Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning

By Tom Vanderbilt

Recommended on: 4th January 2021

Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning, by Tom Vanderbilt. The year 2021 has already started out with a bang with the publication of Beginners, a uplifting, fascinating book about the value and addictive pleasure of returning to the status of a beginner. Vanderbilt is a fantastic writer, as when he begins singing lessons and describes his rendition of “Time After Time,” as possessing “the control of a snake on ice.” 

We love how Beginners describes the joy of learning new skills—and the joy also to be found in learning together with other novices. We learn not only about whatever subject Vanderbilt is studying, whether it be surfing, jewelry-making, or chess, but also delightful ancillary information. For example, singing in choirs “has been found to increase people’s sense of happiness and well-being. Singing with someone else engages a wider range of brain activity than singing alone. Choir singing has also been found to boost people’s oxytocin levels and increase one’s tolerance for pain. One study found that group singing, but interestingly not group conversation, lowered levels of the stress hormone cortisol.” (Perhaps it would be a good idea for MOOC-makers to schedule singing sessions when they are seeking to engage their learners.) Beginners is also a great book for audio listening.

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