Zettelkasten Forum


Books about Personal Knowledge Management and Zettelkasten

I'm creating a list of books about PKM and Zettelkasten. These are the ones I could find. Let me know if I'm missing any.

  • How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens
  • Building a Second Brain by Tiago Forte
  • Zettelkasten and the Art of Knowledge Management by Me :#
  • Digital Zettelkasten by David Kadavy
  • Atomic Note-taking by Martin Adams
  • Duly Noted by Jorge Arango
  • Antinet Zettelkasten by Scott Scheper

I'll keep an updated list of books in the PKM/Zettelkasten space on my website.

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Comments

  • I'll be adding these two...

    • Personal Knowledge Graphs, by Ivo Velitchkov
    • Effective Notetaking by Fiona McPherson
  • "Die Zettelkastenmethode: Kontrolliere dein Wissen"

    my first Zettel uid: 202008120915

  • Your list so far should be titled "21st-century Books about Personal Knowledge Management and Zettelkasten"! ;)

    I wouldn't limit the list to the 21st century or to books—there is plenty of important and relevant information in 20th-century sources and in non-book publications—especially if you are interested in research methodology and knowledge organization more generally and its role in your personal knowledge.

  • I apologize for linking to my Russian-language blog. Nevertheless, there are English books listed which deserve to be included in your collection.

    https://qnnnp.substack.com/i/138864387/источники-на-иностранных-языках

  • edited February 6

    @binnyva Are you making a list of books, or of GOOD books?

    If it's the latter, I would not bother with Building a Second Brain nor with much of Forte's work: it is vastly oversold, overhyped and the core principles tend to run counter to Zettelkasten. His discourse also tends to follow the times (he used to advocate embracing the Collector's Fallacy and is now trying to back off without contradicting himself) rather a strong ethos. (Source: I've done the BASB training years ago, read BASB and PARA, and none of it is good material.)

    I would also be very wary of Scott Scheper's work because of his a priori categorization in a Zettelkasten.

    "A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it." - Ernest Hemingway

    Zettelkasten: Bear + DEVONthink, GTD: OmniFocus, production: Scrivener / Ableton Live.

  • @KillerWhale said:

    Are you making a list of books, or of GOOD books?

    @KillerWhale, thank you for saying what I was thinking but was too polite to say. Different people will have different judgments about which books qualify as good, but I agree with you that stricter criteria would be helpful here. And there is also the problem that I already mentioned that the list is limited to the last decade. It's very much a "presentist" list, where presentism is "uncritical adherence to present-day attitudes".

    His discourse also tends to follow the times (he used to advocate embracing the Collector's Fallacy and is now trying to back off without contradicting himself)

    I like some of Tiago Forte's work, but I agree that he has taken the wrong position on several important issues and belatedly realized his mistakes. Another example is his attitude toward tagging: he completely rejected tags for years, and then in 2019 he finally figured out that his advice not to use tags was terrible and was based on a complete lack of understanding of the purposes of tagging. He's also not scholarly enough for my taste, but I have found a few useful nuggets in his work, and he seems like a good guy in general.

  • Thanks for the response everyone! I should have specified that I'm only looking for English books. But there are a lot of interesting suggestions here that makes me want to add an extra section to add those resources.

    @Sukhovskii

    This was very useful, thanks!

    @KillerWhale
    Right now, I just want to get the list of book(ever if its not very good). By larger purpose with this exercise is to chart the adoption curve of Zettelkasten - and a metric I'm using for that is books written on this subject.
    PS: I might do a rating system for the collection later.

  • @binnyva said:

    By larger purpose with this exercise is to chart the adoption curve of Zettelkasten - and a metric I'm using for that is books written on this subject.

    I think you're charting something like the post-2013 "hype cycle" of Zettelkasten instead of the "adoption curve". Adoption started long before the present hype cycle that you're charting here.

  • @KillerWhale said:
    @binnyva Are you making a list of books, or of GOOD books?

