Book Review: How To Take Smart Notes


If there is one book you should read before starting a Ph.D., this is it. For me, this book revolutionised the way I approach note-taking and writing. Whilst Ahrens isn’t necessarily the originator of many of the ideas in the book, he is the first author to bring the issues to a mainstream audience and talk about them in a user friendly way. Prior to his work, much of the content was only available in German. The book is based around how to implement a practical solution of Niklas Luhmann’s Zettlekasten system. I really like how he suggests this system in a way that is neither focused on using computers or manual pen and paper note-taking. He makes reference to all the different note types and how these can feed into your system to help you write. It’s filled with Ahrens’ own personal readings in order to provide a journey from reading to notes to writing. I do feel that the ideas are padded out somewhat but you can’t leave this book without feeling the impact it will have on your literary skills.

Read if: You’re always taking notes but you can’t find them or don’t know how to put them together into an argument. If you can never remember where you read something or what ideas connect, this book will help you create a more structured and useful style of note-taking.