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95 of 119 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Learn anything you want with this book!
This is a very particular book about a very particular topic: skill acquisition.
As soon as I saw Josh was going to publish a new book about this (almost mysterious) topic, I immediately knew it was going to be great. Just as his past book, The Personal MBA.

As soon as you start reading the book, you will be surprised, as this book is not what you expect...
Published 14 months ago by Ivan Kreimer

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154 of 167 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Okay, not great
I guess this book may have been the result of Kaufman applying his skill acquisition methods to writing!

All snark aside, this book fell short of what I expected. The first part of the book goes over the theory of skill acquisition that he has researched. It's very short, which is unfortunate, as he does a good job of putting things together in a nice arc...
Published 14 months ago by drewrhino


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154 of 167 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Okay, not great, June 15, 2013
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This review is from: The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything . . . Fast! (Hardcover)
I guess this book may have been the result of Kaufman applying his skill acquisition methods to writing!

All snark aside, this book fell short of what I expected. The first part of the book goes over the theory of skill acquisition that he has researched. It's very short, which is unfortunate, as he does a good job of putting things together in a nice arc. But the section is so short that it feels like a top ten list rather than an actual fleshed out theory.

Then the majority of the book is taken up by rather lengthy descriptions of how he went about learning a few different skills. I found this section too focused on the particulars of each skill; and there was little to no explicit mention of how he actually applied his theory to learning new skills. I can see how some elements were in play, but it would have been nice to see more in depth analysis of how each point on his checklists matters, rather than 20 stick figure drawings of yoga poses. It's to bad, I really wanted to like this book, and many of the skills Kaufman pursues are interests of mine, but a lot of the passages just seem to be edited versions of his personal learning journal of what yoga poses or ruby commands worked, rather than an analysis of how learning skills is itself a skill.

In short, don't get burned like me, wait for this one to go on sale, get it at the library, or just watch his YouTube videos and read his blog.
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158 of 182 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Mostly an amateur's description of some topics of interest, June 18, 2013
This review is from: The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything . . . Fast! (Hardcover)
I enjoyed Kaufman's first book and was looking forward to this one, especially since it deals with rapid learning.

Unfortunately, "The First 20 Hours" is disappointing. The initial 20% of the book describes some general and fairly superficial principles for rapid learning. The remaining 80% provides an amateur's description of six topics of personal interest. If you're interested in Yoga, ukulele, web programming, wind surfing, touch typing, or the game "Go", and further want to know what an admitted amateur has discovered for himself about these topics, then you may find this book worthwhile. Otherwise I fear you will find it just a waste of time and money.

You might assume I'm judging the book unfairly, and that the specific skills are actually being used to illustrate the application of the rapid learning principles. Oddly that is not the case. There's relatively little connection between what he writes about (say) the history and practice of Yoga and the principles expounded in the first few chapters. What you are left with is an odd "Wikipedia-grade" description of an eclectic handful of subjects. Like ... who cares?

I'm sorry for the negative tone of this review, but I was disappointed. "The First 20 Hours" was not a good purchase for me and I do not recommend it.
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Do you want to be Jack?, June 25, 2013
By 
Jack Reader "emanigol" (Dublin, GA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything . . . Fast! (Hardcover)
Before you buy this book you have to ask yourself this basic question: do you want the be a Jack of all trades or the master of some? Then, you may ponder about the "self-help-ish" or "magic number-ish" 20 hours issue (you will learn that this is the personal experience of the author). But, the title sounds too good to ignore, too enticing to leave, so you still buy the book. You will be disappointed.

You will find that the author wants to do soooooo many things, but there is never enough time to do them all. (Aren't we all staring at our bucket lists with the same quiet desperation?) But, here is a method that allows you to beat the confining principles of being realistic, prioritization AND focusing. It contains 10 principles of rapid skill acquisition (1, love the stuff; 2, focus on the stuff; 3, decide how good you really want to be; 4 through 9 are really no brainers and 10, emphasize quantity and speed) and 10 principles of effective learning (1, research the stuff; 2, just do it; 3, identify mental models, etc.). The method is then demonstrated using the author's preferred random skills: yoga, programming, typing, go, ukulele, windsurfing.

