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Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning
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Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  2,358 ratings  ·  356 reviews
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
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published January 5th 2021 by Knopf Publishing Group
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Average rating 3.67  · 
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 ·  2,358 ratings  ·  356 reviews

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Adam Roberts
Feb 18, 2021 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Jan 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020-books
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 - ...more
Camelia Rose
May 30, 2021 rated it really liked it
While watching his young daughter taking chess lessons, Tom Vanderbilt thought he should try it too. Instead of looking at his phone as other parents do, he took chess lesson together with his daughter. This book is his journey of learning new things at 45+. Chess, singing, surfing, drawing, juggling, wild swimming and jewellery making are the new things he learned.

The book is a mixture of personal experiences, some science (how infants learn, neuroscience of learning, learning to combat brain
Feb 28, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: self-help
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
Jan 22, 2021 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 15, 2021 added it
Dnf. Started out strong and interesting and I like the general theme of embracing new things and being comfortable with not being immediately good at new things. But, he got really detailed and technical about explaining his chosen endeavors. The singing chapter was interesting, though laborious. Next came surfing, which just got kind of boring. I’d rather just go learn how to surf rather than listen to him describe himself learning to surf...
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.
Jun 09, 2021 rated it liked it
More like 2.5 stars. He's a journalist and I think I would have enjoyed this more as a long-form piece rather than a book, but you can't get an advance for that, and then what would have paid for his surfing trip to Costa Rica or his private vocal coach or his enrollment in an intensive week-long drawing course at a NYC art school?

Snark aside, I definitely left the book itching to start learning a new skill.
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.
Mar 22, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For two months I read just a few paragraphs a day with this book and thought I would probably just give up on it. The initial chapter did not catch my interest. Then two days ago I sat down and committed myself to finishing that first chapter - and after that my interest peaked and I finished the book. Very interesting reading and worth my time to finish.
Paul Ryan
Jan 12, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Mar 22, 2021 rated it liked it
"Being a beginner can be hard at any age, but it gets harder as you get older."

Beginners is a story of the author who decides to learn new skills after getting inspired by his young daughter. He tries to learn new skills such as playing chess, singing, and surfing. The first two chapters started exciting, and I genuinely want to know more about it. But, sadly, the following content failed to keep my interest in this book.

He got very detailed about the skills and technical and it kind of boring.
Apr 08, 2021 rated it it was ok
First, I bought this book with 2019 vision: life-long learning, travel, making new friends! Yes, I’m all about that. Vanderbilt takes up chess, juggling, surfing, jewelry making, and singing.

I read the entire book, enjoying his descriptions of how beginners go through a learning curve. Maybe because I’m a teacher, this part interested me: the science of how people learn. And this definitely changes as we age.

But finally, I read this book in our 2021 world and found it reeked with Vanderbilt’s p
Mar 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
This was a good book to piggyback on "A Glorious Freedom" as it talks about the benefits of learning new skills at an older age. Learning how to do new things is good for our brains (neuroplasticity), helps with stress, enlarges our sense of self, and changes the way we think and see the world (expands our perspective). Learning with others can also help you make new connections and strengthen old ones (research suggests that couples who learn new skills together can recapture some of the initia ...more
David Rubenstein
This is a fun book about the journey from being a beginner to becoming -- a non-beginner. Not necessarily to become an expert, but to become adept at some skill. The book includes some developments in the neuroscience of learning. However, the book is mostly a collection of personal memoirs of how the author learned new skills. The new skills included chess, singing, surfing, drawing, and juggling. The process of learning each new skill is a journey. Sometimes, he began his new journey along wit ...more
Joseph Rambadt
I liked it! He is funny at times, serious at times, and I felt like I was able to relax and soak in random bits of knowledge.
Simon Eskildsen
Aug 18, 2021 rated it liked it
Always an inspiration to read about someone who picks up new, big skills and reflects on them. Unfortunately I find myself writing this review a few months later without many highlights that strike much inspiration.
Jan 25, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
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
Feb 03, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tn, non-fiction
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 ...more
Siddhartha Jain
Feb 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
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!!
May 30, 2022 rated it it was amazing
I love learning new things. I'm 58 years old as I write this, and I tend to ignore the people in my life that hint that I'm too old to learn new things. Now I think I'll just send them a copy of this lovely book. I highly recommend this entertaining and informative account of learning new things in the second half of life. Now I need to go practice piano. ...more
Sophia Z
Mar 24, 2021 rated it liked it
Appreciate the message very much! Lifelong leaning, pushing yourself out of the dazed comfort of knowing and coasting along, and swinging open doors to whole new worlds - why not?? It’s never too late to learn. We all need to become beginners.

Problem with the book is even though it talks about all the free online resources for people who wants to learn, the author himself spends loads of money on private lessons and trips abroad. Hah! Hence the 3 stars.
Apr 08, 2021 rated it it was ok
This book wasn't quite what I was expecting. There's too much personal experience, like endless esoterica on learning how to sing of which I have no interest or ability. Also, the author was in his 40s which hardly qualifies as "lifelong". Tell me about some 70 or 80 year old marathon runners, polyglots, even scrabble wizards and how their new hobby has affected other facets of their life. ...more
Feb 22, 2021 rated it did not like it
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.
Mar 12, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: not-ya, non-fiction
I enrolled in a beginning acting class in my final year of undergrad because of this book, and this book alone.
Sarah Elizabeth
Jul 01, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, non-fiction
I'd put off reading this for awhile, but I just picked up a tennis racquet for the first time in 20 years, so it seemed apropos that my hold finally came in from the library. I really enjoyed this one. It was a little more informal and casual than other books in this genre (some reviewers wanted more intense science), but I still thought Vanderbilt did a nice job weaving anecdotes, science, and humor and together. (He did quote lots of single words, which I found distracting.) Other reviewers we ...more
Chris Fletcher
I love these learning-to-learn self-improvement books. In Beginners, one of the better I've read in the last few years, author Tom Vanderbilt recounts his experiences as a beginner at the age of fifty at a variety of pursuits, including chess, surfing, singing, jewelry making, and bicycling.

What sets Vanderbilt's book apart from many of the more of the light-weight "just do it" how-tos out there is his clear-eyed journalistic approach, built on a firm mattress of cited data sources. Vanderbilt
Jul 18, 2022 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars, rounding up since i'm biased to enjoy the subject as a lifelong learner

this book feels wrongly marketed - as if it's a collection of case studies and research on beginners. it is not that - this is a memoir of a parent exploring what it means to be a beginner in a pretty serious way in a few different areas. it should be called something like: my journey as a beginner so it's clear that this book is grounded in personal experience.

i appreciated thinking more deeply about beginning. in
Brendan Brooks
Feb 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
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Tom Vanderbilt writes on design, technology, science, and culture, among other subjects, for many publications, including Wired, Outside, The London Review of Books, The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Wilson Quarterly, Artforum, The Wilson Quarterly, Travel and Leisure, Rolling Stone, The New York Times Magazine, Cabinet, Metropolis, and Popular Science. He is contributing editor to ...more

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9 likes · 2 comments
“What is admired is success, achievement, the quality of performance,” writes the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “rather than the quality of experience.” But what if we don’t want to become virtuoso musicians or renowned artists? What if we only want to dabble in these things, to see if they might subtly change our outlook on the world or even, as we try to learn them, change us? What if we just want to enjoy them?” 1 likes
“Children, in a very real sense, have beginners’ minds, open to wider possibilities. They see the world with fresher eyes, are less burdened with preconception and past experience, and are less guided by what they know to be true. They are more likely to pick up details that adults might discard as irrelevant. Because they’re less concerned with being wrong or looking foolish, children often ask questions that adults won’t ask.” 1 likes
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