This was among the books that stood out upon entering polymath in the Amazon search query. I have to say that I like the solid cover, which resembles Richard Florida’s book that I previously analyzed.


Scott H. Young’s book explains the process behind developing hard skills in the face of obstacles like Recessions and automation. It is specifically outlined in nine steps in achieving this proficiency, all of which involve time and mindset.

These nine steps include:

  1. Metalearning: Essentially, this is about finding the motivation for embarking on this regimen. Not just that, but also the topics and the research needed to explore them. Though, Young advises the reader to be careful about making the right choice, since the reader might not enjoy the topic or not have done enough research into it.
  2. Focus: This involves the environment around the ultralearning project. There can be many distractions which the reader should avoid.
  3. Directness: It is not enough to study any particular field, but also be able to apply it in any way outside of the ultralearning project, such as communicating with professionals in that field or applying for a job in that field.
  4. Drill: Finding a subskill of your topic that you struggle with and develop proficiency in it, even if it means going back to its basics.
  5. Retrieval: In order to truly utilize memory when ultralearning, it becomes important to use conceptual maps in order to connect important parts of information. This is proven to be better for test-taking students than simple review of the material.
  6. Feedback: The need to receive an outsider’s perspective on the progress that the ultralearner goes through. This is important since no feedback would risk the progress to stagnate.
  7. Retention: The use of memory to retain information about the subjects. Though Young advises that this information can be forgotten if they are not studied carefully in terms of establishing patterns between them.
  8. Intuition: This is the byproduct of retention, as this can enable the patterns between subtopics to start developing. Physicist Richard Feinman made used of intuition by providing examples that he would then deduce the equations that resulted in it.
  9. Experimentation: Young makes it clear that these ultralearning projects should not be set in stone, rather to be toyed with in order to test your aptitudes.


The main theme that Young talks about is the process of learning, not about learning any specific topic. This is helpful since it can be applied universally to any topic to be learned about. In the case of retrieval, it can prepare the ultralearner for any topic at a much better rate.

As such, it is important for ultralearners to view every subject within a plethora of patterns. This would enable to them to conceptualize these subtopics as having connections and seeing how that is so. If the subtopics themselves are memorized, then the connections between each other would not be remembered so easily. This is especially relevant in languages where learning simple vocabulary and simple phrases can be completely different.

Time is an important part of this book, since the purpose of ultralearning is to condense the length of time to become proficient. Young mentioned that some time did need to be sacrificed if there is a struggle with one of the subskills.

In the way that the strategies are explained, Young uses lots of anecdotes in order to describe how the people were able to achieve success. They include historical figures like Scottish mathematician Mary Somerville and Benjamin Franklin or people in the contemporary time. By reaching out through history, Young is able to make his case for decoding their successes.

As for the specific tactics, such as flashcards, they abound throughout the book in order to assist the ultralearner in any way. Of course, Young is not afraid to mention any drawbacks that any of the tactics might have, such as lack of cue feedback in some tactics.

The interaction with other people is also a theme within the book, for they can either assist or disrupt the ultralearning process. In the case of languages, they are absolutely necessary, specifically the language-speakers. This was an important factor for one of Young’s friends who decided to under the ultralearning project of never speaking English and only Spanish.

The obstacles are clearly talked about throughout the book, such as the Great Recession of 2008 and the threat of automation taking over traditional jobs. Instead of viewing them as an interference, Young suggests that they are opportunities to expand upon any skills through ultralearning.

MOOCs are prevalent in ultralearning, since the ease of location enables the assignments and exams to be completed in shorter amounts of time. This would make sense considering how dictioscholastic learning would have more flexibility than traditional education.


Scott H. Young spends the first chapter explaining his position as working on MIT’s algebra online program within a self-imposed constrained time; while also immersing himself with four different languages. He lives up to the archetype as a polymath throughout the book, providing as an ethos whenever it is relevant to discuss it.

Writing Style

As for Young’s overall word choice, I can definitely see a lot of mathematical jargon throughout the book. Words such as rate-limiting and aggregate are used as part of his terminology. I found this a particularly interesting method, since it enabled the categorization of any concepts that would be difficult to pigeonhole.

The word ultralearning is used throughout the book and the title, as it was originally used by Cal Newport when talking about the autodidactic regimen that takes place in order to be proficient in any topic.

Real World Application

As for the beginning chapter, I have attempted to write down the three columns that Young suggested in order to see what I would ultralearn. Concepts involve topics to learn; while facts deal with the components of those concepts; and procedures involve the means of practice that would be used:

Since I have plenty of interests that abound, including ones that I did not include such as fiction writing, I decided to divide them based on my priorities. The ones with stars represent the fields I would consider pursuing degrees in. As such, they rank higher than graphic design, crafts, and music since they are only somewhat interesting. Of course, Young notes that one important tactic in experimentation is to synthesize different topics.

The skills, as Young argued and one that Christian Madsbjerg would agree with, are a way to provide enough mental framework to evoke epiphanies and unique concepts appearing out of nowhere–specifically in periods when there is no focus rather enough leisure time to expand the mind. This is why seeking corrective feedback from a mentor is important because a mentor who has experience will notice the blind spots that the ultralearner missed.

Young also proposes that ultralearning could have pedagogical purposes, by citing the Polgar sisters–as table-tennis player Matthew Syed also did–as examples of how ultralearning can be incorporated into a person in their most earliest moments. Although he did acknowledge that this lifelong experiment would not be completely scientifically verifiable, Young did point out the similarities between the Polgar sisters and their lifelong training in chess by their parents who were psychologists. Young would also agree with Syed that it would be very irresponsible to instill the notion that “talent” is something inherited and not earned, since it would stifle people’s abilities, which would therefore stifle society as a whole.

Suggest This To…

  • Anyone with a scatterbrain looking to organize this learning habits. He might realize that in today’s world, you really are either a jack of all trades or a master of none.


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