The Two Buckets of Non-Fiction Books

Do you want to learn for pleasure, or do you want to take action?

Erik Jones
2 min readApr 7


There are many kinds of non-fiction books, and they can be categorized in nearly infinite ways.

One interesting way is to bucket them very broadly by what you hope to accomplish by reading them.

Two such buckets could be non-fiction where you can learn something interesting about the world, and non-fiction where you are motivated to action.

A drawing of two metal buckets. One says “learning” and the other says “action.”
Image drawn by author

There’s an overlap of course and they don’t account for every genre of nonfiction, but I think it largely tracks with goals readers have going into a book.

When I started The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, I was ready to settle in and go deep about biology over many, many pages, and not to necessarily change what I would be doing the next day. I wanted to learn.

When I started Atomic Habits by James Clear, yes, I figured I would learn about habits, but the real goal was to leave the last page with some words of wisdom I could implement immediately. I wanted to take action.

You could think of “action” as “self-help” or “personal development,” but these labels as traditionally recognized in bookstores are only one component to the bucket.

The “action” bucket could also include any kind of tutorial or skills-focused book, as well as any other non-fiction you use to guide your behavior. If you are traveling to Europe and bought a few travel books to help you, you wouldn’t typically see them as “personal development,” but they will certainly be used for action. It’s the action you hope to take after reading that is the key.

So next time you crack open a non-fiction book, which bucket is it being pulled from?

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Erik Jones

Writing about podcasts and creativity. Check out to never miss an article and to get podcast recommendations that make you think.