Most people prefer to read new books than old books. At least best-seller lists in Amazon say so. However, it doesn’t mean that new books are better than old books. In fact, the opposite may be true: old books are better than new books.
I first learn about the importance of old books from John Wesley. He often uses old books as his source of ideas and inspiration. I agree with him. Old books are good source of knowledge and inspiration, often better than new books.
I should say that I’m still a new comer in the world of old books. But there are at least four reasons I can think of why old books are better than new books:
- They have stood the test of time
Maybe this is the most important reason of all. Many ideas come and go, but only the best ideas can stand the test of time. New books are yet to pass such test. On the other hand, old books have passed the test. Generation after generation, people have found them useful. If you read them, you read the gems which have passed the filter of many generations.
- They give you different “lenses” to look through
If you have a camera, what you see will be different when you put different lenses. Reading old books gives you new such “lenses” to look through. They give you new perspectives. They give you new ways to look at things. They act as time machine which transport you to a particular time in the past with its value and culture. You could then understand how people at that time think and feel, and you can apply that perspective to your current condition.
If you read new books, you will get only one or two “lenses” of how recent people see the world. Reading old books gives you many different “lenses” from each time and age.
- They will most likely be relevant even to the far future
This is another aspect of standing the test of time. The fact that they have stood the test of time means people from many generation had found them relevant. As such, there is strong reason to believe that the gems you get from the books will also be relevant to the far future. It means that the time you invest in reading the book will continue to give you return for very long time. Compare it to new books which may soon lose its relevancy. Such books will give you return for only several years at best.
- Many of them are free
The reasons above are more than enough, but there is still one more reason that makes old books even better: many of the them are free. They can be downloaded for free from sites like Project Gutenberg or Bartleby. Project Gutenberg is so far the biggest source of downloadable old books with more than 20,000 books in its collection.
Ok, old books may be better than new books. But how do you find good old books? Here are two places to get you started:
- All-time best-seller list
I am not talking about ordinary best-seller list. This is all-time best-seller list. Books from the entire history of human civilization compete to make this list. Of course the list is not really fair for the old books. Recent books enjoy advantages in term of printing technology and distribution, and therefore make the list much easier than old books. But it’s still a good way to get rough ideas about which old books are good.
- Project Gutenberg Top 100
Project Gutenberg has a list of 100 most downloaded ebooks and authors for the day before, the last 7 days, and the last 30 days. It gives you a good idea of which old books people currently like. Plus, there are links to allow you directly download those books. So in one sweep you could know which old books are good and directly get them to read.