions of some of the other beginners whom he meets. Especially in the swimming chapter, this got tiresome and didn't add much. > In the larger chess world, I was a patzer—a hopelessly bumbling novice—but around my house at least I felt like a sage, benevolent elder statesman > In addition to chess, I chose singing, surfing, drawing, and making (in this case, a wedding ring to replace the ones I’d lose surfing). Oh, and juggling > you may be wondering about your own singing ability. I would urge you to take the online test that Steven Demorest helped create. It’s based on pitch accuracy, the easiest-to-measure, most fundamental variable in singing quality. No matter your score, remember one thing: It can be improved. > More than simply learning how to produce consistent notes, I needed to work on another key singing skill: listening. Danielle designated an octave on the piano, running from C3 to C4, with C3 being 1 and C4 being 8. It was a simplified version of solfège, or what we know as do-re-mi. > The tongue, called "the worst enemy of the singer" for its tendency to get in the way of exiting sound, seemed on some days to consume the bulk of our time. Nowhere but the dentist did the inside of my mouth receive such careful scrutiny. But it was important: A raised tongue shifts air toward our nostrils and makes our voices sound nasal. > "The vowel is the voice," writes one vocal pedagogue, "and the consonant is the interruption of the voice." In English-language speech, we spend five times as much time producing vowels as consonants. In singing, that ratio can hit two hundred to one. > Lyrics were to be avoided; they harbored bad habits. So Danielle would have me go through songs singing only simple vowels; during one solo car trip I sang the whole Chet Baker Sings with "oohs" and "aahs," an exercise that had a pleasing purity to it. > When I tried to sing a higher note, my whole body would tense as I attempted to scale the musical peak, craning my neck upward like a giraffe reaching for high leaves. This only raised my larynx, making it harder to produce that very note. Rather than trying to suppress this habit, Amedeo had an elegantly simple solution, the one hinted at in The Inner Game of Tennis: Replace one habit with another. When I hit a high note in a phrase, Amedeo would have me do something counterintuitive: Go down. The act of slightly bending my knees was a physical cue to keep my larynx down. > Resonant. To create "space" in my mouth, I would do the little prescribed exercises, like starting a yawn (but not going all the way) or speaking like the cartoon character Yogi Bear to help lower my larynx. Another favorite was exhaling and then inhaling on a k sound, in an effort to lift my sagging soft palate and make my voice rounder and more resonant. Give this a try. Make the sound kuh-kuh-kuh; then do the same on an inhale. As you do, try to imagine the back of your mouth gently inflating, like a frog's > a strangely named app called "Smule." It was simple. You only had to plug some earbuds into your phone, search for a favorite song in the site’s database, and then start singing. After recording a tune, you could tweak your performance with a variety of Auto-Tune-style filters and effects. You could film yourself or simply record an audio track. I recorded a few solo songs. It was easy, and the sound was decent. It was fun, if a bit sterile. Then I discovered the "duet" option and felt as if I had unlocked the magic of the service > "On average, level one will take you, surfing every day, a week or ten days. Level two, a month. Level three, a year. And level four"—he paused to reflect on the answer—"like a decade." > It often seemed like high-stakes game theory, the "surfer's dilemma" of how a growing pool of surfers could share a finite supply of waves. Surfing, to a strategist, is what’s known as a "mixed-motive game"; it's best if at least someone catches a wave so it's not wasted, but each person would prefer it was them > As Danny had told me, his least favorite part of learning to surf was the idea that "others in the water would typically prefer me not to be there." > The first step was to sketch the basic "envelope," the geometric shape that connected the furthermost points of the figure and would establish the proportions. It looked vaguely trapezoidal. From there I would look for various "landmarks," things like the highest or lowest part of the drawing, and start to sketch quick lines between them. > Curves were to be drawn not as curves but as a series of small, straight lines. "It's a much faster way of approaching a drawing," he said. "It takes a long time for our eye and hand to draw a curve." > Artists tend to look at their subjects much more often than nonartists. By doing this, one argument goes, they reduce the need to keep the image in their working memory, where it very quickly becomes prone to biases and misperceptions. > Like many novices—or people stuck in the novice stage—I'd been trying to inhale and exhale as my head came out of the water on a front-crawl stroke. Exhaling, I learned, should be reserved for underwater, via what's called bubble breathing > All this self-exploration, admittedly, has the whiff of indulgent self-absorption. But for all the inward focus, these activities actually brought me outward. One of the greatest joys in being a beginner, it turns out, is meeting other beginners

