The Review File: Do You Have One?

“Read and reread the campaigns of Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustaphus Adolphus, Turene and Frederick; take them as your model; that is the only way of becoming a Great Captain, to obtain the secrets of the art of war.”

~Napoleon

Some have asked why I’m fascinated with Napoleon.

It’s because you can learn so much by studying him. About every area of life.

Winston Churchill didn’t have a “Napoleon Room” for nothing…

The quote above, is one of his most-mentioned advice to his Marshals. 1

After reading this–maybe the 4th time or so–I thought to myself: What would the modern equivalent of this method be?

And, almost as soon as I thought the thought, my mind made a connection: The “swipe file” from advertising.

I had many such moments while reading the best book on Napoleon, by Oxford historian Andrew Roberts.

The Review File: 2

The purpose is to collect all the best stuff you come across.

Eventually you will gather much wisdom.

Then review it for the rest of your life–or you will forget to apply it.

How to structure your Review File:

1) Collect the best material (be very picky). 3

2) Order it by category (marketing, investing, science, politics, parenting)

* * *

This is not hard to figure out, nor is it hard to do.

…and yet I’ve never met a single person except myself who does it.

I don’t understand why.

It’s not exactly a big secret that spaced repetition is the #1 thing for long-term retention of key info, and achieving high level pattern recognition.

Some things are time-tested. Most are not. There is an ever-growing influx of fools who pride themselves on being “well-informed” and “knowledgeable” about the latest TV-news, trends, etc etc…

The funny thing is that they think they are actually smart.

Imagine them going up against Socrates in the Agora.

He’d eviscerate them all.

* * *

Here are a few information sources I have re-read many times, that have really helped me, that I also recommend to you:

Store them in your commonplace.

Also: Join my newsletter. I will send out the 2nd edition 1st Feb. I will send out exclusive material there every month. And there will be many surprises this year. I can’t be expected to update this blog regularly all year, but the monthly newsletter I will be 100% on point.

* * *

How Often Should You Use Your Review File?

I don’t know. You have to use your own judgment.

I have a reminder set for every 3 months, but mostly I go by instinct.

I don’t re-read or review all the material at once, but I will read what piques my interest and scan through it for material that’s relevant to what I’m currently doing.

This is a great system and everyone should have it.

It’s the difference between theory and practice.

This is as fundamental as it gets when it comes to increasing intelligence. And I bet you if I went up and told it to 100 people, maybe only 1-5 would do it. It’s what separates the pros from the hobos.

I’m considering to make an experiment where I spend a full day trying to convince Romanian beggars (sitting outside food stores) about the benefits of a Review File — but I already know the results. Their culture does not value education. This does not bode well for the knowledge economy.

Bonus: Another Variation of a Review File—for Work

You can apply the exact same structure for the best work you come across.

Here are two personal examples of how I use this:

  1. I have  selected a few books that I think are very well written and worked-out in a number of ways. I can return to them for different insights over the years, based on my focal point.
  2. There are a few businesses that I think are genial and inspiring in how they’re structured (Berkshire Hathaway, Bloomberg, DHL being 3 prominent ones).

What about you? Could you make a selected assortment of the best material to draw inspiration from in your studies, work projects, business?

Action List: Create Your Review File

Now, do take a 5-minute break for the following:

1) List your TOP 5 books and other learning resources (articles, videos, audio).

2) Divide this material into relevant categories if you have a lot of content.

3) Create a Review File in your commonplace and link to the content if possible.

4) Set a reminder for when you should use your Review File.

[It can make a big difference. It has for me.]

 


When I logged into my blog interface to write this post I noticed this and thought it was cool:

review file

Perceived progress boosts dopamine release in the PFC. This is why Napoleon would keep scoreboards (of castles, towns, enemy banners, hostages, etc) for each of his Corps. Soon we will have the Digital Corps System.

BOOH got a few more reviews since last time I checked. That’s another jolt. But one must be careful not to check these sort of updates too much. Then you’re no different from the person who infinity-scrolls Instagram.

review file

Review file

Review file

Thank you.

Finally, if you left a review, but did not receive a bonus, I apologize. Please email me at ludvigbooh@gmail.com


  1. look at the pictures, they’re very cool.

  2. The Review File is one of the most important parts of my commonplace system. Some have asked when I will re-release The Ultimate Commonplace System. The answer is: I don’t know. I am something of a perfectionist, and I have a lot of things coming up over the next 4 months… But it will be done eventually. Definitely this year. You can get in the loop here. 

