Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport
New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016. 304 pp. $28 (hardcover).

In a discussion of the nature of reason, Ayn Rand observed that, with regard to the choice to think, man has two fundamental alternatives:

Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality—or he can unfocus it and drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make.1

While reading this passage of hers recently, I was taken aback. That unfocused state of consciousness sounded very much like my own brain online—going off in one direction in response to a tweet, then in another in response to a Facebook photo, perhaps in many others as I check my email, and on and on, until after a tornado of such activity I finally click the red “x” that closes my browser.

This kind of state is all too easy to fall into, and many people I know never extricate themselves from the frantic blur of online activity that surrounds their souls.

Thankfully, there is hope for us all.

It comes in the form of a yellow book whose title is written in black letters so large that, presumably, people taking a quick scan of where they are in a bookstore might notice it before returning to their phones. The title is Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. The author is Cal Newport.

Newport defines “deep work” as “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit,” and as activities that “create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate” (p. 3). The contrast to them is “shallow work,” which Newport defines as activities that are “noncognitively demanding,” “easy to replicate,” “often performed while distracted,” and do “not create much new value in the world” (p. 6). . . .


1. Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness, Centennial Edition (New York: Signet, 1964), p. 10.

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