  11. 4 out of 5

    Brendan Brooks

    I had a couple of long sessions with this listening to the audiobook (author narrates). It is telling that I was glued to it for some solid lengths at a time. This is kind of the point of the book in a way. To get good at something, you need to spend time and regular effort. The book probably spoke to me as I try to make lifelong learning a habit. For example, even though I have "played" guitar for over 30 years, do I *really* play the guitar, or just play along with songs? So lately I had been I had a couple of long sessions with this listening to the audiobook (author narrates). It is telling that I was glued to it for some solid lengths at a time. This is kind of the point of the book in a way. To get good at something, you need to spend time and regular effort. The book probably spoke to me as I try to make lifelong learning a habit. For example, even though I have "played" guitar for over 30 years, do I *really* play the guitar, or just play along with songs? So lately I had been going back to basics and doing Fender Play to pick up techniques that I did not learn as I had taught myself. Same with surfing, again, I hadn't had much guidance so not sure if I'm doing it right, so I'm seeking guidance and help combined with frequency and new ways of thinking that this book encourages. It just so happens that surfing is one of the things the author set about learning, along with drawing, singing, jewellery making, ocean swimming, juggling, to name a few. I highly recommend this book as I highly recommend doing something each day to learn something new or to improve at a skill, any skill, to keep your mind active.

  12. 4 out of 5

    John Mcgeorge

    In the genre of self-help/improvement/transformation literature, a lot of books can start to seem the same. So as one reads more, one tends to get more selective in choosing volumes which break new ground, or cover familiar territory in a new way. So I would classify this as doing some of both, and I definitely found myself eagerly coming back for more. With each personal challenge, the author gives useful insights wrapped up inside a mini-memoir. So for those who enjoy a great story combined wi In the genre of self-help/improvement/transformation literature, a lot of books can start to seem the same. So as one reads more, one tends to get more selective in choosing volumes which break new ground, or cover familiar territory in a new way. So I would classify this as doing some of both, and I definitely found myself eagerly coming back for more. With each personal challenge, the author gives useful insights wrapped up inside a mini-memoir. So for those who enjoy a great story combined with applicable life lessons, I highly recommend this gem.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Tracey

    I really enjoyed parts of this book. I like how Vanderbilt unpacked some of the aspects of learning and unlearning, especially in the chess, juggling, and drawing chapters. The parts I didn't particularly enjoy were focused on his personal experiences that felt way out of reach (read: expensive classes/experiences for people with expendable time and money). As a lifelong unlearner, I believe in the book's argument: being a beginner is hard, especially if you are older, because you have to undo s I really enjoyed parts of this book. I like how Vanderbilt unpacked some of the aspects of learning and unlearning, especially in the chess, juggling, and drawing chapters. The parts I didn't particularly enjoy were focused on his personal experiences that felt way out of reach (read: expensive classes/experiences for people with expendable time and money). As a lifelong unlearner, I believe in the book's argument: being a beginner is hard, especially if you are older, because you have to undo so much of the drive we have to be the experts.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Carmen Liffengren

    Vanderbilt gets to do some pretty cool things for his book, Beginners:chess, singing, juggling, surfing, and metal working. He makes a brilliant case for finding happiness in the pursuit of new endeavors and that life is just more full and interesting when you're always actively a beginner in something new. I always enjoy a little neuroscience and I appreciated just how our brains grow in the challenge of learning new hobbies and sports. Vanderbilt gets to do some pretty cool things for his book, Beginners:chess, singing, juggling, surfing, and metal working. He makes a brilliant case for finding happiness in the pursuit of new endeavors and that life is just more full and interesting when you're always actively a beginner in something new. I always enjoy a little neuroscience and I appreciated just how our brains grow in the challenge of learning new hobbies and sports.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mike Ely

    Enjoyable read about the fun and difficulties of learning something new as an adult. Vanderbilt takes us along his journey trying new things long after others have tried them. The book is inspiring and I'm looking forward to trying something new as a challenge. Well written with lots of thought provoking ideas along the way. Enjoyable read about the fun and difficulties of learning something new as an adult. Vanderbilt takes us along his journey trying new things long after others have tried them. The book is inspiring and I'm looking forward to trying something new as a challenge. Well written with lots of thought provoking ideas along the way.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Siddhartha Jain

    Tom’s book is such an interesting one - he doesn’t tell what we could do, just his own thoughts and how he ‘learnt’. He makes a compelling point to continue learning and never being too old to try out anything. Re-invigorated to surely pick up things to learn and continue on my own learning journey. Lovely read and highly recommended!!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Shorya

