The other day, my friend Matt asked me how I choose books to read and/or purchase. Since then, I have thought more about this question. Here are my thoughts: I first found out about my favorite author, Thomas Sowell, by reading his columns in the Deseret News. I liked some of his columns so much that I would cut them out and save them, though I never owned a book of his until there was a free book givaway online—it was "Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One" which was a great read though I can't remember what I had to do to get the free book.
If I really love an author, I read whatever else that author has written. For example, since I started reading Thomas Sowell I have purchased over 15 of his books. I own some of his books in both audiobook format and traditional paper. I use this same effect for college courses and online videos. I do a lot of research about the professor before I take their class. If I have some extra time or if I need some filler credits, I will retake a course from a good teacher no matter what the subject.
As for videos, if I find great speaker, I scour the web searching for any other videos that feature that speaker. When I first saw Bjorn Lomborg's TED talk, I immediately looked for other videos about him. From that point, I purchased his book "Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming (Vintage)" which is one of the best book purchases I have made. Another TED speaker is Steven Pinker. I now have 3 of his books. His books are not only fun but provide good cerebral exercise even though I disagree with much of what he writes. Milton Friedman is another great speaker whose videos persuaded me open my wallet. I have since purchased 4 books by Milton Friedman among which is Capitalism and Freedom: Fortieth Anniversary Edition—a great read. On the website Uncommon Knowledge—where great authors and thinkers are interviewed—I found out about "Victor Davis Hanson" who mainly writes about war and war history.
Sometimes my professor or teacher will recommend or require books to read for the course. Dr. Kearl, my econ 110 teacher had us read "Armchair Economist: Economics & Everyday Life" by Steven Landsburg. I now have 3 of Landsburg's books, 2 of which (including Armchair) were awesome. One of my design teachers, Eric Gillett, recommended "The Brand Gap: Expanded Edition" by Marty Neumeier. I liked it so much that I bought "Zag: The Number One Strategy of High-Performance Brands" by the same author.
Blogs and websites are a great way to find good books and authors. I found Tyler Cowen's blog by simply looking for the best blogs on economics. I have been interested in books that he has recommended which I may read in the future, but I really loved his own book, "Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World" which is one of the most original-feeling books that I have ever read. I first heard about it on his blog, but I wasn't convinced to purchase it until I heard him talk about it on a youtube video. I think I got it the day it came out.
Recommendations or gifts from friends are always great. I still remember my friend Andrew Cottle saying, "You have got to listen to this" when he lent me the audiobook "Atlas Shrugged". I had never heard of Atlas Shrugged until then. I am currently rereading it and blogging about it chapter by chapter on the Gentlemen's Renaissance Man's Book Club for Men blog. One of the founders of the GRMBCFM and close friend Scott has recommended some great books—among them are "The Theory of the Leisure class" and "Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing (3rd Edition)."
Listening to live speakers gives me added energy and interest in books. When Arthur Brooks came to speak at BYU for a devotional, he talked about his book, "Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism". It gave such fascinating facts and figures that I also bought "Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America--and How We Can Get More of It." Both books are great references for writing.
Radio talk shows interview authors that interest me. I can't think of any books that I really loved, that I first heard about on a radio talk show. Though many times my interest in books has been strengthened after I hear about an author or book a second or third time on a radio talk show.
I find many good books simply cited or quoted in the books I read. I will eventually read "Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi since he was quoted in at least 6 of the books that I read this year.
Browsing Barnes and Nobles or Borders is always fun. I usually find books that relate to topics that I have been thinking about for a long time.
Part of finding books to read is simply finding the time to start books. The best advice that I have ever heard about reading books is by Tyler Cowen who said, “We should treat books a little more like we treat TV channels.” Many readers have the urge to finish whatever they start. This urge is non-productive. “People have this innate view — it comes from friendship and marriage — that commitment is good. Which I agree with,” he says. That view shouldn’t, he says, carry over to inanimate objects.” If we find that the book we are reading is uninteresting or has low relative value, we should immediately stop and read something else. What we have read is a sunk cost as they say in economics. We should begin reading with the question, "Is this the best available thing in the world that I could be reading right now?" It is okay to start a lot of books and not finish most of them.