This was a moment of personal revelation for me – that the order in which you read books is just as important as reading the books themselves. This thought came to me while thinking about food, here it is.
A several course meal is much more than the sum of its parts. The dishes are arranged and ordered in a way that complements each other – every dish adds something to the other dish. The dishes work together to create the entire meal – eating the dishes out of order can drastically alter the style of the meal, and potentially detract for its impact, and even worse, skipping any dish can drastically retract from the meal.
This is the same with reading – the order of the books you choose is just as important as the books themselves – it helps you get more out of the books than you would otherwise, and really digest (pun intended) the material.
Here’s an example. Reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. Alone, the book is good, but with a few tweaks, and adding a few ‘courses’, the book can be great. Try this: follow up Blink with Think, a book that takes the totally opposite viewpoint and was written as a response to Blink (asserting that great decisions are in fact made through critical analysis). This gives you two different viewpoints. Now, for dessert, try Thinking Fast and Slow, which essentially combines the two streams of thought into one coherent package. By reading around a viewpoint such as the above, you gain a more holistic view of the topic you are reading about – the process is more than the sum of its part (the three books read alone, non-sequentially), and allows the reader to make much more educated insights into the authors arguments than would otherwise be possible.
Another example is one I experienced recently. First, I started with Built to Last, a book detailing on the attributes that great organizations display – which in turn cement them as truly visionary companies. To follow that up, I read Inside Apple, a book based on the secretaries inner workings at Apple. The great thing is, that while reading about Apple, you can identify where Steve Jobs was achieving attributes that were outlined in Built to Last. By reading the two books together, you get much more out of both than you would have independently – you get the theory, then get a chance to see it applied in the real world.
Now, obviously structuring your reading habits is much more labour intensive then going one at a time, but I truly do think it is worth it. By pairing up books (or tripling up, whatever), you are able to understand the ecosystem of content in a much more holistic fashion – you really do get the big picture. The books really do become more than the sum of their parts.