So, why will you be disappointed? Because most of us have only a few "dream skills", but would like to do them at a higher level than many disconnected things at an average/below average level. It may be the question of a high enough dose of Ritalin, but an average adult does not dream to do a periodization of 20 hour cycles of random skills. If one jumps from one skill to the next, what becomes of the necessary practice time of the earlier skill? I understand that the author simply wanted to demonstrate how well his method applies to unrelated "arts", but here is where the book falls short. Instead of demonstrating how generally applicable the method is, I would much rather get into the method itself through the acquisition of a single skill (not to forget the difference in between learning unicycling or playing the piano, doing karate or breeding Saint Bernards). Some demands extensive knowledge of theory, while others based on mostly practice. (There is also no breakdown of how the 20 hours was spent, say, while learning yoga. At one point a 90 minute instruction is mentioned, then a 3 hours instruction. How much time was spent with researching the basic theory?) Mental scaffolding or mental models/lattice work could have been used to demonstrate applicability of this single skill, instead of creating an easy target for criticism by rushing through eclectic ventures. I would have expected more learning about learning itself and how elements of knowledge/skill aquisition are similar (but not the same) in between widely varied topics. But it is questionable, if there is one general "learning DNA" that could generate both flea an and elephant skills.

Principle 3 of rapid skill acquisition "Define your target performance level" is why most of us will give up on this book. At the end it is not about frustration barriers, 20 hours, methods or skill acquisition, but dealing with plateaus. George Leonard in his excellent book "Mastery" describes exactly the type of path this author wanders upon. It is the "Dabbler", the eternal kid. The end of the first 20 hours may actually signify the first inevitable plateau, where admitting how demanding something can be and how much more effort and commitment it requires to move on to the next level is simply dismissed by moving on to a brand new project. I may be wrong, but the "target performance level" is much more of the journey itself than a destination.
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95 of 119 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Learn anything you want with this book!, June 12, 2013
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This is a very particular book about a very particular topic: skill acquisition.
As soon as I saw Josh was going to publish a new book about this (almost mysterious) topic, I immediately knew it was going to be great. Just as his past book, The Personal MBA.

As soon as you start reading the book, you will be surprised, as this book is not what you expect it is. But wait, that's not a bad thing. In fact, that's great.

Instead of explaining the psycological side of skill acquisition, or instead of showing you some random scientific studies about the topic (as almost any other book on the topic has done), he starts right off the bat with the method he used to acquire 6 skills: yoga, programming, touch typing, go, ukulele and windsurfing.
Yes, quite random skills, you may think. But that's also great. Why? Because you can extrapolate many of the principles of how he learned those skills to similar skills.

For example, if you want to learn a martial art, you may see a lot of similarities with the windsurfing experience he had.
If you want to learn how to program any language, you can almost copy paste what he did to learn Ruby.
If you want to learn how to play a new instrument, the same applies.

The book can be separated in two parts: at the beginning, he shows you with no fluff the 10 principles of rapid skill acquisition, and the 10 principles of effective learning. Even though he explains the 10 principles quite fast, don't worry, there's not many more things to talk about about those principles.
Then, in the second part, he starts to explain how he learned all those 6 skills.

The big advantage of this book is that you will learn at firsthand how you can also learn almost any skill you want.

The big disadvantage this book has is that he goes to explain each skill quite deeply. You will get kinda bored with many of the things he explains, but hey, if you are as curious as me, you will still enjoy it (it's very interesting to know how Go and Yoga were developed).

So you may not see many golden nuggets throughout the book as you may expect. What you will get is the "idea" of how you can learn anything just by applying a very specific and simple method.

This book can be summarized using the Pareto Law: the 20% of this book will teach you everything you need to know about skill acquisition; the other 80% just proves it.
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72 of 92 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The First 20 Hours: How to Become a Poseur... Fast, June 16, 2013
By 
RF (Seattle, wA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything . . . Fast! (Hardcover)
Assuming this book was already in the works last November, then there must have been a serious "Oh s@!t!" moment for the author when Tim Ferriss' book, "The 4 Hour Chef" was released and he realized, "We're saying the same thing. Mine's just not as good!" If this book wasn't already underway, then someone should call foul-play because the similarities are conspicuous: An approach to rapid skill acquisition that involves deconstructing something into its most basic components and a focus on the highest value activities, an emphasis on language-acquisition, a Tiger Woods comparison and a semi-rebuttal to Malcolm Gladwell and the "10,000 Rule." That's just the beginning.

