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The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence Hardcover – May 8, 2007


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (May 8, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743277457
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743277457
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 6.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (214 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #274,904 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Waitzkin's name may sound familiar—back in 1993, his father wrote about Josh's early years as a chess prodigy in Searching for Bobby Fischer. Now 31, Waitzkin revisits that story from his own perspective and reveals how the fame that followed the movie based on his father's book became one of several obstacles to his further development as a chess master. He turned to tai chi to learn how to relax and feel comfortable in his body, but then his instructor suggested a more competitive form of the discipline called "push hands." Once again, he proved a quick study, and has earned more than a dozen championships in tournament play. Using examples from both his chess and martial arts backgrounds, Waitzkin draws out a series of principles for improving performance in any field. Chapter headings like "Making Smaller Circles" have a kung fu flair, but the themes are elaborated in a practical manner that enhances their universality. Waitzkin's engaging voice and his openness about the limitations he recognized within himself make him a welcome teacher. The concept of incremental progress through diligent practice of the fundamentals isn't new, but Waitzkin certainly gives it a fresh spin. (May 8)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Waitzkin, a champion in chess and martial arts, brings enthusiasm and obvious love of learning to this amazing look at what he aptly describes as the art of learning. He begins by recounting his own quirky journey. At the age of six, Waitzkin learned chess from a motley crew of street hustlers, gamblers, junkies, and artists. Since then, he has been among the highest-ranked chess players. He recounts the distractions of adolescence as well as fame after the publication of his father's book and, later, the film based on it, Searching for Bobby Fischer. He later discovered that chess principles could be applied to learning tai chi. In fact, he found a respect for artistry, meditation, and philosophical devotion within both chess and martial arts and realized the possibility for broader application to learning in general. Waitzkin integrates his personal experiences in mastering chess and tai chi with research on psychology and learning techniques to offer a vibrant and engaging look at the love of learning and the pursuit of excellence. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

Grab this book, you'll read it and then you'll go back to it many times.
Dave Lakhani
As an educator and Myers Briggs NT type, I found this book to be inspirational and insightful as it reinforced many of my own experiences with learning and teaching.
Lorenzo C.
Josh does a marvellous job at detailing his history of chess learning as well as his fascinating pursuits of martial arts.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

73 of 79 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Quinley VINE VOICE on August 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Josh Waitzkin transformed himself from a warrior of the mind into a top-level tai chi martial arts practitioner. This is somewhat an unusual, as many/most chess players (with a few exceptions) appear to be pallid who would get sand kicked in their faces at the beach. (Too much library and study time, perhaps.)

You may recall that Josh Waitzkin was the main character in the best selling book and popular movie, "Searching for Bobby Fischer." As a chess prodigy, he received intense publicity and attention, which wore thin on him as he progressed into his late teens and early 20s. Even though he was a top level chess player, the pace of his progression did not advance to the point where he was challenging Garry Kasparov or anyone else for the world championship. Being under the microscope became tiring, so he shifted his focus into tai chi.

This book is an unusual and difficult one to categorize. It is part autobiography, part chess memoir, part martial arts philosophy. Essentially, Waitzkin offers his own approach to becoming a student and applying certain disciplines and habits toward learning and eventually mastering any skill. Your mileage may vary, but for a 29 year old, Waitzkin's insights seem mature beyond his years. It is almost unfair for a young person to be so accomplished and insightful, and I mean that as a complement.

In many ways, "The Art of Learning" reminded me of "Flow" by Mihaly Csiksentmihaly. Focusing on the task and hand in getting better at it rather than obsessing over results and outcomes can be a liberating experience, paving the way toward learning and eventual mastery.

Whether you are a chess player or martial arts practitioner, "The Art of Learning" is a very effective study in one approach to building your skills in any realm. The book could have benefited from both an index and bullet-point suggestions for the reader, but these are minor quibbles regarding what is an excellent book.
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260 of 303 people found the following review helpful By Hilliard B. Grossman on May 25, 2008
Format: Paperback
The Art of Learning as an autobiographical story makes for good reading. However, the book introduces itself, and seems to be marketed, as a practical guide for people interested in improving their own learning skills. I question how well the majority of people will be able to make much use of the book in that way.

Waitzkin's presentation and description of learning techniques is pretty vague. While I have little doubt that Josh Waitzkin is an accomplished learner, I don't think that he successfully, practically transmits what he knows about learning to the reader. It seems that he has an unusual capacity to learn, and while I don't think that that capacity is necessarily "genetic" or somehow hopelessly unavailable to those not blessed with it from birth or a very early age, I don't think that most people will improve their learning skills very much through Waitzkin's description of techniques that he may understand and be able to apply very easily, but which refer to and rely on processes and perceptions internal to him that can't, or at least aren't in this book, adequately conveyed through the written word. Though I think I may understand what "smaller circles" (one of the learning strategies Waitzkin outlines) means on some level, how to actually apply it to something I'm trying to learn is not clear to me (and the ideas behind it seem fairly cliche, like take one step at a time, you have to walk before you can run, etc.).

Though it could be argued that it's scope is more limited, for a book that provides more concrete methods for improving learning and performance, I'd recommend "The Inner Game of Tennis".
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Lorenzo C. on December 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
As an educator and Myers Briggs NT type, I found this book to be inspirational and insightful as it reinforced many of my own experiences with learning and teaching. Josh weaves the concepts together with his personal story in a very engaging manner. The stories illustrate the application of the learning principles quite well, in my opinion. The concepts are defined enough for my taste, while being flexible/loose enough for application to other fields of endeavor. I wish perhaps that he had spent more time talking about the hard work of showing up every day, but most people probably won't find that of interest since it's the peaks we all like to celebrate. And anyway, he does frequently reference the fact that it took an extreme commitment on his (and his partners') part to achieve his results.

Book-learners would probably profit greatly from the application of the principles in this book. I'm not so sure I could say whether other learning modes would benefit directly although I think the principles would still be present in some form or another.

On another level, Josh's book made me think a lot about how I reacted to situations in life where I expected more ethical/moral/considerate/professional/courteous behavior from others. And then I thought more about those times I was the, well-jerk...

Highly recommended for those who love to experience beyond the superficial.
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76 of 88 people found the following review helpful By P. Roden on May 31, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I heard Josh interviewed on NPR recently. Before the show was completed I ordered his book; The Art of Learning. Having just finished my first reading, the pages are heavily highlighted and the margins are drenched in notes. This is a narrative too meaningful to miss, rich in the human experience. The application of his life experiences go beyond chess and martial arts. Josh's struggles and his victories may be on a different level than most but you will resonate with the humanity, as I did.

I have worked in critical care nursing for many years and the intensity can at times be overwhelming. This leads many to burn-out and leave the profession. The insights Josh provides in this book should be an integral part of nursing education. Concepts such as investment in loss, using adversity, and making sandals, are tools I now employ in the workplace challenges I face. I know these ideas could help others whether you are a nurse committed to healing, a business person closing a deal, or a parent raising a child.

Healing is invoking the will to live in others--Josh has done that for me in this work.
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