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The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  11,385 ratings  ·  848 reviews
Josh Waitzkin knows what it means to be at the top of his game. A public figure since winning his first National Chess Championship at the age of nine, Waitzkin was catapulted into a media whirlwind as a teenager when his father's book Searching for Bobby Fischer was made into a major motion picture. After dominating the scholastic chess world for ten years, Waitzkin expan ...more
Kindle Edition, 288 pages
Published (first published 2007)
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4.09  · 
Rating details
 ·  11,385 ratings  ·  848 reviews

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Jan 09, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Clearly as a chess player and a martial artist, Josh is an accomplished and well regarded expert. As a human being, however, he’s a bit of a dick.

He goes to the Tai Chi Chuan Pushing hands World Championships in Taiwan (their national sport) and through hard work and an obsessive pursuit of excellence, he becomes World Champion despite cheating and rule bending by the Taiwanese.

Only, he never considers that this small nation has hardly anything else to call their own. And with their huge Imperia
Timothy Chklovski
Very good book about achieving world-class mastery of a skill and the attendant phenomena (like slowing down time).
it teeters on mysticism early on, but if you get past that, there are rewards in sound arguments and interesting observations

Some key highlights:
- using simplified/limiting drills to understand key concepts more deeply/fluently
- a very compelling model of skill acquisition as layering, one pass at a time, your conscious understanding on top of automatic mastery, and turning the lear
Riku Sayuj

A good look into what goes on in the minds of high-performance athletes at the top of their game. A bit spiritualized and fuzzy here and there, but I kept thinking that we are lucky to have this rare athlete writing to us, who combines the qualities of high performance, intense self-observation, intellectualization of development and finally communication of that entire learning experience to the normal people who might go through their entire lives never stretching themselves to those extreme l
Jul 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
it's unaccountably rare to find someone who can perform at the highest levels of human capacity (mentally or physically) who can articulate much meaningfully about how they do it. You can survey top performers, and many have, and most won't have a concrete framework of thought behind that performance and most of it is intuitive. the underlying principals are essentially a mystery.

Josh Waitzkin has performed at high levels both mentally (through world class junior chess) and physically (through
May 27, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, nonfiction
I picked up this book because it was recommended by Tim Ferriss, who described Josh as the "metalearner's metalearner". A man who had risen to the peak of his field in the world in TWO highly competitive disciplines: chess and push hands (martial Tai Chi).

I was expecting a book that spends a tremendous amount of time on philosophies about learning with examples from his life and others.

There are some thoughts about learning, but they feel more reflective than prescriptive, since this book is rea
May 28, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
If you're interested in gaining insight into the mind of a child chess prodigy turned adult martial arts champion, this is a decent book. It's reasonably readable and has a lot of interesting stories about the author's chess and marital arts careers. As an inspirational or how-to book, though, it falls short. Maybe it would be helpful if you're interested in single-minded, highly-focused training in chess, martial arts, or another highly technical, subtle, and competitive pursuit. But, despite h ...more
Jul 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Part I: The Foundation

Chapter 1: Innocent Movies
Josh discovers chess in the park. Lessons with Bruce: first lessons establish camaraderie.

Chapter 2: Losing to Win:
Loses first nat'l championship. Summertime is off to the sea -- the little breaks from competition are important for success, since they allow a new perspective and new energy.
Back to life, he's a mess. Bruce realizes he needs fun more than chess. Wins national tournament.

Chapter 3: Two Approaches to Learning
Entity theorists (innate ab
Sid Hancock
Most people seem to love this book. It was enjoyable but it felt more like an autobiography than a book about the learning process. You could essentially break his points down into a quick-reference card and have just as much scientific/analytic support for them.
Reya Kempley
Jan 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone involved in competitive sports or games, fans of chess and Tai Chi
Shelves: autobiography
As someone who has been seriously involved in a highly mental competitive sport since the age of nine, I deeply related to so many of Josh Waitzkin's experiences and mental strategies he's developed. While the level of fame I have realized (so far!?) is very small when compared to Josh's, and only exists within a small circle of competitors and enthusiasts, my struggle to excel in competition parallels so much of what Josh describes, from the mistake of denying emotions completely (leading to co ...more
Bon Tom
Oct 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very down to earth and logical. Written by intelligent and self reflective person, which of course is the key to succeed in anything and to improve oneself longterm. I resonate with every written word, maybe not because I honed all these qualities to shoe shine, but because the author managed to achieve accessibility for average person at the same time. Achievement in and of itself.
Jun 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for:,,
Despite not being very interested in either chess or the martial arts, this is one of the most interesting and insightful books I have read. Josh is one of the few people that has become an expert at something and maintained the ability to understand and share exactly the process that led him to expertise, then abstract the process to make it applicable to learning almost anything. His writing style is clear and engaging. He's a great teacher--he subtly reviews as he goes along without making th ...more
Dec 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Versatility 101