(Josh goes beyond Tim here and includes the tasteless subtitle, "Damn You, Malcolm Gladwell", calling out a man who has written three of the most influential books of the 21st century. Ballsy, to start. Besides that, the bone with Gladwell seems misguided as he was evaluating what accounted for the humongous gap of success between the likes of The Beatles ["Bigger than Jesus"] or Bill Gates [one of the wealthiest men...ever!], and their contemporaries. The theory was about lopsided success at the most extreme levels not general skill acquisition. Finally, it's just poor form. Don't bite the hand that feeds you. Gladwell's conclusions were way more influential and compelling than anything you're going to find here).

But I digress.

My disappointment with this book isn't so much that this approach wouldn't, or doesn't, work, it's that the book is incredibly underwhelming, skimpy at best, and none of the author's results or conclusions are all that striking, rapid, or convincing.

The introduction can be summed up like this: Pick a skill you're interested in, break it down, buy some books or watch some hi-res Youtube videos on the topic, practice for about 20 hours, and you can become... mediocre. The next six chapters attempt to demonstrate this through some of Josh's own projects.

Some examples of skimpiness and advice on what's to come:
- Two checklists that sum up the entire process.
- Explanations of the learning curve. Thank you. God, I've been wondering about this. Glad to have it finally broken down for me! (Oh yeah, Tim's book had this too).
- 6 pages of stick figures doing yoga poses.
- A chapter on computer programming, with pages of irrelevant code that you should skip entirely, unless you're really lost and in need of direction such as, "I already have a computer, which is a start: You can't program without one" (pg 89). Now that you've got that covered...
- A chapter on touch typing that you should also skip entirely.
- A chapter on the board game Go, which I'd never heard of, and that was moderately interesting, but again, pages and pages of diagrams, skimming, and more gems like, "Mind = Blown. This game is huge."
- Ukelele and windsurfing.

Aside from the annoying, self-congratulatory tone throughout ("I'm effectively a business professor, but I don't work for a university" [pg 70]), probably the saddest part of this book is that the author's conclusions about acquiring new skills don't actually match what his experiences testing these theories are telling us. At the end of 20 hours of yoga practice, he concludes that it has some benefits, he likes it, and he'll keep doing it at home. After 20 hours of practicing Go (or writing and programming), he concludes, "I have mixed feelings about Go... my leisure time is limited, and Go seems to require the same sort of intense, focused concentration that writing and programming demand. While Go can be fun, at the end of a long day, Go feels a bit too much like work." In other words, he's getting his ass kicked by people online, and realizing it takes more than 20 hours to get to the point where it doesn't feel like work, i.e. The steep part of the learning curve. He'll come back to this one later, when he has more time to devote to it. He's learned to play some basic songs on the ukulele and has completed a live performance (Kudos. Seriously, Kudos), and will continue to sing and play for/with his daughter, which is sweet, but we've also heard quite a lot about her by this point... As for wind-surfing, not so much: "I tally up my total practice hours, and come up short of my goal: nine hours of practice total, far less than the twenty I wanted to spend by this point. I spent more time than that on the water paddleboarding." But at least we get a nice promise: "By the time you read this, it will once again be windsurfing season... I'll reacquire the basic level of skill quickly." Meaning, like, the ability to stand up on the board.

So, self-admittedly, he didn't really learn each of these skills. He just dabbled in them and scratched some curiosity itches. Three of six would be generous. One of them he's giving up on completely because progressing any further will take more time, and another he only did for 9 hours. Yet despite all of this, he feels justified in saying, "In less than a year, I learned six complex skills." He finishes with the sage advice that, "If you want to acquire a new skills, you have to practice. There is no other way." Gold.

So, what to make of "The First 20 Hours"?

Well, if you're the type who equates trying windsurfing a few times with actually possessing the skill of windsurfing, or considers it remarkable and rapid progress to have gotten better at a complex board game by having read a few books and played the game online 33 times, or if you're just the type that likes to have stories on-hand of all the cool feats you're accomplishing so that you can tell people all about them at your next party (when you really only know OF them, or have tried them for maybe a few hours), then you'll probably like this book. (Note: Even if you're good, don't mention the online gaming. Just don't).

