I think we’ve all heard the phrase that “leaders are readers.” I’m convinced that one thing that sets growing leaders apart is the fact that they feed themselves and intellectually challenge themselves through interesting experiences and reading books.
That’s why my ears perked up when I heard about Get Abstract. It’s a book summary service where, for a membership fee, you can select various books that they’ve condensed into a five-page summary. Now, I read a decent amount of books per year, but I thought this would be an interesting way for me to “read” some books that I normally would not have purchased.
So before I totally spill the guts on my experience with Get Abstract, let me first share a screen shot on how it actually works.
There are two price points:
1. The silver. For $89 per year you can download up to 30 book summaries. The good thing is that they do have a quite large database of books (mostly business and leadership), so I think most people would be able to find something of interest.
2. The gold. In the gold package, you can choose between a 6 month subscription for $179, or you can buy a year at a time for $299, which gives you some savings.
I’ll say up front that they do have a 30 day money back guarantee if you read less than 7 books, so taking the plunge seems a lot less scary if you don’t find it useful. I ended up going with the $179 plan. After browsing their online catalog, I quickly downloaded three books: The World Cafe, Confessions of A Public Speaker, and The Truth About Leadership. One really positive thing is that they offer books in different formats including PDF’s, Kindle, and audio. True to advertising, it took me about 5 minutes to study through and read the five pages of content of the first book.
Each of the book summaries are divided into a few different sections:
1. Ratings: Here the book is rated between overall, applicability, innovation, and style.
2. Take-Aways: This is a series of about ten bullet points with some of the main ideas of the book.
3. What You Will Learn: In this section there’s usually a breakdown of about 3-4 things overall that will be addressed.
4. Recommendation: This covers the “Why should I care about this author?” question and gives a brief bio and what makes him/her an expert in the given field.
5. Abstract: This is the meat of the section. If there are 8 main principles that the author is addressing, there will be 8 little sections. Usually each chapter is condensed in to about 1-2 paragraphs.
6. Quotes: The summaries finish with a section on about 10 selected quotes from the book.
The Bottom Line
This service ultimately didn’t work for me for one primary reason: people remember stories and narratives, not bullet points. I would often finish one of the books and not really be able to remember what I read. Because they’re trying to condense a whole chapter into one or two paragraphs, they leave out stories–the soul of each chapter–and what actually holds the book together. Instead, you feel like you’re reading a recipe book: do this, avoid that, make sure to do this.
There are books that I read years ago in which I can still remember the main ideas. How is that possible? It’s easy to remember powerful stories and illustrations. This is the central sin of Get Abstract. Because there’s no stories or illustrations, you’re not really let with much to remember each summary by. Which, by the way, I think is a powerful lesson for most of us to remember–people aren’t going to remember a bunch of bullet point–they’ll remember the main idea and the stories.
I ultimately ended up getting a refund. The service seems like a good idea, but it definitely didn’t work for me. I’d rather (**gasp**) read the whole book and be able to speak more-or-less intelligently on it, than to say that I’ve read the book, but not be able to remember one thing about it.
[Image by Ben Oh]