    If it's the latter, I would not bother with Building a Second Brain nor with much of Forte's work: it is vastly oversold, overhyped and the core principles tend to run counter to Zettelkasten. His discourse also tends to follow the times (he used to advocate embracing the Collector's Fallacy and is now trying to back off without contradicting himself) rather a strong ethos. (Source: I've done the BASB training years ago, read BASB and PARA, and none of it is good material.)

    I would also be very wary of Scott Scheper's work because of his a priori categorization in a Zettelkasten.

    I want to defend Tiago's work a bit. BASB was not an earth-shattering book. But the comparison I made to Deep Work was sincere.

    For me, it led to the development of my personal version to get a hold of all the messiness before it gets processed into the Zettelkasten. I also simplified my literature management a lot along the line.

    PARA (not so much BASB in total) is the guiding principle now how I put order to my folders, and it makes good sense.

    I am a Zettler

  • @KillerWhale ; @Andy

    may i ask, which books would you recommend?
    interested in first principals / classic texts that have stood the test of time.
    m guess is you both have a top 2 texts for the serious novice?

    thank you

  • edited February 6

    @digbyphonic: For example:

    There are many other examples; those are just a few that already have whole posts/discussions devoted to them here at zettelkasten.de.

    [EDIT: corrected a typo in one of the dates]

    Post edited by Andy on
  • @Sascha said:

    PARA (not so much BASB in total) is the guiding principle now how I put order to my folders, and it makes good sense.

    I agree that PARA is a sensible scheme; however, as I noted in a pre-publication review comment on your post "Combining the Zettelkasten Method and Building a Second Brain", a very similar scheme was already in Kerry Gleeson's much earlier book The Personal Efficiency Program, which is where I learned it.

  • As others have mentioned, such a list is tremendously long and deep, though much of it is tied more closely into use in academic settings. I've got a massive bibliography, which isn't likely to be useful to most, and may be counterproductive given its size. Given my experience, I recommend reading just a few and then spending significantly more of your time practicing.

    I have recently put the following more targeted/limited list together based on similar questions by teachers, professors, and students:
    https://boffosocko.com/2024/01/18/note-taking-and-knowledge-management-resources-for-students/#Recommended reading

    cc: @digbyphonic

    website | digital slipbox 🗃️🖋️

    No piece of information is superior to any other. Power lies in having them all on file and then finding the connections. There are always connections; you have only to want to find them. —Umberto Eco

  • @digbyphonic That's the thing – I have not yet found a great book on the method of connected notes / Zettelkasten. The best material I got was actually through the articles and forums here, through Nick Milo's LYT workshop, and to some extent Sönke Ahrens, BUT Ahrens' book is interesting only because there are not a lot of modern ones on that subject. I suspect it will age very fast. I can't wait for our host's book on the method.

    Not about PKM, but I have to plug Kourosh Dini's work on productivity and creativity which I find stellar. (He's a psychiatrist AND musician.)

    @Sascha and everyone: rant incoming –

    PARA is a TERRIBLE scheme for creatives. Creativity relies at heart on serendipity and play, which lives especially outside of the notion of deliverables. By gearing a whole system towards deliverables, PARA is extremely dangerous in that it nourishes your critical voice and subconsciously tells you that production is the goal.

    It is not.

    Production is important (I'm a fond of Jobs' "real artists ship") but the worst thing a creative can do is confuse the destination with the journey; in art, the process and the craft are the main reward. Through the journey does a work emerge, but focussing on a result (which implies focussing on reception) is a killer for creativity. (I've been in the fiction writing gig for 25+ years and I've seen people burn out around this, including myself.)

    What's a good scheme, might you ask? Anything based on emergence. Recognizing that ideas form and may, or may not become something, and that's okay. They may take a while, or surge in a blaze of glory and get frantically written, and that's okay too. Which is why I'm such a fan of the Zettelkasten method which invites emergence and freedom. There is a continuum between the spark of an idea and a finished product. An organizational scheme should reflect this (mine does).