Personally, this isn't the type of "learning" or "skill acquisition" that I'm particularly interested in. This is poseurism. This is gathering stones (not conquering territory) exemplified, and if "The Personal MBA" is the result of 10,000 hours, then this book is what you get from the first 20.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Save your time reading this book and go learn something on your own., August 15, 2013
My viewpoint is that when I read a book or attend a lecture if I can get one useful idea, it was worthwhile. This was not worthwhile. I really hoped/expected that this book might have some useful tricks and/or tips on learning a new skill. And while it made a small attempt at doing that in the beginning of the book by giving extremely obvious suggestions on how to approach a new subject, the vast majority of the book (80%+) was spent going through a detailed synopsis of how he tried to learn several skills, which is not helpful at all in learning how to learn new skills. it was probably reasonably helpful if you wanted some information on those skills in particular, but did nothing for the process of skill acquisition in general.

The best advice the book gave was that new skills are difficult in the beginning, so don't get bogged down in not understanding everything right away...don't be afraid; jump in and learn anyway.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not terrible,but pretty weak, June 24, 2013
By 
sien (Melbourne, AU) - See all my reviews
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The First 20 Hours (2013) by Josh Kaufman is a pretty thin book on learning new skills and learning in general. The book is pretty much an essay extended into a book. Kaufman’s book is about how to obtain the basics of a skill in 20 hours. Kaufman wrote a successful book called The Personal MBA. Kaufman is the self-help guru for the Hacker News set.
Kaufman has 10 rules for Rapid Skill Acquisition and ten major principles of effective learning. They include such gems as ‘Research the skill and related topics’ and ‘eliminate distractions in your environment’. Personally I’ve always liked to work on nuclear engineering while under gunfire, but these tips may work for the author. However, some of the tips do have some merit. The idea of giving pretty much anything you decide to take up 20 hours of concentrated effort is worthwhile. Also fast feedback loops, decomposing things are worthwhile. Kaufman also makes the point that you ‘make time’ for something rather than having time.
For most of the rest book Kaufman writes up varies activities he has used the approach he describes for. They are doing yoga, altering his web site and writing a web application, learning go, learning the Ukulele and learning to wind surf. It’s pretty clever to write a self-help book and use your diaries of what you are doing as well.
The book isn’t worthless but it’s really not up to much. I’ve also learned something valuable, before buying a book check around for some negative reviews if it’s written by an author with a web following.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disproves his own theory, May 26, 2014
By 
CMH (Canby, OR United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything . . . Fast! (Hardcover)
First, this information is so basic and out there in so many other places that at best, this should have been a blog posting or an article, not a book. Second The First Twenty Hours smacks of a guy just trying to get a book published, any book published. The title is trying to show contrast to Gladwell's work simply as a way to get you to pick it up. In fact he mentions Mr. Gladwell at the beginning and points out that the 10,000 hour rule is about mastering something and in 20 hours he is just going for competency. I am amazed that the people at Pinguin thought this worthy of firing up the presses.

Other's have summarized The First 20 Hours in a sentence or two so I will discuss how he disproves his own theory. Kaufman's thesis is that you can become competent (the skill becomes functional or fun) at anything in 20 hours of intentional, focused practice. He even suggests this is possible with academic skills like languages. He cites an example of a friend who taught himself English by interacting with English speakers..... but Kaufman fails to point out how long it took his friend to become competent. Here is the crux of the issue. Kaufman succeeded in getting to a basic level of skill in about 20 hours with things that were primarily physical activities if you only count physical practice time and not time spent researching and learning about the activity. Only actual, physical practice of the skill is counted in his 20 hours, no research or knowledge acquisition.

Where he fails miserably is with anything more academic; as demonstrated in the chapter where he tries to learn the game Go. He does research and learns a great deal about Go and the strategy of the game (this doesn't count in his 20 hours) and at the end of 20 hours of focused practice he really can only play Go based puzzles on his iPhone or small games against the computer. 20 hours is not nearly enough practice to play in a competent way against a real opponent. He sums up the chapter on Go with a straw-man argument so obvious as to be sad.

"There is no universal law that says you have to master everything you ever learn..... you don't have to be a black belt in everything to have a satisfying life."

