Field Notes 48 page small notebook on a wooden lapdesk with a mechanical pencil sitting on top of it.
Who else keeps a waste book

I carry around a small notebook (usually a 48 page Field Notes) for short fleeting notes. Later I copy them into my commonplace book/zettelkasten/digital garden and expand upon them. 

Waste books were used in the tradition of the commonplace book. A well known example is Isaac Newton’s Waste Book (MS Add. 4004) in which he did much of the development of the calculus. Another example is that of Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, who called his waste books sudelbücher, and which were known to have influenced Leo Tolstoy, Albert Einstein, Andre Breton, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Lichtenberg, Georg Christoph (2000). The Waste Books. New York: New York Review of Books Classics. ISBN 978-0940322509.


Published by

Chris Aldrich

I'm a biomedical and electrical engineer with interests in information theory, complexity, evolution, genetics, signal processing, IndieWeb, theoretical mathematics, and big history. I'm also a talent manager-producer-publisher in the entertainment industry with expertise in representation, distribution, finance, production, content delivery, and new media.

18 thoughts on “”

  1. @chrisaldrich ‘Waste Book’ seems an odd name (to me) since you are gathering useful observations, right? I still have some old reporter notebooks from previous life as journalist that I will tuck into back pocket now and then for ideas and small lines of poetry …

    1. Chris Aldrich says:

      It’s a historical name from double-entry accounting. They were so called because once you’ve moved your notes into an alternate permanent location, you would usually have no need to keep the original.

      Of course if you’re way smarter than me, maybe someone comes along after you pass and publishes them like they did for Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

      Syndicated copies:

  2. Paul says:

    It’s worth chatting to Jamie Rubin ( ). He’s an avid Field Notes person, and carries one all the time. He’s also been exploring how to blend physical notes with Obsidian notes, and Evernote as a capture service.

  3. Michael Rowe says:

    I use a combination of Joplin and a physical notebook for my ‘waste books’ (although I don’t call them that). I prefer a digital version for most things because it’s easier to take note of URLs and photos, for example. Joplin’s browser extension and mobile app make it super useful for capturing fleeting notes that I can work with later. I prefer the physical notebook for meetings, as I find it’s 1) less distracting, and 2) I like the second review when transcribing the notes into Obsidian.

    I realised that both are ‘waste books’ because the ultimate goal of any notes I take in both of these formats is to be deleted.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *