I recently got a subscription to Blinkist, an abstracting service that lays out the take home messages from non-fiction books. They claim that you can get the essence and key points of any non-fiction book in 15 minutes.
There are two things I find this really useful for: Management of my reading list, and refreshers on books I’ve already read.
In terms of to-read list management, I find it useful to be able to get an overview of a book that I want to read and see if I’m going to learn anything new from it. For example, I often read popular psychology books but I find a lot of those books draw heavily on ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’, so I’ve already read that then I’m not going to learn much more from reading a book that covers much of the same material. Likewise, books on relationships often cite John Gottman’s work.
I very rarely find time to re-read non-fiction even though I might want to. 15 minutes to get a refresher on the content is very useful.
I don’t see it as a replacement for reading a book. I don’t think there is any substitute for reading the long form in order to follow an author’s full train of thought or see how conclusions are reached.
They have two levels of membership, the main difference between them is the top end membership allows you to download audio-blinks and sync across devices. The standard just allows you to read the ‘blinks’ on your device. I’ve got their standard membership ($40) and I only went for it because I had a discount code. I’m not sure that it is worth it at the moment unless you have a lot of demands on your time, mainly because of the library size; however, their library is continually expanding (20 or so a month). If you don’t have time to read or re-read every book on your to-read list then I think its a good investment. You can get a 1-day free trial too.
Update: After using Blinkist for several months, I’ve found that I’ve read a lot more fiction in that time as a result of the time freed up.