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! (((Scattered notes|Reading|1,99|1,114))) (((Scattered notes|Reading|1,99|1,114)))

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

Part of the problem here is People often struggle to remember details of prose text because they never processed them in the first place.

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.

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

Last updated 2023-11-21.