    As for BASB, it trains you to become a parrot and pull out factoids collected through your Internet journeys. It demos wonderfully well and is a tremendous help in a corporate environment where you have to impress mid-level, uncultured executives who want reports to put in project management software, but it prioritizes output over quality. I'm not interested in this, and this is far from being the "universal" system it's touted to be.

    Finally, while BASB as a book is okay (you have to adhere to Forte's ideas, but the content is there), PARA as a book is downright shameful. It's a blog post elongated to book form wrapped in overhyped marketing.

    You can ban me now. 😅

    "A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it." - Ernest Hemingway

    Zettelkasten: Bear + DEVONthink, GTD: OmniFocus, production: Scrivener / Ableton Live.

  • @KillerWhale said:

    I can't wait for our host's book on the method.

    I too am super curious about Sascha's forthcoming book.

    PARA is a TERRIBLE scheme for creatives. Creativity relies at heart on serendipity and play, which lives especially outside of the notion of deliverables. By gearing a whole system towards deliverables, PARA is extremely dangerous in that it nourishes your critical voice and subconsciously tells you that production is the goal.

    Huh. I respect your opinion, because you're the expert on what you need, but I'm a (nonfiction) creative myself, and I don't find anything dangerous about my PARA-like system.

    I think about it in terms of Doron Mayer's blog post "Your inner workflow team" (2018). As creatives, we have different roles that we play at different times. Doron calls these roles the dreamer, the explorer, the maker, and the pro/planner. Systems like PARA, GTD, etc. are only for the last of these four roles: the pro/planner. As Sascha said in his blog post on BASB and ZKM, "Habits of BASB are the typical habits of an administrative system"—I think that's exactly right. You don't use PARA or GTD when you're in the dreamer, explorer, or maker roles. As Doron says in his blog post:

    With that idea in mind, here are the two ultimate secrets to a smooth creative workflow: 1– you should strive for each of your personas to be REALLY good at his job; and 2– and this is the crucial thing- at any given moment, only ONE of them should be in control. In my experience, most of the problems creatives tend to experience is the result of these personas trying to work at the same time, and interfering with each other’s progress.

    So we can have our PARA, GTD, etc., as long as we only use it when we're in the planner role and don't let the planner step on the toes of the dreamer, explorer, or maker when they are working.

    If any readers are wondering what PARA is, Tiago Forte describes it in his own words his blog post "The PARA Method: The Simple System for Organizing Your Digital Life" (2018). (The post originally had the more pompous subtitle "A Universal System..." but Tiago characteristically walked it back later to something more sensible. I totally agree with with KillerWhale that it is nowhere near being a "universal" system.) Sascha's very interesting take on it is, of course, in his more recent blog post "Combining the Zettelkasten Method and Building a Second Brain".

  • edited February 7

    @Andy You are, of course, totally right with the fact that GTD is not a creative system, but a perfect administrative one. I guess… the same could be argued of BASB. But I have with BASB the same problem you have noticed with PARA: the supposedly "universal", "be all end all" solution that's (aggressively) touted.

    Nor PARA nor BASB are universal by any stretch. I would argue GTD is, and that's the genius of it. However tracking all steps of the GTD method in a creative mode is totally unpractical because they happen way too fast – emergent workflows need to be put into place, better at channeling this type of work. But they are strong principles that we can still see taking place.

    Nor PARA nor BASB provide that kind of strong conceptual fondation.

    I will argue one only needs GTD for administrative work and project planning on the one hand, and the Zettelkasten method in the other. BASB is a simply subpar set of hacks tailored to rapid output. It will work, and help, in some (corporate) situations. But I believe there are more challenging and interesting intellectual heights to aspire to.

    "A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it." - Ernest Hemingway

    Zettelkasten: Bear + DEVONthink, GTD: OmniFocus, production: Scrivener / Ableton Live.

  • @Andy said:
    @Sascha said:

    PARA (not so much BASB in total) is the guiding principle now how I put order to my folders, and it makes good sense.

