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3.5 out of 5 stars
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on 1 July 2013
The other reviews are right when they say the first two chapters have the meat and the rest is a list of pointless examples.

Even then, "the meat" is hardly rocket science. This has been well reviewed by others, but I am at a loss to know why. The useful advice (essentially "break up the task, cut out distractions, and make the effort") is all quite true. Do it and you will learn. But we all know that already. If you think that is a great insight you need far more help than this book gives.

Who am I to say these will help nobody ? If the first two chapters and examples work for you then good. But before you buy, do make sure you check out the first two chapters and an example so you know what you are buying.

I was livid that I had bought a Kindle book online which I would never have bought in paper format in a bookshop. But fortunately Kindle's "quick return" policy means I was allowed to return it. I did.
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on 3 June 2013
Being a fan of Josh Kaufman's last book "The Personal MBA" I was excited to hear he was working on another, especially in another area that I am very interested in - skill acquisition.

Josh Kaufman has a remarkable ability to break down a complex subject into easily digestible and very useful pieces. This time he was going to apply that ability to acquiring new skills. Being something of a learning addict myself, I could not wait to get my hands on his new book.

Having now read it, within 20 hours I might add, I thought I'd share what I thought about his new book.

Honestly, it's good. It's well written, concise, sometimes I even laughed out loud. It was truly an insightful read about how he broke down skill acquisition and how he applied it to various skills he acquired while working on this book. I can see how his new - I suppose you can call it a "skill acquisition method" - can help me to overcome emotional barriers and devoting 20 hours of deliberate practice to whatever skill I want to learn. I already have compiled a list of 12 items I want to explore over the next year.

So why four stars? Well, the thing is, the actual theory and model was explained in the space of 2 chapters. The first chapter spelled out the context, and the rest of the book were essentially case studies - or rather a documentary of his experiments and what he managed to achieve in 20 hours by applying his model in acquiring various skills.

Don't get me wrong, the case studies were insightful, and provided clues about what to expect when you try to apply the theory. My favourite chapters were learning to touch-type the Colemack keyboard layout - which explained brain plasticity, and the chapter about learning to windsurf which I found especially amusing.

But at the same time, I felt like a sense of - why am I reading this?

I found myself skim reading the rest of the book, digging out any useful insights that popped up. But otherwise I was somewhat uninterested about reading his personal exploits - most of which seemed to provide superficial details about how he applied his method. I'd rather he had chosen to break down each step of his new model and devoted more time in explaining each step in more depth, or even provide case studies focusing around each principal itself, rather than half a dozen case studies that glossed over the entire methodology without going into each step in much depth.

It would also appear that after 20 hours, you'll also only really have a superficial level of competency in whatever skill you choose to learn. After all, depending on the skill 20 hours is not a lot of time. Those first 20 hours are critical, and the book provides excellent ideas on how to maximize those first 20 hours. But don't expect too much - especially if the skill you are trying to learn is complex or difficult.

Having now read the title again properly "The First 20 Hours: How to learn anything ...Fast" I now realize that that's exactly what the premise of the book was about - the first 20 hours - I suppose its my own fault for making the assumption this book was about becoming amazingly competent within 20 hours. It's not at all, it's a more of a book about getting started and getting as much out of the first 20 hours as you can.

If you're a learning addict like myself, this book will be invaluable. It will change your approach to acquiring new skills forever. The first 3 chapters will truly be enlightening .. just don't expect the rest of the book to be as engaging.

Overall its a fascinating book, and I am glad I read it. And it's hard to fault his work. I just wish there was more content that followed in the style of the first 3 chapters, and I know that that's asking for a bit much. But still.

A big thank you to Josh Kaufman for writing this book. I'm not ungrateful, this book is a welcome addition to the few books that exist on the subject of accelerated skill acquisition and I appreciate his efforts on this somewhat tricky subject.
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on 25 June 2013
I have been teaching adults for 20+ years, let alone 20 hours, so had to give this book a go.

I found it just before it was due to be published, so pre-ordered and got a link to three A4 .pdfs of checklists which I really loved, and which remain on my wall. On the first page of the book, I laughed out loud with recognition of the picture Kaufman paints of himself as a serial learner, and drank in the first two chapters, eager for more. However, I learnt nothing that I hadn't seen summarised on those three sheets of A4.

The first two chapters, brilliant, although much of what is said is based on known learning theory which is not quoted, so either Kaufman spontaneously reinvented the main tenets of accelerated learning and experiential learning, or it has been dumbed down for a "popular" audience.

I found the case studies of Kaufman's own learning boring and skimmed over them, a shame as they take up most of the book. However, I know I have a massive activist learning style, so am sure reflecters and theorists will get a lot more out of this than I did.