I was thinking about writing my review (if one could even call it a review) in Romanian, but got side-tracked by a review from someone called "V.".
From all the amazing and well thought lessons of this book, V had this conclusion: "he (Joshua Waitzkin) is a bit of a dick."
Which just goes to show you, again, that no matter how well intentioned, considerate and helpful you are, there will always be an unfulfilled, mediocre and mean spirited entity willing to expose his sheer ignoranc
Очень толковая книга по саморазвитию! Подробная рецензия и 20 основных механизмов / инструментов обучения из книги в моём блоге:

Apr 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At first it seemed like Waitzkin was writing this book as a weird way to satisfy his ego. After the first few pages written about how great and successful he has been in not one, but two realms of competition, I started to get a little irritated with him.

I found it a little suspect that he "invented" all of the moves he mentions in his learning process and fine-tuning his martial arts. The traditions have been around for thousands of years, and some twenty-something from New York. BUT after rea
Jul 16, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The two ideas from this book that made the biggest impression on me were incremental learning (the stance that says "I could have done that differently" rather than "I'm no good at this") and investment in loss (seeking out difficulties as learning opportunities--a manifestation, I'd say, of Socratic wisdom). Peak performance is inspiring, and the book got me wondering how I could apply the learning principles it describes in my spiritual life, or in my teaching. And the journey from being a che ...more
Jul 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Inspiring. Intense. Insightful. Though I could only get a fraction of what he wants to convey, my grey cells should keep nibbling on the fodder for a long time. Yet another book that I will add to my rereading shelf. Wish I could give it more than 5 stars.
Jun 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fantastically entertaining, deeply insightful and riotously inspiring. If you are curious about your inner process (I'm an actress and director and a someday writer. Josh is an eight time National Chess Champion and holds 21 National Championship titles as well as several World Championship titles in martial arts - he has plenty to teach me.) Josh Waitzkin will delight and enlighten you. I got this copy out of the library but will be buying my own copy to revisit again and again.

"... I took the
Bartosz Majewski
Around 10 years ago i've read a book by Polish author Jacek Santorski. It was called "Humans against humans". I vaguely recall it now but one idea stuck with me throughout the years.

He digressed into it by saying (i'm paraphrasing) that economic reserves in developed countries are shrinking so there will be less room to manouver for people that are focused on experiencing without contribution. The rest of us will have to embrace something he called "The way of the Samurai" with much more uncerta
Mehran Jalali
Oct 27, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mehran by: Emerson Spartz
Alternate title: "How Amazing Some of My Chess and Tai Chi Matches Have Been. Oh, and Some Interesting Anecdotal Tips on Mentally Preparing for Some Esoteric Things."

The only reason I continued reading the book is because he describes chess matches and Tai Chi fights captivatingly -- but that is not what I read the book for.

A crappy, pseudo-scientific, self-praising autobiography.

Horrible book. Might change my review to one star after re-evaluating my highlights.

EDIT: Without having reviewed my
Sep 26, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
2.5 Stars

While I really enjoyed most of the biographical bits, I expected a self-help and way more insight into learning than I got.
I think this is a case of marketing gone wrong.
For me, this is a recall of a man's paths of self-discovery and success. His path of learning. At times it was very spiritual, very small amount about practical learning and at times a bit emotional. But mostly it's Waitzkin's autobiography.
I did enjoy his recount of the chess scene during the nineties. His heart is
Dylan Blanchard
Mar 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was actually hella dope.
It's made me do a lot of thinking and discussing with pals. His intimate familiarity and awareness with his pursuit of chess and push hands was a bit of a wake up call. And there's a lot thinking to be done on the ideas he's shared.

