Despite my rant a few weeks back on the podcast-book marketing relationship, there are a few authors I will check out when they appear on podcasts I’m subscribed to. For instance, Ryan Holiday just released his new book and is out promoting it to various podcast audiences.
He appeared on Rolf Pott’s podcast, Deviate, and had a conversation about what it’s like to write a big idea book. Towards the end of the episode, he makes an off-hand remark on getting ideas from recently published books, and how he chooses not to do this because it tends to result in recycling the same academic studies. Given how much I rant about animated bibliographies and short term content bias, I was happy to see some convergence in our ideas – that my amateur attempt on commenting on culture is shared by people I admire and hold in regard.
I’ve transcribed his remarks below, but you can go here to listen to the episode yourself. Holiday’s comments begin at the 50:37 mark:
Potts: And that’s why you should feel blessed not to be an academic, right, because that’s such a useful model from which to write a book. The academic world has these different hoops to jump through that often aren’t as useful. And I would think that, sometimes, there’s types of research, like, do you do much Google or Wikipedia research, or is it mostly books?
Holiday: Yeah, I mean, you have to be careful, obviously, relying on Wikipedia, but yeah you do wanna go get facts here and there, and you gotta check stuff out. I like to use obituaries. Let’s say I’m writing about a modern person and they’ve died. New York Times obituaries, Washington Post obituaries often have lots of really interesting stuff. Then you can be really confident that dates and places and names are all correct because they’ve been properly fact-checked. So I like to do stuff like that. I watch documentaries from time to time. In this book, there wasn’t really a great book about Marina Abramović, but there was some really great New York Times reporting about her Artist is Present exhibit, and there’s also a documentary with the same name. So I’m willing to get stuff from anywhere provided I believe it’s verified or accurate, but you can’t be choosy about where your stuff comes from. And in fact, if you’re only drawing from the best selling books of the last couple of years, just as an aside, an example, I find when I read a lot of big idea business books, it feels like they’re all relying on the same fifteen academic studies. It’s “the will power” experiment, and “the paradox of choice” experiment, and the “Stanford Prison” experiment! They think it’s new because it’s new to them, but if they’d read a little bit more widely in their own space, they’d realize that they’d be better off going a bit deeper or treading on some newer ground.
(Note: I’ve lightly edited the transcript to remove filler words and some idiolects).