Beginners by Tom Vanderbilt

I love lifelong learning! One of my most important values in life is curiosity, because of the way it empowers me to seek out and discover all the wonders and fascinating things going on in the world. For that reason, Tom Vanderbilt’s book Beginners was right up my alley.

In this memoir/investigation, Vanderbilt tells the story of the year he spent learning new skills, just for the sake of it, alongside the research from psychology and science on how learning works as an adult. Motivated by his daughter and his own feelings of stagnation, Vanderbilt took on 5 new, notoriously difficult learning paths: chess, singing, surfing, drawing, and juggling. The experiment leads him to experiences funny, frightening, and fascinating, underscored by research which suggests being this kind of adult beginner can have real benefits. From the publisher: “Ultimately, he shares how a refreshed sense of curiosity opened him up to a profound happiness and a deeper connection to the people around him–and how small acts of reinvention, at any age, can make life seem magical.”

That last sentence is my favorite, because I think everyone (myself included) could use more feelings of magic and possibility these days. One thing I really liked was how strongly he argued that this type of learning is good for EVERYONE, detailing all the potential benefits and solutions to common objections. For instance, he emphasized that the problem of childcare could become a solution by learning a new skill WITH your child, or using your time waiting for your child to finish an activity/practice/school day by practicing your own new skill. He also cited significant evidence that proves it really is never too late, you’re never too old, to learn something new, and in fact you’ll be much better off for it. His main point is actually one of my life’s mottoes (gleaned from a very wise professor): if it’s good for kids, it’s good for everybody. Yes, kids benefit from learning new skills, but so do adults, so don’t stop learning!

If you’re looking for interesting science, a feel-good story, and inspiration that it’s never too late, try reading Beginners. If you’re still not convinced that learning a new skill is for you, try reading this book anyway just for the chapter on babies and how they learn – guaranteed to warm the heart of parents and those who love kids!

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