Midjourney: a stack of books, ranked in hierarchy, monochromatic

How I rate the books I read

Every book note I publish on this site gets a rating. Here's how I do it and why it's useful.

I take notes when I read books. When I publish those notes, I give each book a rating from 1 to 10.

I did this to begin with because it felt like a good thing to do. In retrospect, now with many more notes published, this feels like it was a good decision. This is because it's a taste cultivation mechanism; a simple numerical rating demands an opinion of me, a ranking, and underneath it some justification (explicit or not) as to why.

Making those justifications explicit feels like the next step. It allows me to adjust some older ratings, to better guide future ones, and to inform readers why certain ratings were given in the first place.

I should say that the vast majority of the notes I publish are about non-fiction books. Fiction books are, in my view, meant to be indulged in and aren't ordinarily improved by note-taking unless as part of a formal course of study. The distribution on these ratings will be heavily skewed, too, because I want to select books that I think will score well.

You will probably disagree with some of my ratings. That's fine.

10 - Life-changing

These are books that have left a lasting impression on me, far deeper than a "Significant" shift in an opinion or a worldview. They somehow make something click inside me. Some imperceptible switch flips—THUNK—and my eyes glaze over a while. This could happen multiple times during the read or somewhere after the fact, and can happen with books of any kind. Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning had a lasting impression on me that has changed my entire outlook on life and living. It couldn't be a more different book, but The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing had just as deep an impact albeit on my views and beliefs about the practice of marketing.

9 - Significant

These books have changed my opinion, worldview, or outlook on some topic, or have opened my eyes to something I had no prior understanding of. They are excellently written and beautifully crafted. Books rated 9 or higher are the books I serially recommend to others. While they don't have the same lasting impact as a "life-changing" book, they still leave a mark. Fermat's Enigma and Good Strategy/Bad Strategy are both great examples. The former is beautifully-written and opened my eyes to the world of number theory and high level mathematics, whereas the latter completely transformed my understanding of business strategy while also somehow being a page-turner.

8 - Excellent

Excellence in how it is written, how it understands or explains a topic, or how it otherwise enriches my own understanding and appreciation for something. Gratefully, many of my book notes find their way into this rating. This is in no small part because I often quit bad books, and (usually) take care to select books that I believe will score an 8 or higher. Obviously Awesome sits neatly here because it's a fantastic explanation of a particular marketing skill that many outside of marketing will find just as relevant.

7 - Worthwhile

These are worth reading if you are specifically interested in the topic, or are working in the area that the book is about. It likely isn't good enough to warrant reading outside of that narrow audience. A good example would be The Art and Craft of Feature Writing. Unless you intend to do some feature writing, this book probably isn't that useful to you. But if you are, it's definitely worth reading.

6 - Fine

Meets expectations in a way that isn't particularly problematic or disappointing, but doesn't shine outside of that. These books toe the line of forgettability, being just above the threshold of something that could be seen as "bad." A good example is Obliquity, a book that was originally a very good article but then became a too-long book that repeated the same point again and again.

5 - Mediocre

Slap bang in the middle of no-mans land, therefore usually forgettable. Influential Internal Communication—a book I was reading to help with things I was working on in my job—ended up here because it promised much, but was then flat and largely forgettable. The enormously popular Atomic Habits ended up here for me for these exact reasons.

Note: wery few books with a rating of 4 or below appear in my book notes because I rarely finish them. If I do, it's usually because they're a) short, or b) needed for research.

4 - Disappointing

There may have been promise here, but it failed to deliver. A fantastic example is Smart Brevity: a book with a very strong, compelling core message that failed to deliver anything else that couldn't be read in the first few pages. The book was, ironically, far longer than it perhaps needed to be (and, in my opinion, seemed to be little more than a marketing tool for Axios to gain more B2B customers).

3 - Poor

Little promise expected, and even less to be found (although there may be patches, which are perhaps outdated or debunked). "Poor" books feel, I think, like bad films you can't help but watch. Example: Gary Vaynerchuk's Crush It! which I read for the sole purpose of researching my article A Plague of Gurus.

2 - Abysmal

Extremely bad, but perhaps with one or two small redeeming features. For example, a clear writing style but nonsense content. Or a good idea, but then mangled by idiocy.

1 - Excruciating

Painful to read, ugly writing, little to no utility, wrong.  I don't believe I've had the misfortune of reading one lately. And if I did, I wouldn't bother putting my notes online.

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