    As a dabbler myself I really enjoyed this book because it gave me some validation. Constantly learning new things is one quick way to achieve flow. It ensures plasticity of the mind and surely makes for an interesting conversation with people. As the title suggests, lifelong learning can transform life.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    Beginners was very dull, or maybe I was not in the mood for this type of book. It was boring. Most of the book is the author detailing his efforts to learn a collection of skills as an adult, with the central insight being learning by willing to fail repeatedly. I did not like it.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    This book validates many things I already felt and my approach to life (I keep jumping back in to trying new things no matter how embarrassing it can get). Thanks to the author, I fully intend to learn to juggle by end of the current Swiss lockdown.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    Really great book on the joys of being a beginner and lifelong learning.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Paul Liffengren

    Inspiring and thought provoking.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Pollyna

    so who wants to go learn something new with me?!?!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rob Dircks

    Well written, with some great nuggets and inspiration, but for me it became a list of cool things the author tried rather than something I could really learn from. The parts of real learning/inspiration would've been about the length of a really great TED talk. (This is my take only. Lots of others have reviewed very highly and I can see why. Different strokes.) Well written, with some great nuggets and inspiration, but for me it became a list of cool things the author tried rather than something I could really learn from. The parts of real learning/inspiration would've been about the length of a really great TED talk. (This is my take only. Lots of others have reviewed very highly and I can see why. Different strokes.)

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    Dang it!! I wanted to like this way more that I did. I found the chapters where the author did his skills be too focused on the history of the skill (like surfing) and less about the actual learning process. It just read as kind of bland to me.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Chris Leuchtenburg

    As someone who has been retired long enough to have tried everything on my original list, I was hoping that this would enable or motivate or direct me to try something new. It did not do that, nor did I read the entire book, so why the high four-star rating? The first sections are filled with references to a huge pile of studies on how we learn, what we gain,... -- the type of study that you might see in a newspaper with few participants but intriguing implications -- somewhat interesting, but a As someone who has been retired long enough to have tried everything on my original list, I was hoping that this would enable or motivate or direct me to try something new. It did not do that, nor did I read the entire book, so why the high four-star rating? The first sections are filled with references to a huge pile of studies on how we learn, what we gain,... -- the type of study that you might see in a newspaper with few participants but intriguing implications -- somewhat interesting, but after a while I started to skim, especially the long, long section on how babies fall down a lot while learning how to walk. Watching The Queen's Gambit had stoked me to read the chapter on learning chess, but my body is beyond the learning how to surf -- skipped almost all of that chapter. Finally, the chapter on learning how to draw gave me a new perspective -- reason enough to read the book. My shaky hand can barely write my signature, but this section is really about seeing and how attempting to draw can change how you look at things. This book is well worth trying, even if you skim and skip as I did.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Wisconsin Alumni

    Tom Vanderbilt ’91 Author From the author: Inspired by his young daughter’s insatiable need to know how to do almost everything, and stymied by his own rut of mid-career competence, Tom Vanderbilt begins a year of learning purely for the sake of learning. He tackles five main skills (and picks up a few more along the way), choosing them for their difficulty to master and their distinct lack of career marketability — chess, singing, surfing, drawing, and juggling. “Tom Vanderbilt elegantly and persua Tom Vanderbilt ’91 Author From the author: Inspired by his young daughter’s insatiable need to know how to do almost everything, and stymied by his own rut of mid-career competence, Tom Vanderbilt begins a year of learning purely for the sake of learning. He tackles five main skills (and picks up a few more along the way), choosing them for their difficulty to master and their distinct lack of career marketability — chess, singing, surfing, drawing, and juggling. “Tom Vanderbilt elegantly and persuasively tackles one of the most pernicious of the lies we tells ourselves — that the pleasures of learning are reserved for the young. Beginners belongs with David Epstein’s Range on the list of books that have changed the way I understand my own limitations.” — Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kim McGee

    There are not many adults I know who would throw themselves into learning a new skill with a four year old and fewer still that would continue putting themselves in the beginning class over and over. BEGINNERS shares the shear joy of discovering how to do something new. In Tom Vanderbilt's case it began with his very young daughter and chess and progressed to surfing, singing, drawing, open water swimming and more. It is not what you learn so much as that you approach learning the right way much There are not many adults I know who would throw themselves into learning a new skill with a four year old and fewer still that would continue putting themselves in the beginning class over and over. BEGINNERS shares the shear joy of discovering how to do something new. In Tom Vanderbilt's case it began with his very young daughter and chess and progressed to surfing, singing, drawing, open water swimming and more. It is not what you learn so much as that you approach learning the right way much the same as an infant learning to walk. As adults, we have to unlearn things we know and approach learning like a child without caring about social stigmas, fear of failure or not getting it perfect. The author has such an easy going writing style and his joy of discovery is infectious. This would be a wonderful family read as many of his beginner classes were with his daughter at his side. My thanks to the publisher for the advance copy.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Shan

