This app can help you read an entire nonfiction book in 15 minutes

If you want to read a lot of important nonfiction books, but just don’t have the time, Blinkist can help. It’s an app that simplifies and spits out key points from important nonfiction books.

Remember Cliff Notes, those shorter cheat sheets of information that you’d use in high school and always try to get away with reading instead of the full text? That is essentially what Blinkist does on your iPhone or iPad. The app takes the full text of notable nonfiction ebooks and turns them into nuggets of information that you can quickly process without hundreds of tedious page flips. Blinkist promises to make you smarter fifteen minutes at a time.

The first thing we noticed about Blinkist is that the library is a bit weak, perhaps not surprisingly since it’s a new app. When you start it up, you can browse through digital catalog to pick the books that interest you — ones with topics that tickle your fancy or ones you’ve meant to get around to reading but never found the time for — as long as those choices fall within the couple hundred books Blinkist currently provides. We selected far more then we were able to get through over the course of the three day free trial ($5 a month or $50 annually for full access). It’s still conceivable you could clear the shelves, but titles are being added on a regular basis.

There are many categories within Blinkist’s library, and plenty of them are popular among the tech crowd. where you’ll find mostly bestsellers. These are the water cooler books, the manuscripts that make it to the top of the New York Times Bestsellers list. Author names and book titles will likely be familiar, like Freakonomics or Lean In. We were caught off guard by Sun Tzu’s Art of War, but we won’t deny it’s an important work.

For those concerned that Blinkist is too embracing of a soundbite culture, minimizing the text down to the simplest concepts with little regard for the process, you’ve little to fear. This isn’t books being Twitter-fied. In our browsing, we found Blinkist’s summaries to do a solid job of summing up the text in a way that keeps the primary information intact. If anything, Blinkist is probably one of the better encouragements we’ve found for wanting to check out a full book. We read through the abbreviated chapters and ended up wanting the full text.

The name “Blinkist” comes from the app’s name for its concise chapters, or “blinks.” The idea is that a blink captures a key concept from the book and makes it readable in two minutes. Every book is made up of a collection of blinks which are accompanied by a final summary page to conclude the experience. It’s no replacement for the complete work of the original author, but we definitely found it possible to take quick facts and ideas from the Blinkist briefings.

With the popularity of speed reading thanks to a wealth of apps that promise to increase the rate at which people process text, it’s interesting to see Blinkist go the other way with it. You read just as slow — there’s just less text to deal with. Blinkist hasn’t resorted to an algorithm for finding the important text – its library is hand-curated. This explains its small size and slow growth and is understandable given the app’s goal. But it also makes it hard to commit to a paid price for the service. You’ll pick up a couple facts, ideals, and applicable concepts from Blinkist’s text, but you’re still better off picking up the actual book.

(Blinkist is free for download on iPhone and iPad.)

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