Review of A Few Lessons from Sherlock Holmes from Seeking Wisdom

Posted by Steve Emecz on

Learning from Sherlock Holmes

Recently I read the book A Few Lessons from Sherlock Holmes. If you want to improve your thinking then you should read this book. In this book the author has distilled Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes into bite-sized principles and key quotes. I really enjoyed the book as it reminds me of the teachings of Charlie Munger. This is not a coincidence as the author of this book, Peter Bevlin, is also the author of Seeking Wisdom from Darwin to Munger. In this post I am capturing the similarities of Holmes and teachings of Munger.

Who is Sherlock Holmes?


Arthur Conan Doyle is a Scottish physician and writer of Sherlock Holmes novels. Joseph Bell a Scottish professor of clinical surgery, for whom Doyle worked. Sherlock Holmes a London-based fictional character created by Doyle based on the inspiration from Joseph Bell.

1. Learn from multiple disciplines

Sherlock Holmes – The Valley of Fear

Breadth of view … is one of the essentials of our profession. The interplay of ideas and the oblique uses of knowledge are often of extraordinary interest.

Sherlock Holmes – A Study in Scarlet

One’s ideas must be as broad as Nature if they are to interpret Nature.

Charlie Munger – Elementary Worldly Wisdom

And the models have to come from multiple disciplines—because all the wisdom of the world is not to be found in one little academic department. That’s why poetry professors, by and large, are so unwise in a worldly sense. They don’t have enough models in their heads. So you’ve got to have models across a fair array of disciplines.

2. Array your knowledge

Sherlock Holmes – A Study in Scarlet

A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic.

Charlie Munger – Elementary Worldly Wisdom

You’ve got to have models in your head. And you’ve got to array your experience—both vicarious and direct—on this latticework of models. You may have noticed students who just try to remember and pound back what is remembered. Well, they fail in school and in life. You’ve got to hang experience on a latticework of models in your head.

3. Learn Human Psychology

Sherlock Holmes – The Stock Broker’s Clerk

Human nature is a strange mixture, Watson. You see that even a villain and murderer can inspire such affection that his brother turns to suicide when he learns that his neck is forfeited.

Charlie Munger – Psychology of Human Misjudgment

This first really hit me between the eyes when a friend of our family had a super-athlete, super-student son who flew off a carrier in the north Atlantic and never came back, and his mother, who was a very sane woman, just never believed that he was dead. And, of course, if you turn on the television, you’ll find the mothers of the most obvious criminals that man could ever diagnose, and they all think their sons are innocent. That’s simple psychological denial. The reality is too painful to bear, so you just distort it until it’s bearable. We all do that to some extent, and it’s a common psychological misjudgment that causes terrible problems.

4. Never stop learning

Sherlock Holmes – The Red Circle

Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for the last.

Charlie Munger – Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting 2013

The game of life is a game of everlasting learning. At least, it is if you want to win.

5. Do not jump to conclusions

Sherlock Holmes – A Scandal in Bohemia

It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.

Charlie Munger – Psychology of Human Misjudgment

Well what I’m saying here is that the human mind is a lot like the human egg, and the
human egg has a shut-off device. When one sperm gets in, it shuts down so the next one can’t get in. The human mind has a big tendency of the same sort. And here again, it doesn’t just catch ordinary mortals; it catches the deans of physics. According to Max Planck, the really innovative, important new physics was never really accepted by the old guard. Instead a new guard came along that was less brain-blocked by its previous conclusions. And if Max Planck’s crowd had this consistency and commitment tendency that kept their old inclusions intact in spite of disconfirming evidence, you can imagine what the crowd that you and I are part of behaves like.

6. Always Invert

Sherlock Holmes – A Study in Scarlet

Most people, if you describe a train of events to them, will tell you what the result would be. They can put those together in their minds, and argue from them that something will come to pass. There are few people, however, who, if you told them a result, would be able to evolve from their own inner consciousness what the steps were which led up to that result. This power is what I mean when I talk of reasoning backward, or analytically.

Charlie Munger – USC Law School Commencement

In life, unless you’re more gifted than Einstein, inversion will help you solve problems. Let me use a little inversion now. What will really fail in life? What do you want to avoid? Such an easy answer: sloth and unreliability. If you’re unreliable it doesn’t matter what your virtues are. Doing what you have faithfully engaged to do should be an automatic part of your conduct. You want to avoid sloth and unreliability.


a few lessons

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