  3.  One gold book or essay is worth a hundred average ones. 

Comments

  1. Hey Ludvig,

    Excellent article!

    I am wondering though, why you don’t use Spaced Repetition Software (SRS) like Anki for this? Clear you have dived into the Spaced Repetition literature.

    I agree with putting it into your Commonplace, but why not go a step further and convert that _really_ important info to flashcards for Anki?

    That is by far the most efficient method of reviewing / remembering what you have learned.

    It’s also better for improving recall/pattern recognition at the right times in daily life (if you make your cards correctly) because you can actually _train_ yourself by forcing yourself to do the pattern recognition during the flashcard review. For me that is _even more_ effective than just reviewing the material and hoping it jumps out at the right time.

    I’m guessing you have considered all of this though. Thoughts?

    • I have both considered it and tried it (Anki). It didn’t feel fun or useful, so it wasn’t sustainable for me. Most important, it doesn’t give me the information *when* I need it, in a prioritized order.

      That being said, it can work for others (it certainly would work well if your purpose is practicing for a test).

  2. Lonis Hamaili says:

    Fascinerande hur kontinuerlig implementation av de mest basic sakerna ofta är det som tar en längst, och en review-file är helt klart en av dem sakerna! Började själv med det för ett antal år sedan utan att egentligen förstå att det var ett koncept på det sättet. Sedan jag började läsa SGM har jag dock mer explicit förstått värdet av det, vilket har gett det en rejäl skjuts framåt, så tack för det!

    Napoleon åkte helt klart upp på läslistan efter det här. I biografi-väg kan jag verkligen för övrigt rekommendera “Surely you’re joking, mr. Feynman!”. Riktigt bra inspiration för att leva vaket och hela tiden vara nyfiken på sin omgivning, vilket även är en bra grej för att utöka sin Review-file!

    Några andra must-reads biografier?

  3. I’ve got a review file, started after I read TUCS.

    Added Mental Models to my review file after reading BOOH. Adams 101/Big Ideas Simply Explained by DK are good sources for learning mental models.

  4. I’ve got a review file, started after I read TUCS.

    Added Mental Models to my review file after reading BOOH. Adams 101/Big Ideas Simply Explained by DK is a good source for learning mental models.

  5. Ignacio Gonzalez Castillo says:

    I really like your focus on learning and the strategies you implement. This, with the article about comparing yourself to great men and the learning framework, can really make you (a lot) smarter and take you to another level.
    For people who are more interested pursuing Academic/intellectual paths instead of entrepreneurship.
    What would your top recommendations be?

    • Hi Ignacio,
      I don’t know. Probably like I said in BOOH/Age 30 article:
      To join some institute where you can pursue your curiosity and take initiative to start projects / get funding without a ton of bureaucracy and sucking up to politically correct people.

    • Academic and intellectual aren’t necessarily the same thing. Academia is easier to make a living at, though.

  6. Great post and congrats with the book.

  7. Hej Ludvig,
    För någon som är väldigt obildad om just Napoleon, skulle du rekommendera “Napoleon: a life”, eller är det bäst att börja med något annat?
    Mvh
    Viktor

  8. Interesting article. The most important things I’ve read, though, I don’t plan to re-read or reference; they are too extensive and deep. E.g. Beyond Good and Evil (Nietzsche), Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (Kennedy), Albion’s Seed (Fischer), Man’s Search for Meaning (Frankl), various textbooks, and even some fiction. Whatever I learned stays with me.

    The first thing I thought of, though, when I read this was DHL. Some days ago I worked for a company that negotiated a contract with DHL. The lady that came to sell DHL’s services was a gorgeous blonde in tight pants, with an ass that would give Jesus a hard on. I pointed out to the boss that she would not be the one to show up if we ever had a problem. He signed the contract anyway, and we never saw her again.

  9. From hard to to soft says:

    Ludvig man you gotta check out Langston Hughes (the black Howard Hughes)

    This guy is my hero, really inspired me the last 2 years!

  10. Disregarding your blog and book research, what does it take to write s popular Kindle Book (KDP)?

    I have many philosophy and finess ideas, which is basically how I see your website.

  11. When you talk about Socrates, I get it based on your book with the Agora and pain tolerance, but what do you mean with the real deep knowledge?

  12. You have great learning systems and it has helped me a lot. I first read your school article and then about book summary and how successful people read. I look forward to more helpful tips here as I am building my core knowledge now.

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