For the first twelve years of my life I was sure I was really, really smart. Teachers, parents, and other adults all told me it was so. I was sure I was the smartest person in the room, right up to my fateful first day at the Bronx High School of Science. It didn’t take me long to realize that, for as long as I was there, I would probably never be the smartest person in any room, unless I was there by myself. I felt the same way when I read Jared Diamond’s book, Guns, Germs, and Steel.
Diamond writes books that stretch your intellect to the point where it can never snap back to its original shape. I am in awe. I wanted to know how he got his mind around so many things and then connected them and turned what he learned into compelling prose.
I never quite got that, but I did discover Noah Charney’s interview with Diamond in the Daily Beast. The whole thing is fascinating but for this post I chose part of Diamond answer to the question: “Could you tell us about your research approach? What does a research day look like for you?”
“Lots of reading, talking to people who are experts on the subject, because these are generally not my specialty. So the first step is reading and interviewing, then dictating my notes. Then, at a later stage, once I’ve done all the reading, I take my notes. I figure out the approximate outline, the sequence of subject matter for the chapter, numbering the material. Then I photocopy all my notes, and go through the photocopies and add numbers to the notes so I know where each note fits into the outline material, where that particular topic in the outline is covered. I then cut them out and assemble them into a couple of pages, so I then have, bunched together, the material for that particular topic. For example, in the chapter on bringing up children, there’s a section on children’s approach to danger. Another section on weaning of babies. So I’ll assemble my notes on these subjects, and then I start writing…or, rather, scribbling.”
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