The checklists will be used as reference time and time again, and the call to create a list of stuff I wanted to learn and take it seriously has resulted in my first ever personal learning plan outside of the workplace (piano, thai cooking, interior design, creating a mobile app, etc.). So I guess I'm glad I bought it, and will happily pass it on for someone else to get the same kick into action.

As a call to action, and a scaffolding for learning, worth every penny.
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on 10 July 2013
Similar to other reviewers I am a big fan of Josh ,his website and first book 'The personal MBA' are first class. This is a much tougher topic and on balance I think he's done a great job. As has been pointed out by others, the actual method is not new and takes little explanation - I think they are missing the point though. Knowing and doing are miles apart. Recognising this Josh has concentrated the core message up front for skimmers (a tactic recommended in PMBA, which comes with a hefty recommended reading list), focusing the rest of the book on testimonials which inspire both action and dedication. In short, the book is structured to suit the kind of people who will actually put this technique into action, rather than as a page turner for self help junkies who never actually apply their knowledge. It's a rapid skill acquisition text book and a very good one at that. Don't just buy it to read - buy it to do.
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on 10 December 2013
Like others, I was intrigued by the title - let's face it, who wouldn't want to be able to learn anything fast and be good at anything in 20 hours? It certainly beats spending 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert.

However, whilst I really liked Josh's earlier book "The Personal MBA" and would fully recommend that you do purchase/read this as it is really very good, this was a disappointment. The most value in the book was, as others have said, pretty much common sense although I did find it useful to have this articulated in an easy-to-read list form. Unfortunately, this was the limited to the first couple of chapters and probably should have been confined to a blog post or website article. The vast majority of the book was devoted to a series of case studies demonstrating how Josh put the theory into practice and whilst this was useful in parts (I found the section on consolidating a newly-acquired skill via sleep and thus scheduling practice at the end of the day to be helpful), most of the book was uninformative and bordering on the dull.

I really wanted to like this book given that the concept of becoming proficient in anything in 20 hours has to be appealing, and because I thought The Personal MBA was first class, but it was just impossible given the content. Put in this way, if I'd read this prior to discovering The Personal MBA, I wouldn't have bothered to read another book by this author. And given the quality of The Personal MBA (regardless of whether you agree with his basic premise in the book that you don't need to spend £000's on a business school MBA), this is a real shame, and a warning to others of how easily you can damage a good brand through poor content.

I'd recommend that you check out The Personal MBA instead!

The Personal MBA: A World-Class Business Education in a Single Volume
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on 24 November 2013
Unlike some of the other reviewers, I quite enjoyed reading the examples, though I wished he had included learning a language as one of them. (There is something on the website). I think they are important in order to give credibility to the idea that 20 hours is enough to do some worthwhile learning, and they are varied enough that many possible projects will have elements in common with one of them.

For me what made it worth spending the money, despite the fact that the 'method' doesn't really amount to anything very different from what I normally do when obsessed with a new project (like the author I'm a serial learner!) was the concept that as little as 20 hours was enough to accomplish something significant. I can't tell you how many times in my life I have tried to learn to play a musical instrument and given up in frustration. This time, I am tracking every bit of practice I do and committed to playing for 20 hours before deciding I can't do it. I've just hit the 10 hour mark, and I feel I have already got further than I ever have before. My aim is to be able to play at least 3 carols competently by Christmas and I am confident that it is going to happen. I would never have got past the 'why am I doing this I clearly have no talent I've failed so many times before' stage if it wasn't for the 20 hours idea. It also really motivates me to practice since I'm clocking up the hours (on an iPhone app) and seeing the 10 and 15 minutes's add up. It takes the pressure off, since just clocking up the time is a 'success' in itself , so even a not very successful practice is rewarding.

Updating this to say I have just reached 20 hours in just under a month and really feel the '20 hour' target helped me to stick with it. I've taken up learning an instrument several times in my life and never got this far before. I shall continue tracking practice time as it is very motivating and minutes soon mount up.
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on 23 June 2013
After reading the first three chapters of this book, I was certain this was going to be a five-star book. Mr Kaufman manages to explain the basic tenets of rapid skill acquisition clearly, convincingly, and yet concisely, and his plan for the rest of the book sounds solid: standing by the principle that practice trumps theoretical learning, the remaining chapters will be case-studies of rapid skill acquisition. Great idea!

Sadly, the case studies don't deliver on the built-up expectations: there's too much "what", and too little "how".