    I agree that PARA is a sensible scheme; however, as I noted in a pre-publication review comment on your post "Combining the Zettelkasten Method and Building a Second Brain", a very similar scheme was already in Kerry Gleeson's much earlier book The Personal Efficiency Program, which is where I learned it.

    Many thanks for the reminder! I ordered the book immediately.


    PARA, GTD, ZKM and ...

    I think the main point of friction is the claim of being a universal system. This where we agree. I think PARA is much narrower in its relevance and application than marketed... I guess. To be honest, I never encountered overly aggressive marketing claims or tactics by Mr. Forte.

    However, you can solve the possible relationship of the systems by adhering to the languages they speak -- a very similar idea to the roles (or hats) that Doron Mayer uses to model this phenomenon.

    • PARA speaks the language of action and especially the dialect of urgency. Almost the opposite of a language that is suited for divergent thinking, which is the main mode to create.
    • ZKM speaks the language of knowledge, I speculate. I am still figuring out the nature of the Zettelkasten, since my Zettelkasten is perfectly able to absorb and support fiction. (I hope I can ship this faster than the other blogposts: An example of a fiction text that is interconnected with different "types" of knowledge building blocks) It might be that the Zettelkasten is indeed a general thinking tool. But it would be too reckless to make such claims. (even after more than a decade of research into it...)
    • ? speaks the language of transcendence. When it comes to art, I might be something like a traditionalist. I yearn for the times in which art was just another gateway to the Truth (capital T), instead of just a means to satisfy the individual (especially, when we live in a time in which both bottom-up and top-down forces are trying their best to corrup us). My guess is: Just the empty paper. :)

    I digress...

    I am starting to use my 2nd brain (keep in mind: a single TaskPaper file) to use it for my fiction writing.

    I am yet to process the talk of you @KillerWhale with Mr. Milo deeply. So, I cannot make connection to your specific system. But perhaps, you'd be surprised on how the 2nd brain could support creative endeavours as a kind of rumen and therefore rehabilitate Mr. Forte. :smile:

    (At least, you'll get an invitation if there is a Beta Phase for "Zettelkasten for Fiction"... ;) )


    Not about PKM, but I have to plug Kourosh Dini's work on productivity and creativity which I find stellar. (He's a psychiatrist AND musician.)

    Can you point me to a good entry point to his work?

    I am a Zettler

  • @KillerWhale said:

    I will argue one only needs GTD for administrative work and project planning on the one hand, and the Zettelkasten method in the other. BASB is a simply subpar set of hacks tailored to rapid output. It will work, and help, in some (corporate) situations. But I believe there are more challenging and interesting intellectual heights to aspire to.

    This really made me wonder about Tiago Forte's background: I mean his life path and career. Google pointed me to Tiago Forte's Origin Story, which was just what the doctor (psychoanalyst) ordered! Some excerpts strike me as relevant:

    The seeds of my current work are to be found scattered across my childhood years. I was always a collector, of everything from baseball cards (though I never played baseball), to coins, to Star Wars cards. But my favorite thing to collect was knowledge. I had a monthly subscription to "animal cards" – encyclopedia-style printed cards with interesting facts about different animals, which I kept organized in a cardboard box. I guarded this collection of knowledge zealously.

    We could stop right there, but that wouldn't be fair, because many of us collected stuff in boxes when we were kids, and that is no secret key to our essential character. Most of what Tiago says about his childhood interests would apply to any of us. So let's continue:

    My earliest memories of doing work that I was passionate about are of volunteering. From about the age of 10, I would travel to Mexico with a team from our church on "service trips." We would spend the weekend building houses, providing medical and dental care, and distributing donated clothing and books to poor communities near the border.... I decided very early on that I wanted to live a life of service. Not just because it was needed, but because it was so fun and deeply fulfilling. My first paying jobs were fixing computers. After years of fixing my parents' computer problems, I realized this was a service that many others needed.... I can still remember the look of amazement on the face of an elderly woman as I showed her what her computer was capable of creating.

