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

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  14,319 ratings  ·  1,026 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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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 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
May 27, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir
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
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.
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
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
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
An autobiography presented as a reference on peak performance. The stories are interesting, but it is not clear how to replicate the author's success.
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
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.
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
Ioana Ioana
Dec 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A well organised account of the strategies surrounding a child prodigy chess player and later on, a world martial art champion and his search for balance - balance of skills, of thought, of ego and about learning.
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
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
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
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.
Jim Ament
Mar 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
The Art of Learning - A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence, by Josh Waitzkin (2007)

My wonderful guitar teacher, Brian Lewis—whom I haven't seen in months, but I still call him "my teacher"—recommended this book:

Josh Waitzkin was a boy chess genius, winning his first national championship at age nine, then was the subject of his father's book Searching for Bobby Fischer, which was turned into a 1993 Hollywood film. Following his stellar chess career, at age nineteen he took up the martial art T
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
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.
Dec 13, 2019 rated it did not like it
This book was virtually unbearable to read. Yet, through an act of sheer willpower and reading off-and-on over a period of 3 years, I finally made it through to the end. Let me first address why I started and stubbornly persisted in finishing this book, and then I’ll discuss why I didn’t like it.

At the time I discovered this book, I was looking for some insight into being successful in one-on-one competition (specifically Brazilian Jiu-jitsu competition) and the author, Josh Waitzkin, knows a th
Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The section on getting into the zone and creating it yourself had me reflecting on how I focus - I listen to only one album for the entire duration of working on a project. The last thing I worked on is brought to you by the latest Arianna Grande.
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
Boni Aditya
The right title for this book would . - THE ART OF COMPETITION or A GUIDE TO COMPETE IN POWER HANDS, CHESS and other sports. The title of the book is misleading, The author rarely talks about learning, he focuses all his energies into COMPETING. Though he might not realize this but Learning to Compete is not the same as learning! It is assumed by the author that everybody learns to compete! Well that's isn't the truth, except in competitive sports, his techniques can't be used elsewhere! The aut ...more
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: biography, chess
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
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
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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

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