Tom Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt dedicated a year to learning simply for the fun of it. © Knopf 2020

In Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning, released in January, Tom Vanderbilt ’91 of Brooklyn, New York, demonstrates that learning new things can — and should — be done at any age. Inspired by his young, curiosity-driven daughter while facing his own “rut of mid-career competence,” Vanderbilt dedicated a year to learning simply for the fun of it. He selected five main skills — chess, drawing, juggling, singing, and surfing — based on their difficulty as well as their lack of career marketability, and he interviewed experts throughout the journey to gather insights about the benefits of starting something new as an adult.Book cover of Beginners by Tom Vanderbilt

The book, highlighting the significance of novel experiences, provides a unique perspective at a time when many have been isolated for more than a year. A New York Times book review from December notes, “There’s a certain poignancy to reading Beginners at the end of 2020, when merely going to the grocery store qualifies as an ‘exposure event,’ and the spirit of adventure has been largely eclipsed by the matter of survival. The research for the book itself may have taken place in happier times, but Beginners is still shadowed by Vanderbilt’s awareness of his own mortality.”

Vanderbilt is the best-selling author of You May Also Like: Taste in an Age of Endless Choice and Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us). He is also a contributing editor of Wired UK, Outside, and Artforum, and he has written for publications such as the New York Times Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, and the London Review of Books.

Published in the Summer 2021 issue

Tags: Alumni, Teaching and learning

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