How Many Books Must a Person Read to Be Educated?

Mysteries and Histories

For Dangerous Children, I recommend reading between 5,000 and 10,000 books by the age of 21, including the books read to them as very young children. Books provide children with vocabulary as well as proxy knowledge of the larger world that they will eventually inhabit.

If you are reading and learning, you will have less time for getting into trouble. It is difficult to read while you are inebriated, gambling, driving too fast, or going out and committing petty crimes. Reading can also help keep a person away from social media — a particularly destructive habit.

I recommend that adults average about 3 books per week or greater. With the dawn of the cheap or free ebook, it is much easier and less expensive to carry around a large library in one’s shirt pocket or handbag.

There is a huge difference in the quality of knowledge that one gets from books, and the quality of knowledge that one gets from television, movies, social media, YouTube, or other “short attention span” forms of media.

Of course, not everyone can read well with their eyes, and for them there are audiobooks. Audiobooks are becoming much more widely available and one can find a wide selection of free audiobooks online.

But You Must Also Go Beyond Reading

Authors of books can serve as mentors to both young people and adults, even long after the author has died. But there is a limit to the amount of real time feedback that a reader can get from a book if the reader is confused about something he has read. That is why real-time real-world mentors are so important.

For any given area of knowledge or experience, books can provide a baseline of knowledge and ideas for the person’s imagination — grist for the mill. That kind of knowledge is crucial. But when a child or an adult needs to expand his skills — or when he needs to expand his knowledge in a field that has a lot of learning blocks — a teacher or a more capable peer can get a person past the roadblocks.

In other words, for most people there are limits to what they can learn on their own without access to someone who can answer their questions and give them suggestions for expanding their thinking or for practicing (See: Zone of proximal development)

Of course, if you are Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein, those limits may not apply.

You may have heard about the 10,000 hour rule for developing expertise. It is best to consider that figure to be more of a rule of thumb. If you listen to the podcast at the link above, you will better understand what you might expect from 10,000 hours of practice to learn a skill.

The 10,000 book rule for becoming an educated person is likewise more of a rule of thumb rather than a hard prediction or rule. If one reads good books carefully and thoughtfully — beginning at an early age — he will build a scaffolding of knowledge that can be elaborated and further developed his entire life.

The Dangerous Child is expected to acquire the skills to support himself in three different ways by the time he reaches the age of 18. To do this, the child must have learned to be self-starting in his reading, in his practicing of skills, and in his seeking out of mentors to help expand his sphere of skills. The base curriculum for Dangerous Children can provide a useful foundation of knowledge and skills formation. But unless the child has learned to teach himself and motivate himself to move along his own path, he will remain limited in comparison with what he might have achieved.

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