How to Summarize a Book

Tags: Taking Smart Notes

Notes and highlights taken from Tiago Forte's The Ultimate Guide to Summarizing Books: How to Distill Ideas to Accelerate Your Learning.

Five steps from readding to publishing a book summary:

  1. Read and highlight
  2. Export highlights
  3. Progressively summarize
  4. Outline
  5. Write

How to decide what to highlight?

Constantly ask three questions that I used to decide what to read in the first place:

  1. Is it unique?
  2. Is it helpful?
  3. Is it interesting?


  • Do highlight chapter titles and section headings – this ensures your exported notes will preserve the structure of the book.
  • Do highlight lists and summaries already found within the book – this is valuable summarizing work the author has already done for you.
  • Do highlight “popular highlights” (a feature of some ebook services such as Kindle which shows you phrases that many other people have highlighted) – these are phrases that other readers have already told you are helpful in their understanding of the text.


  • Don’t highlight entire paragraphs or pages – this will create a lot of work later on to figure out what is actually valuable in those large chunks of text.
  • Don’t highlight entire stories or long examples – they are usually too long, and you can always go back and find them if you need them.
  • Don’t highlight ideas or explanations that you already know, agree with, or could have guessed – focus on what is novel, surprising, and counterintuitive.

Progressive Summarization

Basically picking out the best parts of what you highlighted from the book, and then the best parts of that.

It should be kind of mindless.

For each paragraph, you'll emphasize w/ bold, and then highlight a subset.


What is the main point? Bold this What's unique? bold that too

go for the gems, the meat of the text.

yellow highlighting

look only at the bold parts and highlight only what stands out.

not the whole idea, just enough to pique my interest.

At the end of this process, you should distilled the book down to ~1% of the most meaningful pieces of the book.


Video demonstrating and explaining: How to Create an Outline with Digital Notes

Create a new note to remix the product from progressive summarization.

Go through the bold / highlights, and ask the question that each is answering.

What does it have to do w/ X?

May create sections, like quotes or categories.