School in a Book: A Ridiculously Concise K-12 Review

Twelve years of elementary and high school plus extracurricular studies leaves us with a lot of information. Too much information, sometimes. Since we can’t retain everything, our brains have to pick and choose. And sometimes they make pretty bad decisions. We might live with our in-depth understanding of the oboe forever, say, but can’t recall whether Alexander the Great lived before or after the Roman Empire. If we don’t want our most important knowledge areas to fade out, then, we do well to periodically review the basics.

That’s where School in a Book comes in.

For each subject listed below, I’ve written a knowledge checklist of sorts: a collection of essential terms and other information. It’s not a textbook; instead, it’s an overview, a handy guide to help you strengthen your weak points and gain a wider perspective of the topic.

Sample sections are available here. To learn when this complete work becomes available for purchase, subscribe to my blog to the right.

School in a Book Sections

Essential Knowledge: Chemistry

Essential Knowledge: Physics

Essential Knowledge: Astronomy

Essential Knowledge: Biology and Genetics

Essential Knowledge: Botany and Zoology

Essential Knowledge: Anatomy and Medical Science

Essential Knowledge: Geology, Ecology and Meteorology

Essential Knowledge: World History Overview, Prehistory and World History Timeline

Essential Knowledge: History of Europe

Essential Knowledge: History of North, Central and South America

Essential Knowledge: History of Africa

Essential Knowledge: History of the Middle East

Essential Knowledge: History of China

Essential Knowledge: History of Japan

Essential Knowledge: History of Russia

Essential Knowledge: History of India

Essential Knowledge: History of Australia

Essential Knowledge: Geography

Essential Knowledge: Punctuation and Grammar

Essential Knowledge: Literary Analysis and Poetry

Essential Knowledge: Arithmetic and Measurement

Essential Knowledge: Algebra and Geometry

Essential Knowledge: Art and Architecture

Essential Knowledge: Music

Essential Knowledge: American Government

Essential Knowledge: Political Science

Essential Knowledge: Philosophy

Essential Knowledge: Logic and Rhetoric

Essential Knowledge: Psychology

Essential Knowledge: Sociology

Essential Knowledge: Religion and Spirituality

Essential Skills: Writing and Literary Analysis

Essential Skills: Science and History

Essential Skills: Mathematics

Essential Skills: Arts and Crafts

Essential Skills: Physical Education

Essential Skills: Social, Emotional and Life Management

Essential Resources: Classic Literature: Children’s

Essential Resources: Classic Fiction: Older Kids and Adults

Essential Resources: Classic Nonfiction

Essential Resources: Classic Films

Essential Resources: Classic Songs and Musical Artists

Essential Resources: Educational Games and Other Recreational Activities

Bonus Section: Personal Records

Supplemental Sections

I just couldn’t help myself: Here, additional advanced sections to be included in a supplemental edition of this book.

Essential Knowledge: Statistics and Research

Essential Knowledge: Computer Science

Essential Knowledge: Technology

Essential Knowledge: Mandarin Chinese Vocabulary (this section to come)

Essential Knowledge: Spanish Vocabulary (this section to come)

How to Use This Book

Subject-specific suggestions for memorizing and applying the lessons in this book can be found in the brief overviews provided. Here are a few other general tips:


As you peruse the lists in this book, you will find many facts you already know. This is a good thing. If you have the book in print form, you might want to mark your retained facts as you go. There’s a saying in psychology: “Shrink the change.” The more facts and lists you master, the more encouraged you’ll be to move on to more challenging areas. (Check marking also prevents you from wasting time re-reading old-to-you material.)


Almost all of the material in this book is available in multiple forms somewhere on the Internet. Because websites change constantly, linking to recommended Internet resources isn’t necessary or even very helpful. Most terms you search for will yield a wide variety of accurate, well-stated, brief and even entertaining articles, videos and tutorials. No longer under copyright, classic books and stories are freely available as well. When working with my children on these lists, I often find relevant videos on YouTube–one under-ten-minute video per term or story. I queue up five or six in separate tabs, and my kids are fully engaged with free, educational material for an hour.


The most difficult part of this book to write was the history section. Timelines feel natural, yet I avoided this presentation as much as possible since they don’t facilitate memorization. (Question: The year 1789. Answer: ???) Instead, I arranged the information in the same way the other lists are arranged, with recognizable names and other terms followed by their “definitions.” If you can buzz down a list, identifying each of these with your hand covering the explanations, you’ve mastered that section. Better yet, create your own flash cards. The act of writing the information will help you retain a surprising amount of it.


