The Pocket Notebooks of 20 Famous Men

by Brett & Kate McKay on September 13, 2010 · 57 comments

in Blog

John D. Rockefeller

John D. Rockefeller’s zeal for detailed bookkeeping was legendary. He loved to meticulously pore over his ledger books and took great pleasure in having every fact and figure right at his fingertips. And he was constantly trying to figure out ways to make his business more efficient; he was never satisfied with the status quo. His aid in this efficiency crusade was a little red notebook he always kept with him in which he would jot down notes to himself, along with facts, figures, and calculations.

Rockefeller took his notebook on tours of his refineries and processing plants. He carefully observed the plants and probed the managers with a myriad of questions as he made notes of ways things could be improved. And he always followed up on these ideas. Thus the little red notebook had the power to strike a bit of fear in his underlings. “More than once I have gone to luncheon with a number of our heads of departments and have seen the sweat start out on the foreheads of some of them when that little red notebook was pulled out,” Rockefeller remembered with enjoyment.

Rockefeller understood that a penny saved somewhere along the line could snowball into a hefty sum. For example, while touring a plant he saw that 40 drops of solder were being used to seal kerosene cans destined for export. He asked the foreman to try sealing them with 38 drops; some leaked with 38, but none with 39, and so the switch was made. Rockefeller recalled, “That one drop of solder saved $2,500 the first year: but the export business kept on increasing after that and doubled, quadrupled-became immensely greater than it was then: and the saving has gone steadily along, one drop on each can, and has amounted since to many hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Lewis and Clark

With the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, the United States acquired nearly a million square miles of territory, territory that had yet to be officially mapped and explored. Americans knew very little about this new swath of their country, and Jefferson charged the Corps of Discovery with finding out just what was out there. Jefferson was not only interested in the men finding river routes to the Pacific, but as an amateur naturalist and scientist himself, was also extremely keen on discovering just what geography, climate, plants, peoples, and animals inhabited this frontier. So he charged the expedition with recording a long list of information, from the lay of the land to the disposition of the native peoples they encountered. He asked them to keep multiple journals and to take extremely good care of them.

The Corps of Discovery carried out this order with all due diligence. Not only did Captains Lewis and Clark keep notebooks on their observations, but the other soldiers did as well, producing in all more than one million words during their travels.

Lewis and Clark kept 18 of what Jefferson called their “traveling pocket journals;” 13 were larger notebooks bound in red morocco leather, 4 were smaller and bound in paper board, and one was Clark’s field notebook bound in elkskin. Clark carried this elkskin field book during times of inclement weather or while canoeing down a river in order not to risk damage to one of the larger red notebooks. He would then copy his field notes into the red notebooks later on. When all the notebooks were not in use they were kept protected in tin cases. When their pages had been completely filled, the notebooks were sealed safely shut inside the cases for a safe return to Washington.

Shoshone smoking pipe

Falls and portage of the Missouri River.

Historian Donald Jackson called Lewis and Clark “the writingest explorers of their time.” The men “wrote constantly and abundantly, afloat and ashore, legibly and illegibly, and always with an urgent sense of purpose.” Their journals covered astronomy, weather, natural history, botany, animals, anthropology, maps, and much more, and today offer an incomparable snapshot of the frontier of America.

George C. Marshall

George C. Marshall always kept a small notebook with him, and it would bear rich fruit during his tenure as the U.S. Army Chief of Staff during WWII.

Between the World Wars, Marshall served as aide-de-camp to General Pershing, worked within the War Department, commanded the 15th Infantry Regiment, and taught at the Army War College. These positions brought him into contact with many up and coming officers admist the Army’s ranks. Wherever he went, he carefully observed the men he met and encountered. He would jot down the names of those he considered promising candidates for future leadership positions, making notes of the men’s strengths and particular characteristics. The names of men like Patton, Eisenhower, Bradley, and Stilwell could be found on the pages of his famous notebook.

When WWII broke out, Marshall didn’t want over-the-hill generals ordering young men into battle; instead, he looked for leaders who, even if controversial, could be dynamic in their thinking and strategy. To find the men ready for top commands, Marshall had to simply flip open his notebook and look over his notes. He became known for having a “gift” for putting the right people in the right positions. But it was a gift born of preparation…and a pocket notebook.

Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton began his habit of keeping a notebook as a boy-he would write out lists of words and recipes for things like colored dyes. But his notebook keeping began in earnest when he arrived at Cambridge as an undergraduate. In the 17th century, students were encourage to keep a large “commonplace book” in which they recorded all their notes and acquired knowledge. But on the advice of his Cambridge tutor, Newton instead started a set of small notebooks, each dedicated to a specific subject-theology, mathematics, chemistry, and philosophy. Newton’s method of inquiry was to pose a question, study and analyze all the evidence, and record his deductions in his notebooks.

Newton had an obsession for organizing and categorizing information, and he would typically lay out his notebooks by listing the subjects he wished to study throughout the book and then entering notes under the headings as he learned and gathered new knowledge. He would also start in on both ends of the notebook at once, covering different subjects on each end and numbering the front half with Roman numerals and the end half with Arabic numerals. He would then return later to fill in the blank middle section with a different subject.

