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

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  17,497 ratings  ·  1,219 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
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 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: 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
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.
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
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
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
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. ...more
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
Josh Waitzkin is a master learner but this is not a great book about learning. It's more of a memoir focused on chess and martial arts. It does have a few good thoughts about how to approach learning. The stories of his life are interesting and it gives a nudge to think about learning as the process itself. My main takeaways are –

• enjoy the journey you are undertaking
• go deeper
• introspect regularly
• take risks
• meditate
• keep yourself fit for the challenges
• involve the unconscious mind in t
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
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
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
Ioana Vasi
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.
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
Jacek Bartczak
Aug 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Learn how to learn. If you spend a lot of time boosting your skills and want to "audit" how you can learn more efficiently - then "Art of learning" may help you.

It is not a book that will change your life - it will rather help you think about learning as the process itself (only if you already spend a couple of years in your profession and basics are obvious for you). A book doesn't discover new things - it rather decomposes and explains well-known tips about learning. I mean things like:
- bad
Nicole Glaros
Nov 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely fantastic. I am putting this on my “should read once a year” list.
Sugam Singla
Aug 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Let me get this straight, Josh Waitzkin is a pure genius.

Having said that, I think the book is not for everyone. If you lack the imagination, you'll find it too boring or about chess or tai chi ONLY. Also, you won't like it if you want to read it casually. It's not that kind of book. Trust me, you'll most likely hate it.

Now, having given all the warnings, I will still give this book 5 stars. I think what Waitzkin has done (and now even after 15 years after writing this book), is sheer brillian
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.
Mihai Cozma
Feb 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good book but a little unstructured, going back and forward between author's experience and the theory doesn't lead to a clear conclusion. ...more
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
Nate Poole
If you don't know who Josh Waitzkin is he's an interesting individual. By the age 8 he was redeemed as a chess prodigy and there was a award nominated movie about him called "Searching for Bobby Fischer". I was intrigued by Josh because he style and his approach to learning chess was very unique. Most people learn chess by having all the pieces on the board at one time, figuring out opening moves that will put yourself in advantageous situation later in the match. Josh on the other hand learned ...more
Mar 23, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
He's a lil bit elitist, definitely full of himself, and once you've read the first half, you get the gist of the whole thing. Basically a book about how sweet using intuition is by someone who succeeded in life relying mostly on intuition, and he uses this as a shoehorn to talk about himself. ...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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