    Here, in his teens, I think we see Tiago navigating toward the role of technical consultant and teacher/trainer, which is how we know him today. Everything after that is a variation on that theme. There's no sign in his autobiography (as he tells it) that being an artist, creative, or independent intellectual was at the core of his identity: from his teens he identified more as a helping professional, and that's still reflected in his personal mission statement:

    My mission is to radically improve the effectiveness of human beings while making their work a vehicle for personal fulfillment.

    I think this helps explain why KillerWhale finds Tiago's offerings so useless for his work as a novelist. Tiago doesn't essentially see himself as a creative and doesn't have in-depth experience as one, if his autobiography is correct, and he isn't focused specifically on the needs of creatives.

  • Following up on my previous comment: Tiago Forte's autobiographical awareness is, I think, one of his strengths. I could google him and find what seems to be a very transparent and self-aware description of who he is, and I've noticed this quality in other blog posts by him as well. I admire that a lot. As you all have noticed, I am nowhere near that transparent about myself.

  • thank you very much for the recommendations, detailed thoughts, and explanations.
    i am enjoying the insightful discussions.
    stimulating.
    i thank you for your kind consideration.

    -
    the following may be of interest?
    earlier in the thread where roles are described this may relate to the psychotherapy term parts?: subpersonalities of the Self influenced in childhood development.
    the concept is found in Berne's Transactional Analysis, Integrative Psychotherapy work of Dr. Richard Erskine, and the Internal Family System of Dr. Richard Schwartz:

    Erskine, R.G. (2018) ‘Introjection, psychic presence, and Parent ego states: considerations for psychotherapy’, in Erskine, R. G., Relational Patterns, Therapeutic Presence. 1st edn. Routledge, pp. 231–260. Available at: https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429479519-16.

    Schwartz, R.C. (2001) Introduction to the internal family systems model. Oak Park, Ill.: Trailheads.

  • Let's not over-freud the topic. :)

    I am a Zettler

  • @digbyphonic, I'm a little familiar with what you mentioned, and I think it's similar to Doron Mayer's blog post that I mentioned, insofar as both are using metaphors about "roles" to help people regulate themselves psychologically. But Doron's post is specialized for working creatives, and the literature you referred to is specialized for other populations. Applying such clinical theories outside of a clinical context can sometimes "over-freud the topic" as @Sascha said.

  • edited February 8

    @Sascha said:

    (At least, you'll get an invitation if there is a Beta Phase for "Zettelkasten for Fiction"... ;) )

    I'd be honored. Expect me to test the hell out of it. 😁 I have my own ideas, and possibly a book coming on that very subject; I appreciate that my talk with Nick is worthy of Zetteling! Thanks. Things have evolved since, though (I was definitely overlinking in that time and that's something I have totally scaled back since), but the one thing that has been an incredible breakthrough is the degrees of certainty (the emoji diagram) for emergence. It's become a, if not the pillar of my workflow.

    I wish I had a GREAT point of entry to Dini's work, but I have only dived deep into his OmniFocus manuals (Creating Flow with OmniFocus v1 & 2) which are quite specialized and yet amazing in applied insights – I got more out of a few snippets in those books than in the whole of Forte's work. But unless you're an OmniFocus user, that promises to be a very dry read.

    I know he develops those principles in an agnostic manner in Being Productive, Waves of Focus (in which I enrolled) and Workflow Mastery, but I have not gotten deep in those yet so I can't vouch for them. But I don't see why they would be bad. I fully intend to go in though as soon as I have the time. The little I got out of Waves of Focus has already helped me tremendously. Dini is a little like Allen: he hones onto simple practices, but carried by really profound concepts, and that's what makes it really work.

    The fact that he is a psychiatrist by trade and a musician helps him avoid so many of the productivity field pitfalls: he actually applies this for real work outside of the field's echo chamber. Which is why his voice is both unique and valuable in my opinion.

    "A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it." - Ernest Hemingway

    Zettelkasten: Bear + DEVONthink, GTD: OmniFocus, production: Scrivener / Ableton Live.

