Our most precious non-renewable resource is time.
Our most precious commodity: knowledge.
In an effort to reconcile the two, 29 Minute Books — a Norwegian "short theme" distributor and publisher — offers audio and ebooks that promise mastery of a myriad of topics … some of which would seemingly take months to absorb in a traditional context.
It’s an intriguing idea: put on some headphones, learn something new in under half an hour. You can do it in the gym. You can do it on a beach. On a flight. Late at night. Here. There. Anywhere.
So we put 29 Minute Books to the test.
First glance: there are many books to choose from. You can get a mini crash course on how to attract investors, develop a software application, optimize web content for search engines, make a short film or take the perfect photo. You can learn the History of Medicine, Nikola Tesla, the basics of wine, etiquette — there’s even a biography of Adolf Hitler.
Mastery, though? That’s ambitious.
At the least, the books will give you the info you need to pretend you’re an expert on an assortment of topics. Works well for dinner parties or first dates.
But for some topics, even 29 minutes can seem too long. Yes, the content is useful and informative, but it isn’t much different from what you might glean from a reasonably well-crafted Wikipedia entry.
If it’s brevity you’re after, we still prefer the genius simplicity of the TED Talks formula: give fascinating speakers 18 minutes to give the talk of their lives (like David Christian’s History of Our World in 18 Minutes). The more personal, less encyclopedic nature of those lessons makes them engaging, whereas the dispassionate droning of 29’s hired voiceover actors makes them tough to get through.
Although it has plans to expand onto other platforms, 29 Minute Books is currently only available through Apple’s App Store (for the iPhone) or via the company’s own website, with titles costing $1.99 for a PDF or ePub version, and $2.99 for an audio book.
If you’re desperate to familiarize yourself with a topic for practical reasons (“I want to learn how to take better photos before my trip,” e.g.), you could do worse.
But if it’s light leisure reading you’re after, look somewhere else.