gmzzn's review

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3.0

v interesting but also felt like a lot of arguments just kept being repeated a bunch of times

kattbiff's review

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informative medium-paced

4.0

huiyiing__'s review

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informative

4.0

allison_no's review

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informative

2.0

methemuppet's review

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informative slow-paced

4.0

emmathoo13's review

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informative medium-paced

3.5

echoquan's review

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informative inspiring reflective medium-paced

4.0

rociog's review

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5.0

An invigorating read! I'm more excited to take up that overdue paper than I've been in a while. The book's premise is simple: taking smart notes is the cornerstone of good, productive, enjoyable writing. The note-taking method suggested is also relatively straightforward: a variation on a technique that made sociologist Niklas Luhmann (whom I'd never heard of!) a particularly prolific academic last century. The key to Luhmann's alarming rapidity of publication is one Ahrens here suggests for any researcher: thinking and writing with the help of a 'slip-box'. This is a box (in Luhmann's case a literal one, in Ahrens' contemporary suggestion, digital) that contains so-called 'final' notes (that is to say, not 'fleeting' notes taken while reading) which collate original ideas indexed into clusters that suggest new avenues of thought for its owner.

What I like about this approach is its emphasis on how writing is not the result but rather the means of thinking. The slip-box technique is premised on the idea that a clear structure for storing and connecting thoughts, insights, quibbles and arguments allows for ongoing creativity. This suggests that, contrary to what we sometimes assume, the lack of structure and restrictions harms both creativity and academic progress.

The book's solution for the all-too-familiar problem of the anxiety-inducing blank page is both reassuring and straightforward: writing is nothing more than the revision of a rough draft, a rough draft is just a series of concatenated notes, final notes are taken while researching and are sorted and indexed in advance.

As a minor quibble: I found the use of APA citation style distracting and occasionally off-putting (for instance the ridiculousness of citing Kant's famous 'What is Enlightenment?' as "(Kant 1784)").

deepti_22's review

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2.0

God. How did a book on smart notes become a book of disconnected notes? I picked this book because I wanted some clarity on Zettlkasten method of note-taking. The method is useful and yes, it certainly gives more than the average linear process of academic writing. But it is presented in the most boring language. It is like the writer made notes on the why of smart notes instead of the how and then organised it haphazardly.

A practical demo, interactive links to notes and a glimpse of the draft that came out of this process, should have been a part of this book. Instead it is a boring thesis on why smart notes is necessary!

bird404's review

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3.0

Overall rating: 3 stars
Description of the Zettelkasten technique: 4 stars
The 50% of the book after that: 2 stars

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Pros
The descriptions of the Zettelkasten technique for the first 30-50% of the book were insightful and a convincing introduction to the method. The emphasis on simplicity of both the Zettelkasten and the writing style were interesting and made it easier to see why this method is so innovative. The Zettelkasten has definitely changed my perspective on note taking and reading drastically, so I'm glad I read this book.

Cons
However, there are no diagrams or more detailed explanations of the Zettelkasten method. These would have been useful for scaffolding beginners into the technique and giving them a few examples of notes/index cards (especially Luhmann's) from which to springboard off. There are some in the book, but they are scattered throughout. I understand the principle of reducing the technique to it's simplest form, not handholding the reader as the Zettelkasten is personal for everyone etc etc but this would have made the experience significantly better for me. Having pictoral evidence of Luhmann's notes would have been even more useful.

The last 50% of the book, despite being well evidenced with references is largely leaning into the 'pop-psychology' style of writing. It discusses many different areas of mental life e.g learning, reading, understanding etc. Whilst pleasantly enjoyable, I wish this energy had gone into more nuanced discussion of the Zettelkasten, potentially even discussing downsides or criticisms of it. Maybe those of you who like the more general discussions of high-level psychology would find it interesting, but for me this tarnished my experience. I would even describe this section of the book as 'preaching to the choir', as after the initial chapters I was already quite convinced!

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Would I recommend this book?

Yes for the Zettelkasten introduction and discussion about Luhmanns life. I enjoyed Sönke's perspective and writing style. However, now you know the name of the method, Zettelkasten, you may find more nuanced and technical descriptions/criticisms online by looking it up.

No if you, like me, are averse to pop psychology text and lack of technical explanation, examples and diagrams.