Take eg the chapter about computer programming: Mr Kaufman explains (and he doesn't do a bad job) such details as what loops and conditionals are, and what SQL queries look like, and how you wrap those with an object-relational mapper, and how he used sites like Stack Overflow and Hacker News (great choices, incidentally) to find lots of information in a very short time. That's all well if this was a book about programming. But it's not: what I would have hoped to read about at this point, is how, approaching the subject of programming as a novice, he managed to seek out two such high-quality resources - if you're completely new to something, how do you recognize quality? That is a relevant problem for "the first 20 hours" of anything, and something I could take into other areas than programming.

Similarly, in the same chapter we learn all kinds of details about Heroku and Sinatra and DataMapper and what not, when actually I don't care so much what software stack Mr Kaufman chose, but rather how I should go about choosing so quickly, in a domain that is all new to me? Mr Kaufman rightfully warns that one can easily get stuck reading Stack Overflow all day without making choices, but he doesn't explain how to avoid that trap - how much preparatory research is enough, and how much is too little? Did he set himself a time limit? What rules of thumb make him decide that it's ok to copy "git" commands without looking them up, while a "bundler" warning prompts him to read about that library (and spend a section on it)?

In the end, I come away well-impressed that anyone could learn so much about yoga and programming and the ukulele etc etc in so few hours, but I'm still not clear how I could become as fast.
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on 24 April 2014
The basic idea is good and would have made an interesting blog entry, but I guess you can't make much money from one of those, so the rest of the book is padded out with stuff like the history of yoga and how much he loves his wife and little daughter... Pick it up in a bookshop and skim the first two chapters. Then buy another book - bookshop owners have to eat too.
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on 6 July 2013
I came across this book in a well known bookshop when visiting London recently. The title intrigued me so I bought it. It turned out to be another one of those books where the best bit was the title.

This book offers nothing new. There is no special formula for acquiring a new skill other than commonsense an a bit of logical thought. Furthermore this book is mainly full of the author's learning experiences of windsurfing, computer programming, a Chinese game, practicing yoga, etc. The only relevant bit was the first few pages of the book. The book suggests that the big formula for learning something in 20 hours dedicated learning time is:
1. Choose a lovable project.
2. Focus your energy on one skill at a time.
3. Define your target performance level.
4. Deconstruct the skill into subskills
5. Obtain critical tools.
6. Eliminate barriers to practice.
7. Make dedicated time for practice.
8. Create fast feedback loops.
9. Practice by the clock in short bursts
10. Emphasise quantity and speed

That's it. If you were expecting something different you will be disappointed. That's what I spent my £12.99 on. What a waste!

As always, buyer beware!
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on 22 January 2015
During my university days I used to read a lot of self development books. But after moving into the demanding world of programming, I did not find time to read any books on this topic. I opted for this as the title was appealing. At least the title appeared too good to be true.

Author motivates us with the first few chapters itself. The write up on quality pots in chapter 2, was an excellent motivation to become a learning addict. The mistakes I have been making till date was, I didn't keep my toolset ready and I did not allocate time for acquiring my skill.

I read only the first 3 chapters in detail. From fourth till ninth, the author is discussing his own experience and how he is acquiring the skill. So I went through the first kick off sessions and then the closing sessions skipping the detailed instructions.

I was doing some breathing and fitness routine every now and then. After chapter 4 I regularized this a bit as morning time was allocated for the same.

Went through the Programming chapter in detail page by page as I'am also involved in the profession. Applied the steps to enhance my skills in new technologies in my own (programming) area. This chapter also helped me to keep the fire burning in my existing projects and breathe life into some of my old skills. There are a lot of details on ruby programming. In future, If I ever need to learn ruby, I think I have found the correct place :-)

The touch typing chapter was useful in giving us a list of websites where we can test our typing skills. This chapter also explains how our brains work when we sleep and why before bed is the best time to learn a new skill.

I browsed through the chapters on acquiring Go and Ukulele paying attention ONLY to the beginning and end to understand how the 20 hours concepts are used. Picked up a few good proverbs from Go. Since I wish to learn the Nunchaku (Maybe after I retire), I will comeback at a later date to read the chapter on Ukulele and follow the methodology.

I may use the concepts in the chapter on windsurfing to guide my daughter on her physical activity classes at a later date.

Again went through the final afterwards chapter in detail.

I'am not sure why so many reviewers have given a bad rating on the pretext of author moving away from topic. Actually author clearly states that, these are his goals and we could substitute this with our own goals. Author has only explained how he is preparing to encounter a to be acquired skill. Reviewing the method at the end of every chapter is an important read.

In brief, this has boosted my confidence of acquiring ANY new skill / Reactivating old skills
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