  • I would add Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age because it gives a historical context on information management and how information overload is an age old problem. I also have in my list Paper Machines: About Cards & Catalogs, 1548 - 1929 / Forgetting Machines: Knowledge Management Evolution in Early Modern Europe / The Memory Code by Lynne Kelly. On my to read list is The Science of Managing Our Digital Stuff by Ofer Bergman and Knowledge Construction Methodology: Fusing Systems Thinking and Knowledge Management.

  • I am outraged. Where is my name? I think I am suffering a narcissistic fit. :D

    This might be the least helpful, perhaps even harmful, list out there. :open_mouth:


    @KillerWhale said:

    @Sascha said:

    (At least, you'll get an invitation if there is a Beta Phase for "Zettelkasten for Fiction"... ;) )

    I'd be honored. Expect me to test the hell out of it. 😁 I have my own ideas, and possibly a book coming on that very subject;

    If you need feedback that is very slow and delayed, hit me an email or emails. :)

    I appreciate that my talk with Nick is worthy of Zetteling! Thanks. Things have evolved since, though (I was definitely overlinking in that time and that's something I have totally scaled back since), but the one thing that has been an incredible breakthrough is the degrees of certainty (the emoji diagram) for emergence. It's become a, if not the pillar of my workflow.

    I rewatched it in the meantime. It will be interesting to see how the general patterns emerge from different frame works. With us as two data points, the bigger picture is still in the fog of war, since I cannot see why we differ or don't.

    But the overall pattern is similar, what shouldn't be surprising.

    I wish I had a GREAT point of entry to Dini's work, but I have only dived deep into his OmniFocus manuals (Creating Flow with OmniFocus v1 & 2) which are quite specialized and yet amazing in applied insights – I got more out of a few snippets in those books than in the whole of Forte's work. But unless you're an OmniFocus user, that promises to be a very dry read.

    I am nerdy enough for drought. :)

    I know he develops those principles in an agnostic manner in Being Productive, Waves of Focus (in which I enrolled) and Workflow Mastery, but I have not gotten deep in those yet so I can't vouch for them. But I don't see why they would be bad. I fully intend to go in though as soon as I have the time. The little I got out of Waves of Focus has already helped me tremendously. Dini is a little like Allen: he hones onto simple practices, but carried by really profound concepts, and that's what makes it really work.

    The fact that he is a psychiatrist by trade and a musician helps him avoid so many of the productivity field pitfalls: he actually applies this for real work outside of the field's echo chamber. Which is why his voice is both unique and valuable in my opinion.

    This is really promising. I feel, too, that the field is sometimes a bit clouded by theoretical stuff. I try to avoid this as a "content creator" by making sure that I keep everything connected to the day-to-day practice. (Which is not good for marketing.. But you can't have it all :D )

    I am a Zettler

  • @Sascha Sorry the list was so Anglocentric. 😜 Please don't think I'm sitting here holding my breath that the book might get an English translation sometime before the fifth edition is released—sometimes I turn blue 😰and fall off my chair.

    website | digital slipbox 🗃️🖋️

    No piece of information is superior to any other. Power lies in having them all on file and then finding the connections. There are always connections; you have only to want to find them. —Umberto Eco

  • @Sascha said:

    If you need feedback that is very slow and delayed, hit me an email or emails. :)

    Very appreciated. I might just take you up on that offer! Would love to have your input on the shape of it. (I have to wrap up my current saga first though!)

    Like you, I am very curious as to what general underlying principles may emerge from the application of the method to fiction writing. I feel something is there, something true that I am grasping at, but feel like I'm mostly fumbling towards. My take is (of course) the best that I know, but by no means do I pretend it is the best. Other people may hone in to that underlying truth more directly than I do, and I'd love to learn from them.

    "A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it." - Ernest Hemingway

    Zettelkasten: Bear + DEVONthink, GTD: OmniFocus, production: Scrivener / Ableton Live.

  • -> PM

    I am a Zettler

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