Book Review: How to Think Like Shakespeare by Scott Newstok

** DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Nevertheless, all opinions presented here are my own. **

“My conviction is that education must be about thinking – not training a specific set of skills.”

Normally, I’m extremely picky when it comes to accepting review requests. What with one of the subjects I’m studying at university being English literature, I usually had a ton of required reading anyway, so the thought of adding even more books to my TBR-pile that I would have to have read by a certain date never really sounded all that appealing. I’m a huge mood reader, and if I don’t feel like the perfect moment for reading a book has come, I might not pick it up for months 😅😂 **cough The Dragon Republic cough**

However, as a huge Shakespeare nerd and future teacher, I was immediately intrigued when the author reached out to me and told me the premise of this book. Dissecting problems in our modern school systems by comparing them to Renaissance education? That was certainly something I hadn’t read before! And I have always enjoyed reading books about education – or at least I did before my big psychology exams in 2019 😅 There’s nothing like being forced to read and memorize a ton of education tomes under intense time pressure to put you off picking them up for a while… 🙄 But now that my trauma had somewhat subsided and I no longer had any required reading for university, I was interested to see what How to Think Like Shakespeare had to offer!


Title: How to Think Like Shakespeare

Author: Scott Newstok

Genre: Nonfiction (Education)

Page Count: 200

Publication Date: April 1, 2020

Date Read: April 14 – 17, 2021

Rating: 3/5 Stars

In general, I do think that this book is a great conversation starter. Despite its heavy intertextuality, it is written in a very accessible manner, with short essay-like chapters that break down the author’s main ideas in a precise and engaging way. Teaching to the test, lack of practical experience, too little engagement with traditional texts, the dangers of technology, and more – Scott Newstok has something to say about all of these issues and illustrates his points by contrasting our modern-day education with the one Shakespeare likely received.

And there is a lot of Shakespeare trivia in here that I obviously immediately gobbled up! 🥰 I had a ton of fun guessing which plays certain quotes had been taken from before I actually checked the footnotes. I found out a bit more about which other authors Shakespeare had been heavily “inspired” by. [Let’s just say plagiarism wasn’t as big of a thing back then… 😜] I learned about the origin of the word ‘playwright’. I started thinking about details I hadn’t paid much attention to during my Shakespeare readthroughs, such as the significance of gloves in his plays…

That being said, though, I don’t think the book really goes into a lot of depth. Most of the problems mentioned are probably fairly obvious to anyone with experience in teaching or being taught, and I didn’t really feel as though How to Think Like Shakespeare added much to the existing conversation. Yes, it was a well-written summary of current issues in education, but it didn’t really do much beyond that. All examples given were extremely brief, the solutions proposed rather vague. And while the historical snippets were interesting, I also felt they could have gone into more detail. Instead of giving us a more in-depth look into Renaissance education and what we might learn from it, I felt the author had a very clear idea of which parts of the US school system needed reforming, told us more about those, and then picked out aspects of Shakespearean education and lots of quotes that would drive home those points, almost as an afterthought.

As an introduction to a more critical conversation about modern day education, this book serves its purpose. The ideas presented are interesting – for example, I really enjoyed the chapter about how smartphones and online classes are shaping the educational landscape, especially now that I have actually gotten to experience these things more than I might have liked to thanks to the pandemic 😭. I think many of the essays in here would actually provide a good basis for a group discussion to people who like to read nonfiction every once in a while and are interested in education. However, for anyone looking to delve deeper or get a more thorough understanding of education during the Renaissance, How to Think Like Shakespeare is probably not the right book to turn to.

So yeah – my ultimate verdict is that while this book deals with several interesting ideas and includes a ton of Shakespeare references that immediately had me hooked, it just stayed a bit too surface-level for my tastes. I had fun reading it, but nothing really took me by surprise either. Although part of that might also be due to me already having attended a ton of lectures on education and the British Renaissance, so who knows whether I’m really in the best position to judge here… 😂

But anyway, that was it for this quick review! If you’ve read How to Think Like Shakespeare, do let me know what you thought of it! Do you have any grievances about education in your country that you think need to be addressed? Or do you have a favorite Shakespeare play? I’m always asking people this – mine’s Othello, by the way 😍 – so if you haven’t already told me, I would love to know!

Other than that, I’ll see you on Friday with my regular post!

18 thoughts on “Book Review: How to Think Like Shakespeare by Scott Newstok

  1. Line says:

    I see how this book caught your interest. Reading the premise, it’s like this book was written just for you 😄 I’m glad you had fun with it, even though it’s wasn’t super educational.

    Liked by 1 person

    • abookowlscorner says:

      I know – it’s actually kind of creepy how perfectly the premise targeted my Shakespeare love and educational aspirations all at once 😂 I definitely had a ton of fun returning to all the Shakespeare trivia! I didn’t even realize how big my withdrawal was now that I’ve read all the plays and have no more exams to study for… But I’m definitely not complaining about the lack of exams, either! 😅

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jan @ thedoodlecrafter says:

    Haha my fav play’s A Midsummer night’s dream, and then Hamlet!! Othello’s great too, but it was sort of confusing for me, maybe I’ll reread it one day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • abookowlscorner says:

      A Midsummer Night’s Dream seems to be getting a lot of love in these comments – but rightfully so! It’s also one of my own favorites 🥰 I also loved the dreary and creepy atmosphere in Hamlet, although all of his indecisiveness and Ophelia babbling on and on about flowers was also kind of frustrating at times… 😅 And I definitely think Othello might be worth another shot someday! 🙃

      Liked by 1 person

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