The problem here is that mastery isn't the premise of the book, basic competency is the premise of the book. Kaufman tries to explain away the failure of 20 hours to give him competency in Go by saying that it's ok not to master everything. I actually said "logical fallacy!" out loud while reading. Glad I wasn't in a coffee shop.

Intentional, concentrated practice will get you far in learning something new. He is right there. But if anything, this book proves that the number of hours needed to gain a functional level of skill varies widely by the skill you are trying to acquire, with academic disciplines requiring a great deal more time than more physical skills like typing.

There you go, a book that disproves it's own thesis and yet somehow got published. With that, I think Josh Kaufman met his real goal.
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23 of 30 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The first 20 hours are the easy part, June 27, 2013
the book offers a basic 10 steps to acquire skills. Like "choose a topic of interest".
The rest of the book consists of some basic intros into various "skills". The descriptions are very easy to read, but they are not a great tutorial and they do not show anything special about learning.

Yoga
His wife is a yoga teacher and his "secret" is, that he makes her show him some bends. great. The real problem about yoga is not that there is anything complicated about the exercises. Its the very very frustrating fact that it takes weeks and weeks just to touch your toes with your fingers - something he could do when he started. So he doesn't even understand why yoga can be hard in the first place. And he had 15 lessons before he even "started" to learn it so, yes, of course it was easy for him.

Programming
I am a computer programmer and believe me the first 20 hours in a new programming language are the easy part. It gets much more complicated once you leave tutorial land and are stuck in a project of yours. So, again, he only talks about the easy part (learning the basics) and leaves out the hard part. And again he already did know the basics about programming - something my students have a surprisingly hard time to understand.

Conclusion
The hardest part about learning is not learning: The hard parts are
- forgetting
- sticking with it for weeks and months
Two topics that are not really present in his 20 dedicated hours approach. So the book is actually fun to read, but it will not help you learn anything faster.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, Great Tips, Very Good Case Studies, July 31, 2013
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This review is from: The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything . . . Fast! (Hardcover)
I have followed Josh Kaufman since reading The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business, one of the best books on business that I've ever read. I was really excited to pick this book up at first, but after glancing through the table of contents and flipping through the chapters, I was pretty sure it was not going to be my favorite book on learning. The problem, in my mind, was that the bulk of the book was simply anecdotal, and the meat of the book was thin - really only two chapters at the beginning. I also recently picked up two excellent books on learning, The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life and Mastery, and did not see how this could compare.

Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised after reading it. The 10 Principles of Rapid Skill Acquisition and the 10 Principles of Effective Learning may be short chapters and seem simple, but they contain valuable advice. They will help you sort through what you should be learning and how to pick it up quickly. I thought that this would be the most interesting part of the book, but it turns out the case studies included were much more rewarding.

Yoga: Kaufman explains his method for learning yoga quickly. This is a good example of learning, but also a great example of teaching - I learned more about yoga then I ever cared to know and it was actually interesting.

Programming: This is easily the most technical chapter and the hardest to understand, but also the most inspiring. Seeing something as daunting as learning a computer language from scratch broken down so quickly was pretty amazing. I added learning Ruby to my list.

Touch-Typing: Interesting study about typing and switching to a more efficient keyboard. One tip from this chapter that is worth the price of the book: Practice skill acquisition and sleep within four hours. Sleep helps cement new skills (especially motor skills) into your long term memory.

Go: Again, knew nothing about this, interesting to read about a history of a board game.

Ukelele: Learning to play a ukelele in 10 days . . . pretty amazing case study. This has gone onto my list as well, though I'm not sold on a ukelele over a guitar.

Windsurfing: Interesting chapter on learning a very physical skill.

The case studies will help you craft and break down your own learning projects. They are great, and will be immensely helpful for me as I choose what and how to study.

If you are really interested in learning skills quickly, I would highly recommend picking up The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life and using the DiSSS CaFE learning method in conjunction with this book. Using the techniques and seeing the examples from both books will help you start learning on your own very quickly. Honestly, it would be hard to invest your $40 on two better books . . . if you want to learn, start here. Highly Recommended.
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The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything . . . Fast!
The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything . . . Fast! by Josh Kaufman (Hardcover - June 13, 2013)
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