Unlike many other textbooks, this book has very little filler. Everything here is meant to be both understood and retained. Don’t just read over the definitions to determine whether or not you “get it”; quiz yourself on them. It’s always interesting to notice how much harder it is to bring something back to mind than to simply understand it.

School in a Book Advantages

Finally, since I love lists so much, here’s another one for you: the eight main advantages of this book.

But first, two disadvantages: While much of the information presented here is straightforward and ready to memorize, the Essential Skills and Essential Resources lists require further research, reading and practice. In addition, School in a Book is, unapologetically, a generalist, liberal arts curriculum. It is a straightforward, basic overview of each topic–nothing more. It goes without saying that there is more to life than fractions and the Mayflower, so take these basic concepts and use them to build yourself into a great generalist … then branch off from there in the directions of your choice.


Educators love to debate the relative merits of a generalist versus specialist education. My feeling is that life is long and learning is an innate human need; however, humans don’t innately know what they should specialize in. By establishing a wide knowledge base as early as possible, areas of interest present themselves more readily.


The book’s biggest advantage, I think, is a hidden one: By reading the entire outline of a topic in one sitting, you’re able to feel, maybe for the first time, that you truly understand it. Here’s a metaphor I like: If a physics textbook is a detailed travel guide to the world of that subject, the School in a Book physics checklist is a physics map. By reading the checklist all at once, you’re able to see the bigger picture: physics has to do with energy, motion, gravity, electricity, magnetism, light, sound and nuclear forces. Understanding this builds confidence as well as competence.


School in a Book won’t waste your time. Enough said.


I know, I know: memorization is out of fashion these days. But let’s not take our emphasis on critical thinking and creativity too far. If thinking skills are the toolkit, facts are the raw building materials. It’s impossible to arrange an interesting proposal, plan, article or analysis–or even have a fluent conversation on a topic–without the facts–the building blocks–in hand. (Okay, it’s possible, but we all know what that looks like and it isn’t pretty.)

The very best way to use School in a Book is as a tool for memorization. This is the stuff you’ll want to know–to retain–for the many efforts, decisions and conversations to come in your life.


You might be surprised at how much you don’t know about the world, even if you’ve completed twelve or more years of school. I was. (Okay, that’s not quite true. I knew how badly I needed help.) Our minds don’t always pick and choose well. They might record every word our favorite teachers say, but almost nothing from certain entire textbooks. Here, discover what you missed on the days you slept in, as well as what you forgot.


Though this resource purports to be an elementary through high school educational reference text, the checklists were designed to cover 101-level college material (and, in a few cases, levels higher than this). This is because I believe that college 101 classes are generally meant to catch up incoming college students on the subjects they should have learned in high school, but didn’t.


I love organizing. I love brevity, too. Almost in a romantic sort of way. Other books spread out the essential knowledge between pages of description, introduction, images, callouts and the like. School in a Book eschews such inefficient use of space in order to provide extremely easy access to a broad range of information. The book can be used as one large checklist that you work through at your own pace. In addition, lists are organized by type of learning required: Essential Learning, Essential Skills and Essential Resources. When facts, books and skills are all mixed together, the checklists become much harder to work with. Studying facts requires different mental and environmental preparation than does practicing a skill or reading a book.


I hope that you find these terms and lists as useful as I have, but if you don’t, wait a few years. By mastering the School in a Book material, you’ve paved the way for an easier high school and college experience. You’ve also obtained a good knowledge foundation that will serve you well your entire adult life.

Don’t believe the rumors: you can be a generalist and a specialist both. Why not? Life is long, and learning is life. Be curious. Be unafraid. Read nonfiction every day. Watch documentaries. Find a passion (or six). Be great.

Oh, and have lots of fun while you’re doing it.


Babies come. But babies don't go. Get Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Story on Amazon now.



  1. Wow I love the idea of mini text book or memory help mini books. Because I agree with you, we cannot remember everything for ever. Unless we read it often or use the knowledge in some way we forget.

    1. Thanks so much. I am excited. Some of them are just checklists but the actual info can be recalled or looked up as needed. I have a spreadsheet for each child with all this stuff on there. It’s huge.