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Patton's Picks from the PMA Library: Beginners

June 2021

"Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning" by Tom Vanderbilt


If you're looking for book recommendations in the productivity and professional development genre, Patton offers a weekly summary of some of the essential and emerging titles from the PMA Library.

Beginners offers a compelling study of the science of learning, and particularly, the value of life-long learning. Many of the skills we practice early in life, especially those requiring manual dexterity and physical skills, are often left behind as our learning becomes almost exclusively academic and professionally oriented. The author revisits several hobbies and interests and decides to "put himself out there" and become the ultimate adult beginner. He engages experts in each activity to help him learn the process, all the while using his journalistic research skills to consult scientists in neuroscience and cognitive development to get an even deeper understanding of the learning process. Not surprisingly, there is absolute value in life-long learning. Your brain craves new adventures, and the coordination of muscle groups and the associated brain functions is highly beneficial to mental, physical, and emotional health, and the author experiments with chess, swimming, choral singing, drawing, surfing, and jewelry making.

Three Takeaways:

1. The goal is not mastery; competency is a worthy goal - your brain benefits from the struggle of just learning the basics.
2. While there's not really a left brain versus right brain distinction, there is definite value to engaging more of your brain than you currently are.  Exercise mental functions you wouldn't normally use, stretch yourself to struggle through learning that you're not comfortable with; these are ways you keep your brain sharp, growing, and challenging itself. 
3. This is the ultimate endorsement of life-long learning, and a well-rounded regimen is also socially engaging especially for older folks who tend to isolate with age. Life-long learning as a lifestyle, not just a singular commitment, can inspire you to live outside of your comfort zone, to seek out help and form connections, and to challenge yourself in ways you never though possible, especially when you do so as an adult. 



About the Author:
Tom Vanderbilt has written for many publications, including The New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street Journal Magazine, Popular Science, Financial Times, Smithsonian, and London Review of Books, among many others. He has been a visiting scholar at NYU's Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, a research fellow at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, a fellow at the Design Trust for Public Space, and a winner of the Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant, among other honors. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.