Dang. This was fresh.
Cody Shorter
Jan 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
13 things I learnt from The Art of Learning - An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance - Josh Waitzkin

Stick to your natural voice. Most learning methods are based around a cookie-cutter approach which can depress one's enthusiasm. From the book:

I believe that one of the most critical factors in the transition to becoming a high performer is the degree to which your relationship to your pursuit stays in the harmony with your unique disposition.

Have a growth mindset over a fixed mindset. As set out
Oct 06, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an interesting read as a biography of a very smart and talented man with a very interesting life story, but does not achieve much by way of broadly applicable teachings on how to learn, as the name seems to imply.

Josh Waitzkin, subject of the movie 'Searching for Bobby Fischer', was a chess prodigy and raised to be a chess champion. He was the highest ranked chess player for his age in the U.S. until his late teens. After essentially burning out on chess, he turned his talents towards t
Nov 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: chess, biography
I didn't want to like this book. What 29 year old has an interesting memoir? Talk to me when you are at least 50. Here's what I know about getting good at chess: you start really young and you train during a period when your brain is super-plastic. You can then refine your mental game when you get older, but if you are not a master-level player (or close) before you are a teenager, you will probably never be one - awww... you thought you could get to master strength as an adult by doing delibera ...more
Trung Nguyen Dang
It's more of a memoir rather than a how-to book. However, the content can be condensed into a shorter format for those who just want the insights instead of stories.

The audiobook is read by the author, which is again a big plus point. The audiobook also contain a long interview (a podcast) with Tim Ferris, who has bought the right of the audiobook. The podcast itself is probably even more insightful than the book as it is more focused on performance or how to improve on performance:

The key take
Jun 15, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book but I am oddly unsatisfied. For those who don't remember, Josh Waitzkin is the subject of the lovely movie _Searching for Bobby Fischer_. He was the top american high school-aged chess player back when I was playing high school chess. He left chess in his young adulthood and is now a world-class practitioner of Tai Chi Chuan. This book is a very compelling memoir of his experience in the worlds of competitive chess and tai chi. It's also _sort of_ a self-help book abou ...more
May 30, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, self-help
Slightly self-indulgent and premature, as memoirs go (Waitzkin was only 29 when this was published), but I value the his insights into high levels of competitive proficiency. I would take issue with the title, since we are dealing with COMPETITIVE skills here, which are not the same as "learning."

Although slightly self-indulgent, Waitzkin rarely made me feel alienated from his passions. In-fitting with his autodidactic principals, he is good at breaking down the complexity of his sportscraft in
Jan 22, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

The author had little to contribute to the discussion on learning, instead rehashing what we've all heard before and linking it with his greatness at Tai Chi and his chess awesome. All I could find was his bragging about his prodigy-ness, how he was such a genius, the greatest and best at everything he tried. EVERY. SINGLE. PAGE.

I hate-read this book. If I hadn't had to read it for a class, I would never have bough
Aug 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful book. Interesting background on Waitzkin's chess-career and then his move into meditation, tai chi and now jujitsu and optimal coaching. Too much greatness packed into this book to cover point by point, but in a general sense, what I really responded to was his insistence on questioning... well... everything. In particular, he picks apart the actual process of how he (and by extension we) might process thoughts and actions.

The writing is great and Waitzkin is accessible without dumbin
Apr 09, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Didn't finish. I should have known what I was getting into when the author said in his interview with Tim Ferriss that his all time favorite books were Shantaram and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Those books are required reading for pretentious self-unaware douchebags.

I'm being meaner than I should be. I just felt cheated because I thought this book would teach me something rather than tell me about Mr. Waitzkin's young life as a chess prodigy and a world class martial artist. You m
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Joshua Waitzkin is an American chess player, martial arts competitor, and author. As a child, he was recognized as a prodigy, and won the U.S. Junior Chess championship in 1993 and 1994. He is the only person to have won the National Primary, Elementary, Junior High School, High School, U.S. Cadet, and U.S. Junior Closed chess championships in his career. The movie Searching for Bobby Fischer is b ...more
“The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity. Usually, growth comes at the expense of previous comfort or safety.” 52 likes
“Growth comes at the point of resistance. We learn by pushing ourselves and finding what really lies at the outer reaches of our abilities.” 28 likes
More quotes…