Ignore the new releases, read these books instead

When overwhelmed by new options, it pays to find older, proven alternatives.

Photo credits Chris Lawton

Value-based pricing advocate Jonathan Stark tweeted a practical example of opportunity cost:

When choosing between options, the opportunity cost is the value you forfeit by choosing one option over another. It is the difference between the return on the most profitable investment you could make and the return on the investment you actually make. In choosing the new book, you give up the opportunity of revisiting life-changing ideas and finding deeper meaning in them. But if you re-read the old book, you’ll lose touch with the zeitgeists.

Like every good thought-provoking dilemma, there is no straightforward answer.

Unless you don’t read either and choose a Lindy book instead.

Here’s how Nassim Taleb introduces what he calls the Lindy effect in Antifragile:

If a book has been in print for forty years, I can expect it to be in print for another forty years. But, and that is the main difference, if it survives another decade, then it will be expected to be in print another fifty years.

The longer a book has been in print, the longer you can expect it to remain on sale. I’ll continue discussing books, but the concept applies to anything that doesn’t have a natural upper bound, including other creative mediums like movies, TV shows, or comics.

Lindy books are those books that have been in print for a while. They have proven their worth by surviving year after year against increasingly vast competition.

Choosing a Lindy book lowers your opportunity cost because there are higher chances you’ll get solid value from reading it.

Developing robust heuristics for deciding which books to read is crucial at a time of practically infinite options. There are already more books than anyone could read in multiple lifetimes, and more keep being released ever faster.

When drowning with information and options, filtering signal from noise becomes a survival skill.

Popular media is plagued by the need for new, hot things to discuss. It’s hard to distinguish how much of the attention comes from self-reinforcing waves of hype and how much comes from genuine greatness. To find out, one either has to incur the opportunity cost of reading something that will turn out mediocre or just wait a few months.

Hyped-up work is on the front pages at launch but is quickly forgotten. Valuable work remains relevant. In fact, often times great work goes unnoticed at first, slowly climbing its way up the chart and remaining there.

If you are looking for something new to savor or study, you’re better off staying away from the latest releases and retreating into the Lindy bookshelf.


This article describes a heuristic. A decision-making shortcut to use when debating whether to invest time in a new book.

It is not an ironclad law.

As a matter of fact, I self routinely opt for new books over older ones. For example, I’ll promptly pre-order the latest book from my favorite authors.

Reading is a pleasure. Taking an overly structured approach to your reading list robs the magic away.

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