Cover photo

Reading 12 books at once

How to perform surgical reading

User avatar


A few days ago I talked about Lex's ambitious goal of reading one book a week. How would I approach it if I were in his position?

Well, I'm a slow reader. I mostly read for pleasure and like to chew on each sentence to make sure I understand the main point.

I don't do very well with 2.5x speed audiobooks either as my attention easily drifts away. I'd need to restart a whole section again.

So I can't do speed reading or fast audiobooks, but what I can do is use this method called "surgical reading".

Developed by Brian Tobal, "surgical reading" is a process to quickly extract valuable information from non-fiction books.

Tobal is able to read multiple books simultaneously by focusing on finding and extracting the most valuable information.

The original article is long but worth a read. This is a summary of his method:

Step-by-Step Guide to Surgical Reading

  1. (5-10 mins) Flip through the book or read the reviews

  2. What is the author trying to convey about the book?

  3. (5-15 mins) Go straight to the back of the book, take notes of topics with large page ranges, or lots of subtopics. take notes of unfamiliar words. everytime you find a topic that interests you, write it down with its page numbers.

  4. Inspect the table of contents, explore chapter titles and structures, compare it to the page ranges from your index notes

  5. Skim the preface to preview the argument in the author's words

  6. Ask yourself: Do I care? Would I benefit from reading more?

    1. If no, drop the book and move on to the next one.

    2. If yes, start to extract the knowledge nuggets. Start reading the specific page ranges you noted from the index. If a section seems interesting, keep reading the chapter. If you've already gotten what you need, go on to next topic.

    3. Write in the book, highlight things, take notes as you read

    4. If you are reading a book cover to cover, good to write down & review key points in each chapter

  • Loading comments...