A review by errantreads
How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers, by Sönke Ahrens

informative inspiring medium-paced


This book teaches you how to become a more rigorous reader, writer, thinker, idea-generator, and researcher via a note-taking methodology that is slowly emerging out of German academia (where it has enjoyed legendary status but in niche obscurity) and now into the popular consciousness. It has come to the attention of the rest of the world primarily because of this book. That model of note-taking and knowledge-management is called Zettelkasten, or the slip-box method. Even if you don't adopt this methodology, this book is an excellent discussion of these themes and will give you lots of ideas for how you can incorporate better techniques of reading, note-taking, and introspection.

The target audience is academia, but this really is a tremendous resource for all learners. It is an exploration of how we learn and remember and how we can do better. How we can reduce the amount of knowledge, comprehension, and ideas that evaporate from our brains over time. But where this book really shines is as a how-to guide for the Zettelkasten methodology so you can better interrogate what you have learned over time combined with your current thinking and new ideas. It can help you follow paths of introspection and guide you to new ones.

This book is tremendous. It will make you better.


The author at times uses unclear labeling (namely because you think he is labeling when he is, in fact, describing). You know this is an issue when review after review about and tutorial after tutorial associated to this book misdescribe the methodologies in the same way. I figured this out by deep note-taking (since this was a note-taking book) and using this book as a model to implement the techniques he described. If he ever re-edits this book, I would love to see him clear up some of the ambiguity. The description of how notes in the Bibliographical Slip Box are developed, written technically, and organized would be particularly helpful. He is especially vague there (you have to pick it out from several places in the books).

Also, the spine text is flipped, as is traditional in Eastern Europe. But the book I am reviewing is the English translation. The author or publisher should have also adjusted the cover to match the English-speaking world's expectations. Most annoying. Like really really annoying.

Still . . .  a five-star book. Excellent.