in Books, Technology

πŸ“š Book summaries β€” with and without AI

This is an excellent blog post on working with ChatGPT to generate insightful book summaries. It’s long, but it covers a lot of ground in terms of what the technology does well and what it struggles with right now. Jumping to the conclusion, it seems that you get much better results if you feed the tool with your own notes first; it isn’t immediately obvious that the model doesn’t have access to (or hasn’t been trained on) the contents of a particular book.

When I finish a book that I’ve enjoyed, I like to write a blog post about it. It’s this process of writing which properly embeds the book into my memory. It also gives me something that I can refer back to, which I often do. As I read, I make copious highlights β€” and occasionally, notes β€” which all go into Readwise. If the book has captured my imagination, I start writing by browsing through these highlights. Any that seem particularly important, or make or support a point that I want to make somewhere in the write-up, get copied into a draft blog post. From there I try to work out what I’m really thinking. I love this process. It takes a lot of effort, but the end result can be super satisfying.

The summary that I’ve shared most often is A Seat at The Table by Mark Schwartz, which seems to pop up in conversations at work all the time. Going back to my own blog post is a great way to refresh my memory on the key points and to continue whatever conversation I happen to be in.

My favourite write-up is Hitman by Bret Hart. I picked the book up this time last year as a holiday read. I had no idea it would have such a big impact on me, bringing back lots of childhood memories and getting me thinking about the strange ways in which the rise of the Internet has changed our world. Getting my thoughts in order after I put the book down was incredibly satisfying.

Using ChatGPT or another Large Language Model to generate a book summary for me defeats the point. The process of crafting a narrative, in my head and then on a digital page, is arguably more valuable than the output. Getting a tool to do this for me could be a shortcut to a write-up, but at the expense of me learning and growing from what I’ve read.

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