People seem to forget most of what they read, and they mostly don’t notice

It seems that most people can remember only a few high-level details of a book weeks later—if that. A typical reader might spend hours finishing some serious non-fiction—then maybe it comes up at a dinner party, and they find you can remember like three sentences. Basically no detailed recall. Barely the gist!

What’s more: people seem surprised when this happens. They seem to consistently overestimate how much they’re absorbing from a book.

See How rapidly do people forget practical knowledge?

This observation is unfortunate for many reasons, but among them: Deep understanding requires detailed knowledge of fundamentals and Complex ideas may be hard to learn in part because their components overflow working memory.

For common objections: Many people view memory as unimportant to deep creative work.

file:35396407-0984-41FE-997D-0F1596872A2A-410-0000784A3A415923/DiAlexRev - I try to explain how I learned something so quickly, in @HolbertonCOL @holbertonschool-1271832215215800321.mp4


Amlund et al - Repetitive Reading and Recall of Expository Text

  • In a limited experimental setting, grad students are given an expository passage; they read once, twice, or three times; delayed (one week) free recall scores at 27% (main idea) and 16% (details) after one reading; cued recall scores at 57% and 64% respectively. Re-reading helps a bit in the cued setting, but not much in for freed recall.

Matuschak, A. (2019). Why books don’t work. Retrieved from