"Beginners is ultimately about more than learning. It's about the possibilities that reside in all of us."
--Daniel H. Pink, New York Times best-selling author of When, Drive, and To Sell is Human
The best-selling author of Traffic and You May Also Like gives us an inspirational journey into the transformative joys that come with starting something new, no matter your age
Why do so many of us stop learning new skills as adults? Are we afraid to fail? Have we forgotten the sheer pleasure of being a beginner? Or is it simply a fact that you can't teach an old dog new tricks?
Inspired by his young daughter's insatiable need to know how to do almost everything, and stymied by his own rut of mid-career competence, Tom Vanderbilt begins a year of learning purely for the sake of learning. He tackles five main skills (and picks up a few more along the way), choosing them for their difficulty to master and their distinct lack of career marketability--chess, singing, surfing, drawing, and juggling.
What he doesn't expect is finding himself having rapturous experiences singing Spice Girls songs in an amateur choir, losing games of chess to eight-year-olds, and dodging scorpions at a surf camp in Costa Rica. Along the way, he interviews dozens of experts to explore the fascinating psychology and science behind the benefits of becoming an adult beginner. Weaving comprehensive research and surprising insight gained from his year of learning dangerously, Vanderbilt shows how anyone can begin again--and, more important, why they should take those first awkward steps. Ultimately, he shares how a refreshed sense of curiosity opened him up to a profound happiness and a deeper connection to the people around him--and how small acts of reinvention, at any age, can make life seem magical.
About the Author
TOM VANDERBILT has written for many publications, including The New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street Journal Magazine, Popular Science, Financial Times, Smithsonian, and London Review of Books, among many others. He is a contributing editor of Wired UK, Outside, and Artforum. He is author of You May Also Like: Taste in an Age of Endless Choice, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), and Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America. He has appeared on a wide range of television and radio programs, from the Today show to the BBC's World Service to NPR's Fresh Air. He has been a visiting scholar at NYU's Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, a research fellow at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, a fellow at the Design Trust for Public Space, and a winner of the Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant, among other honors. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
"A great book about the power of being a beginner."
—Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project
"Tom Vanderbilt shows us why it’s never too late to be a beginner, and that there should be no shame associated with the word ‘dilettante.’ Now I’m off to learn how to play the trombone, speak Portuguese and bake soufflés"
— A.J. Jacobs, bestselling author of The Year of Living Biblically
“Tom Vanderbilt’s book explores how to learn completely new skills, how to change our world - even after we’re supposed to be done with schooling. This is a book about how to become a beginner again, and it makes you want to plunge in with both feet.”
— Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit and Smarter Faster Better
“Tom Vanderbilt elegantly and persuasively tackles one of the most pernicious of the lies we tells ourselves--that the pleasures of learning are reserved for the young. Beginners belongs with David Epstein's Range on the list of books that have changed the way I understand my own limitations."
— Malcolm Gladwell, best-selling author of Outliers
“Beginners is ultimately about more than learning. It’s about the possibilities that reside in all of us.”
— Daniel H. Pink, New York Times bestselling author of When, Drive, and To Sell is Human
"Vanderbilt dedicates a chapter or so to each pursuit, using his personal narrative, rich in obligatory self-deprecation and infectious excitement, to introduce relevant scientific studies... Vanderbilt [relies] on a keen instinct for interesting characters and a willingness to let stories unfold at their own pace. The result is an entertaining read that avoids the trap of forced anecdotes and excessive contrarianism that plague lesser titles in the genre... When read against the backdrop of the current pandemic, however, Beginners attains a deeper level of meaning... Beginners provides a primer of sorts for re-engaging with life"
—Cal Newport, The New York Times
“Tom Vanderbilt takes up pursuits that are actually fun—surfing, chess, even juggling—and finds power in being a novice.”
—Matthew Kronsberg, Bloomberg
"Vanderbilt is good on the specific joys and embarrassments of being a late-blooming novice, or “kook,” as surfers sometimes call gauche beginners... I was entranced... I’d sort of forgotten the youthful pleasure of moving our little tokens ahead on a bunch of winding pathways of aptitude, lagging behind here, surging ahead there... If learning like a child sounds a little airy-fairy, whatever the neuroscience research says, try recalling what it felt like to learn how to do something new when you didn’t really care what your performance of it said about your place in the world, when you didn’t know what you didn’t know. It might feel like a whole new beginning."
—Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker
"A thoughtful and stirring look into the art and science of lifelong learning. Currently, I’m learning Gaelic, dressmaking and how to lay floors. Last year, it was knitting and coding. I’m 50, and not supposed to be a beginner any more -- according to society’s conventions -- but Tom Vanderbilt turns that flawed assumption on its head with the grace with which he learns to reach a high note or surf a wave."
—Rose George, author of Ninety Percent of Everything
"[Vanderbilt] describes frankly (and humorously) the embarrassment that comes with repeated failures as well as quiet triumphs... The joy is transcendent... He will encourage you to spend 2021 finding delight in honing new or forgotten skills."
—Catherine Foster, Christian Science Monitor
"As the new year unfolds, Vanderbilt's book is, above all, a call to action for a world facing ongoing lockdowns and pandemic fatigue. That's because the greatest benefit of learning something new might be starting 2021 with a fresh pair of eyes."
"A wonderful and inspirational book. The only thing that will make you put it down is a burning desire to try something new. It's full of the sort of encouragement and wisdom that bridges the small, tricky gulf between enthusiasm and action. A book that will launch thousands of journeys that might not otherwise have happened and prove life-changing for many who take those first steps."
—Tristan Gooley, author of The Natural Navigator
"An uplifting, fascinating book about the value and addictive pleasure of returning to the status of a beginner. Vanderbilt is a fantastic writer... Delightful."
—Barbara Oakley, Ph.D, co-author of Uncommon Sense Teaching
"You don’t have to try all the activities that Tom Vanderbilt took on in his heroic, self-sacrificial effort to persuade us of the benefits of learning throughout life. After you read this invigorating book, you might want to take a nap. But then you’ll get up, refreshed, ready to learn a new skill. You’ll be ready to begin."
—Carol Tavris, Ph.D., co-author of Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)
"Accessible and highly informative, the book is a fast-paced exploration of the science of skill acquisition and a delightful account of journalist Vanderbilt's personal adventures among fellow new learners... Despite the inevitable setbacks, his is an empowering story that will have adventuresome readers eager to head off in search of some new challenge the moment they've put it down. An engaging perspective on the joys of embarking on the process of learning something new."
— Shelf Awareness
"[A] charming celebration of lifelong learning... [Vanderbilt] makes a persuasive case for the benefits—cognitive, physical, emotional, and social—of being a beginner. This enjoyable reminder to embrace the 'small acts of reinvention, at any age, that can make life seem magical' will appeal to those who enjoyed Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."
— Publishers Weekly
‘Witty, well-researched, myth-busting and curiously of the moment. Vanderbilt tells a compelling tale. Eighty pages in, I joined a choir.'
—Robert Penn, author of It's All About the Bike: The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels
"It's impossible to pick up a book by Tom Vanderbilt without learning something. An engaging and fascinating mix of the personal and the general. I never thought I'd read a book that could persuade me to take up juggling, but this one did it."
"Vanderbilt.. composes lucid prose and explains concepts... with relative ease, and his thesis is practical and worthwhile... compelling... A solid beginner's guide to beginning."