The best books for becoming a more effective learner

Who am I?

I'm a writer, programmer, traveler and avid reader of interesting things. For the last ten years I've been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better. I don't promise I have all the answers, just a place to start. 


I wrote...

Book cover of Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career

What is my book about?

Learn a new talent, stay relevant, reinvent yourself, and adapt to whatever the workplace throws your way. Ultralearning offers nine principles to master hard skills quickly. This is the essential guide to future-proof your career and maximizes your competitive advantage through self-education.

Scott H. Young incorporates the latest research about the most effective learning methods and the stories of other ultralearners like himself—among them Benjamin Franklin, chess grandmaster Judit Polgár, and Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman, as well as a host of others, such as little-known modern polymath Nigel Richards, who won the French World Scrabble Championship—without knowing French.

The books I picked & why

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How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less

By Cal Newport,

Book cover of How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less

Why this book?

The best book for college students, Newport wrote the book by looking at top-scoring, relaxed students and observing what they used to study. His findings mostly back up my own book, Ultralearning, which points to the importance of active recall over review, solving problem sets in technical classes and Quiz and Recall for essay-based classes.

How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less

By Cal Newport,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How to Become a Straight-A Student as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Looking to jumpstart your GPA?

Most college students believe that straight A’s can be achieved only through cramming and painful all-nighters at the library. But Cal Newport knows that real straight-A students don’t study harder—they study smarter. A breakthrough approach to acing academic assignments, from quizzes and exams to essays and papers, How to Become a Straight-A Student reveals for the first time the proven study secrets of real straight-A students across the country and weaves them into a simple, practical system that anyone can master.

You will learn how to:

 • Streamline and maximize your study time
 • Conquer…


Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

By David Allen,

Book cover of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

Why this book?

Being able to organize all the things you need to do is essential if you want to learn better. One of the challenges many students face is that they have many exams, essays and homework assignments that they do on deadline. This results in lots of late nights (and subsequently poor performance).

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

By David Allen,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Getting Things Done as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The book Lifehack calls "The Bible of business and personal productivity."

"A completely revised and updated edition of the blockbuster bestseller from 'the personal productivity guru'"-Fast Company

Since it was first published almost fifteen years ago, David Allen's Getting Things Done has become one of the most influential business books of its era, and the ultimate book on personal organization. "GTD" is now shorthand for an entire way of approaching professional and personal tasks, and has spawned an entire culture of websites, organizational tools, seminars, and offshoots.

Allen has rewritten the book from start to finish, tweaking his classic text…


A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)

By Barbara Oakley,

Book cover of A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)

Why this book?

Oakley is best known for her co-instruction of Learning How to Learn, one of the most popular Coursera courses that has had millions of students. This book offers a science-driven perspective for how to get good at math. Oakley walks her talk too, specializing in linguistics she only became a professor of engineering later, despite some difficulties with math.

A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)

By Barbara Oakley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Mind For Numbers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The companion book to COURSERA®'s wildly popular massive open online course "Learning How to Learn"

Whether you are a student struggling to fulfill a math or science requirement, or you are embarking on a career change that requires a new skill set, A Mind for Numbers offers the tools you need to get a better grasp of that intimidating material. Engineering professor Barbara Oakley knows firsthand how it feels to struggle with math. She flunked her way through high school math and science courses, before enlisting in the army immediately after graduation. When she saw how her lack of mathematical…


Why Don't Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom

By Daniel Willingham,

Book cover of Why Don't Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom

Why this book?

Harvard-educated cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham is one of the foremost experts in educational psychology. While the title of this book may not sound so appealing, it’s really a tight summary of some of the most important principles of psychology to learning more effectively. Willingham’s blog and other books are also excellent resources for someone who wants to understand how to learn well.

Why Don't Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom

By Daniel Willingham,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Why Don't Students Like School? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Easy-to-apply, scientifically-based approaches for engaging students in the classroomCognitive scientist Dan Willingham focuses his acclaimed research on the biological and cognitive basis of learning. His book will help teachers improve their practice by explaining how they and their students think and learn. It reveals-the importance of story, emotion, memory, context, and routine in building knowledge and creating lasting learning experiences. * Nine, easy-to-understand principles with clear applications for the classroom * Includes surprising findings, such as that intelligence is malleable, and that you cannot develop "thinking skills" without facts * How an understanding of the brain's workings can help teachers…


“Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”

By Richard P. Feynman,

Book cover of “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”

Why this book?

Although not a how-to, Nobel-laureate Richard Feynman’s biography is perhaps the best inspirational book about the joys of learning, discovery and problem solving. On display is not only Feynman’s genius, but his tenacity for solving problems, quest for developing a deep understanding and unconventional approach to things. For those interested in learning science, Feynman’s lectures are also amazing and available online.

“Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”

By Richard P. Feynman,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Richard P. Feynman, winner of the Nobel Prize in physics, thrived on outrageous adventures. In this lively work that "can shatter the stereotype of the stuffy scientist" (Detroit Free Press), Feynman recounts his experiences trading ideas on atomic physics with Einstein and cracking the uncrackable safes guarding the most deeply held nuclear secrets-and much more of an eyebrow-raising nature. In his stories, Feynman's life shines through in all its eccentric glory-a combustible mixture of high intelligence, unlimited curiosity, and raging chutzpah.

Included for this edition is a new introduction by Bill Gates.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in math, physicists, and mathematicians?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about math, physicists, and mathematicians.

Math Explore 104 books about math
Physicists Explore 30 books about physicists
Mathematicians Explore 30 books about mathematicians

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Effortless Mastery, Deep Work, and The Quantum Ten if you like this list.