Book Summaries with ChatGPT

I’ve always been interested in services like Blinkist and Shortform which provide you summaries of popular books, allowing you to learn the book’s core lessons in a fraction of the time.

While it’s not a 1:1 substitute for reading the book still find them helpful. They’re like movie trailers, letting me find books I’d love to read, and pass on books that don’t get much deeper than their core thesis.

Unfortunately these services often have low quality summaries. Reading a book is half what the author says and half how they’re saying it. These summaries typically suck the soul from the content they’re distilling.

While ChatGPT’s writing is equally soulless, the interactivity more than makes up for the milquetoast style.

With ChatGPT I can get a solid summary of any book and dig in where I want. Here’s the gist of the prompt I might use:

Please give me a detailed book summary of the book The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel. Make sure you include the key insights and teach me the lessons I would learn from reading it.

I’ll put ChatGPT’s response in a toggle here:

Psychology of Money summary "The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness" by Morgan Housel, is a distinctive book about personal finance and investing that goes beyond the numbers and focuses on human behavior and our relationship with money. The book does not provide specific investment advice but provides a framework to understand and control how emotions and biases influence our financial decisions.

Here are the key insights and lessons from the book:

  1. No One’s Crazy: People make decisions about money based on their personal experiences, which can be different for everyone. It’s important to understand and respect this when considering others’ financial decisions or advice.
  2. Luck & Risk: Success and failure are not always entirely within our control. Luck and risk play significant roles in financial outcomes, often more than we realize or admit. It’s important to be humble in success and compassionate in failure.
  3. Never Enough: Greed can lead to risky decisions and ultimately financial disaster. It’s crucial to define “enough” for yourself to avoid falling into this trap.
  4. Compounding: Small, consistent, and non-immediate returns can lead to significant gains over time. This concept is true not only for monetary investments but also for skills and knowledge.
  5. Getting Wealthy vs. Staying Wealthy: These require different skills and mindsets. Getting rich might require taking risks and being optimistic, while staying wealthy requires frugality, skepticism, and being alert to risks.
  6. Tails, You Win: In a world that is governed by randomness, the most significant events are driven by rare and unpredictable outlier events. Understanding this can help in managing risk and can lead to outsized rewards.
  7. Freedom: The highest form of wealth is the freedom to choose what to do with your time. Money’s greatest intrinsic value is its ability to give you control over your time.
  8. Man in the Car Paradox: If you’re driving a $100,000 car, you’re not only poorer than you were when you bought the car, but you might also fail to impress the people you intend to impress.
  9. Wealth is What You Don’t See: Wealth is the money that you haven’t spent. The most financially successful people are often those whose wealth is invisible.
  10. You’ll Change: Our financial decisions should consider that the future might be different from the present. Goals and desires change over time, so financial planning should be flexible and adaptable.

The book emphasizes that managing money isn’t necessarily about what you know; it’s about how you behave. Understanding these psychological aspects can greatly improve your ability to make sound financial decisions.

From there I read through and ask specific questions about different sections that catch my interest. I request detailed summaries of specific chapters or ask for further examples. The interactivity and ability to ask questions about the content content leads to more engaging learning than the passive act of reading a typical book summary.

Accessing challenging material can be made easier with this summary-first approach. It’s a practice called Educational Scaffolding. It’s much easier to grasp tricky concepts if you first learn a simplified version. Learning in this way through ChatGPT makes me feel like I can take baby steps towards any challenging topic.

After writing this I found that Tiago Forte is doing something similar, but even more detailed and specific: How to Summarize Books Using ChatGPT