Beginners Book Summary - Beginners Book explained in key points
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Beginners summary

Tom Vanderbilt

The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning

4.5 (269 ratings)
21 mins

Brief summary

Beginners by Tom Vanderbilt is an insightful book that explores the benefits and challenges of being a beginner at any stage of life. It highlights how embracing new experiences, developing a growth mindset, and facing our fears can lead to personal growth and discovery.

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    Beginners
    Summary of 7 key ideas

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    Life-long learning keeps your mind engaged, whatever your age.

    Tom Vanderbilt had a steady career as a journalist. But when his daughter was born, he quickly discovered that he now had a second job. He became a teacher. 

    As Vanderbilt found, when you’re a parent, you’re always teaching your children new skills. First come the basics, like walking and talking. And, as they grow, you move on to more complex tasks, like riding a bike, cooking, and navigating social situations. 

    As Vanderbilt taught his daughter all these essential skills, he realized something about himself: he hadn’t learned a new skill in years. So, he decided to change that. He challenged himself to learn a few completely new things, including chess and surfing. Vanderbilt soon understood that being a beginner again came with lots of benefits.

    The key message here is: Life-long learning keeps your mind engaged, whatever your age.

    We never really stop learning. Even minor activities like reading the news or watching television give our brains new information. However, this form of learning merely gives us declarative knowledge: facts, figures, even trivia. But not all knowledge is like that. There’s another kind, one which the author calls procedural knowledge. It helps us actually do something: speak a language, play an instrument, or execute a technical skill. 

    As we grow older, we tend to learn fewer and fewer procedural things. But there was a time when every one of us was great at gaining new procedural knowledge. That time was childhood. 

    Kids see the world with fresh eyes. They bring no preconceived notions to new activities – and this means that there’s nothing to hold them back. 

    Another important thing is that society doesn’t expect children to be experts at anything. This makes kids far less worried about failure or appearing clumsy. And then, finally, their brains are simply wired to learn. The average seven-year-old has 30 percent more neurons available for soaking up new information than the average adult.

    However, while adult brains are, perhaps, less nimble, they still retain plasticity. This term refers to our ability to change and learn. In fact, continuing to learn new skills as you age is fantastic for your mental health. Studies have found that when older adults practice new skills – like painting or writing music – they also improve in general cognitive tests. 

    Even if you only focus on mastering one new activity, you’ll still open up your brain to more learning in the future. We’ll explore one new skill, singing, in the next blink.

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    What is Beginners about?

    Beginners (2021) is a light-hearted study of the joys of life-long learning. Part personal story and part scientific primer, it demonstrates the benefits of always trying something new.

    Beginners Review

    Beginners (2020) by Tom Vanderbilt explores our journey of constantly learning and embracing new skills as adults and why it is essential for personal growth. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • With in-depth research and interviews, it delves into the science behind learning, providing valuable insights into effective techniques.
    • Through compelling stories and anecdotes, it showcases how adults from different backgrounds have successfully acquired new skills, inspiring readers to do the same.
    • By challenging the notion that learning is only for the young, it encourages readers to embrace a life-long learning mindset and unlock their true potential.

    Best quote from Beginners

    You may also be thinking, Its too late. Nonsense

    —Tom Vanderbilt
    example alt text

    Who should read Beginners?

    • Middle-aged folks trapped in the same routines
    • Seniors seeking ways to stay sharp
    • Anyone eager for a little inspiration to never stop learning

    About the Author

    Tom Vanderbilt is a prolific author with works appearing in The New York Times Magazine, Popular Science, Smithsonian, and London Review of Books. He is the author of best-selling non-fiction titles such as You May Also Like: Taste in an Age of Endless Choice, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), and Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America.

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    Beginners FAQs 

    What is the main message of Beginners?

    In Beginners, we learn that venturing outside our comfort zone brings growth, learning, and new opportunities.

    How long does it take to read Beginners?

    The reading time for Beginners varies, but it typically takes several hours. However, you can read the Blinkist summary in just 15 minutes.

    Is Beginners a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Beginners is a valuable read. It explores the benefits of embracing new experiences and encourages personal growth.

    Who is the author of Beginners?

    The author of Beginners is Tom Vanderbilt.

    What to read after Beginners?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Beginners, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • Own Your Greatness by Lisa Orbé-Austin & Richard Orbé-Austin
    • Lead from the Outside by Stacey Abrams
    • The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety by Timothy R. Clark
    • The Alter Ego Effect by Todd Herman
    • Search Inside Yourself by Chade-Meng Tan
    • Ultralearning by Scott H. Young
    • Learn Like a Pro by Barbara Oakley and Olav Schewe
    • Don't Believe Everything You Think by Joseph Nguyen
    • No Excuses! by Brian Tracy
    • The Art of Laziness by Library Mindset