    Learning "how" as opposed to learning "that" as an awkward adult. The author is a journalist with plenty of experience diving into new fields to learn enough facts about them to write about them; now, inspired by his daughter's experiences learning new things, he decides to dive into learning how to do some things he's always kind of wanted to be able to do. He takes us along on his adventures in learning chess, singing, surfing, drawing, ocean swimming, and jewelry making. He sprinkles bits abo Learning "how" as opposed to learning "that" as an awkward adult. The author is a journalist with plenty of experience diving into new fields to learn enough facts about them to write about them; now, inspired by his daughter's experiences learning new things, he decides to dive into learning how to do some things he's always kind of wanted to be able to do. He takes us along on his adventures in learning chess, singing, surfing, drawing, ocean swimming, and jewelry making. He sprinkles bits about the science throughout--what's known about learning, the differences between learning as an adult and learning as a child--and comments on the emotional experience and benefits of being a beginner at an age when you expect yourself to be an expert. It's interesting and inspiring. I started making my own list as I went along: whistling, for instance, which I've never been able to do but maybe it's not too late. I'd like to be able to draw maps. Reading the book also gave me some insight into the challenges I continue to face learning to play the banjo, which I took up when I retired. For a couple of areas, there's some sad commentary on the way we teach children now, leading us to conclude at an early age that we aren't good at some things (and therefore give up, leaving the art studio and chorus to people who have some magical quality we don't have). As another GR reviewer said, it would be nice if the various bits of advice were gathered together in a handy summary at the end. They're sprinkled throughout, so my advice is to read this with a pencil in hand and mark the things you want to remember when you come to them. The writing style is more long-form journalism than how-to book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Bookworm

    I knew of the author from other books but skipped them because of the ratings. This, however, sounded interesting. The author takes the reader through what it's like learning new skills, hobbies, etc. They include chess, singing, surfing, drawing, and juggling. Vanderbilt also chats with various people and learns about why they chose to learn something new, the science behind this, what he gets out of the experiences, etc. That's about it. His opening chapter with his daughter was probably the be I knew of the author from other books but skipped them because of the ratings. This, however, sounded interesting. The author takes the reader through what it's like learning new skills, hobbies, etc. They include chess, singing, surfing, drawing, and juggling. Vanderbilt also chats with various people and learns about why they chose to learn something new, the science behind this, what he gets out of the experiences, etc. That's about it. His opening chapter with his daughter was probably the best with the personal touch and how that worked (or didn't) for each of them, and then the following chapters become a bit formulaic as he picks a different skill/talent/hobby and undertakes the experience of what it's like and what his motivation is. That said, it was still interesting to read through. It was interesting to see how similar the experiences could even if they were all very different things to learn (from chess to singing to juggling) as well as learning why we "stop" from being beginners (vs. children learning how to walk or undertaking learning something new). As the new year just passed and as of this review a new administration is about to enter the White House, this seemed like a very timely read. Some people will likely get the most out of this as a library borrow, but it might also be a good purchase for someone who is thinking about new beginnings, undertaking a new skill and may be intimidated by the experience, or just want something a little different to read. Library borrow for me was best but it can certainly be a good purchase for someone else.

  30. 4 out of 5

    J Adele LaCombe

    Being "jack of all trades, master of none" seems to be a sentiment pervasive in our culture. And I do agree we must limit our passions so that we can become proficient in ones we love. I think it can also be a barrier to us learning new things. This book takes you through many beginnings with Tom...chess, surfing, singing and many others. At times the book feels more like a journal and less a how to book. It made me contemplate my own life. And also made me think of my mom. She has always been s Being "jack of all trades, master of none" seems to be a sentiment pervasive in our culture. And I do agree we must limit our passions so that we can become proficient in ones we love. I think it can also be a barrier to us learning new things. This book takes you through many beginnings with Tom...chess, surfing, singing and many others. At times the book feels more like a journal and less a how to book. It made me contemplate my own life. And also made me think of my mom. She has always been someone I look up too. And once again she has shown in her quiet ways how she has perfected the skill of beginning. During COVID when many things have been taken from her, she and my dad began taking Master Classes. When I go to her house she trying out a new cooking technique she recently learned. I also realize I have had many in my life who have shared their mastery of an art with me. I've learned sewing, quilting, knitting, and how to upholster furniture all because someone taught me. I have chosen the idea if a master wants to teach you their trade, take advantage of that knowledge. This is gift and don't turn it down. And while I feel I've taken on new learning and been a beginner many times, it also made me recognize the times I haven't been willing for fear of my own inadequacies. This book is a great reminder to lean into things I do not know, to embrace the opportunities when offered and to realize this is what makes life worth living. To be a lifelong learner and begin the thing while you still can and while you have someone willing to guide you. The book is good, the ideas are essential and you should walk away inspired to try new things if you read it.

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