Newton’s philosophical notebook is particularly prized among scholars for its insight into Newton’s intellectual development. Inspired by the philosophy of Rene Descartes, he endeavored to explore all the quaestiones quaedam philosophicae (Philosophical Questions). He made 45 different headings in his notebook on topics ranging from atoms and color to God and the soul.

First page of the Quaestiones.

He organized his theological notebook in the same way, making a list of headings on various theological subjects at each end of the notebook. The front part was used to systematically study the Bible and record what it said about each subject; the end of the notebook was used to further explore the questions which had been raised during this scripture reading by seeing what the church fathers had to say on the topic. He even wrote up an index to this book so that he could reference the entries and insights he had gained throughout his life.

For the rest of his life, Newton not only returned to his old notebooks but filled many dozens more with insights and experiments in everything from alchemy to mathematics.

Notebook entry on alchemy

Frank Capra

In his autobiography, Frank Capra recalls how, without any real previous experience, he stumbled into being asked to direct his first short film, The Ballad of Fultah Fisher’s Boarding House, based on a poem by Rudyard Kipling. Worried about failing, Capra prepared as much as possible, with help from his pocket notebook:

“Came the morning of  ‘shooting.’ The saloon looked perfect, foggy with smoke as I ordered, and smelly with beer on the sawdust. The ‘actors,’ standing around in open-mouthed wonderment, were so villainous Kipling would have loved them. I had every scene in my mind and sketched out in a pocket notebook; long shots, near shots, face shots-all in chronological order. A pomaded Montague gripped my hand, wishing me luck.”

Pablo Picasso

Picasso utilized his pocket notebooks to make preliminary sketches before he began a painting. This was particualrly true in the case of preparing to paint what would become Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Driven by his artistic passion and an intense rivalry with Henri Matisse, Picasso made 809 sketches for the painting in many notebooks over a period of nearly six months-more preparatory sketches than for any other known artwork in history.

Picasso thought so much of his notebooks that he wrapped some of them with pieces of colorful fabric. Others he painted with stars, zig zags, stripes, and dots.

Prepatory sketch for 'Guernica'

His notebooks were indispensable to his art, but they also kept him sane during trying times.

From 1932-1935, two books which exposed Picasso’s private life were published, his mistress gave birth to his child, and his wife left him and took their son with her. Picasso called this period “the worst time in my life.” Hoping to strip his life back to the essentials, he confined himself in near isolation in Paris. But as his friend Jaime Sabartes recalled, his trusty pocket notebook remained his companion:

“Picasso was endeavoring to recapture the simplicity of our life as young men, despite the manifold and profound changes in us and around us. He wanted to return to a bygone period in our lives. He neither painted nor sketched and never went up to his studio except when it was absolutely necessary, and even then he put it off from day to day, no matter how urgent. In order to occupy his imagination, he wrote-with a pen if he found one handy, or a small stub of pencil-in a little notebook which he carried about with him in his pocket. He wrote everywhere.”

Peter Jennings

To go from a high school dropout to a respected foreign correspondent and news anchor takes hard work and attention to detail. Peter Jennings particularly set himself apart from other journalists with his zeal for the latter. Vice President and Managing Editor of News for ABC, Paul Friedman, remembered:

“Whenever we would go out on a story he carried a reporter’s notebook around with him-a small spiral notebook that he used to put in the back of his pants, inside the belt. He would take incredibly detailed notes. So if you went anywhere in the world, he would go back to his file of spiral notebooks and you’d hit the ground running because he could say, ‘well, there is this guy I talked to last time. Here is his telephone number and we’ll call him.’ All reporters do that, but Peter did it in incredible detail.

I remember going to Cuba with Peter on a story. We needed a sugarcane field for a standup, talking about the economy. Peter looked in one of his notebooks and he looked around and said, ‘If you go down that road about a mile, there’ll be a church on the left. Hang a left at that church, drive a little while after that, and there will be a sugarcane field.’ Sure enough, there it was.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson was surely one of the most prolific notebook-keepers in history. He kept 263 notebooks on a variety of subjects and for a variety of purposes. His notebook collection became so unwieldy, it required a 400 page index to help Emerson find what he was looking for. And then he made indexes for specific subjects too and an index just for references to people in his notebooks-839 in all. He even had indexes for his indexes.

What did Emerson write in all of these journals and notebooks? Perhaps it would be easier to make a list of what he did not write down. His larger journals were filled with notes on his prodigious reading (he kept four small notebooks just to list the books he had read), philosophical musings, excerpts of letters, recollections of dreams, and translations of ancient and modern writings. He kept a series of topical notebooks, each devoted to a different subject: Beauty and Art, Reality and Illusion, Country Life, Rhetoric, and Notes on Love.

There were notebooks devoted to his lectures and notebooks devoted to observations and memories of people in his life like Henry David Thoreau. He kept 30 pocket-size diaries to record daily happenings. Other pocket-size notebooks were given specific purposes: drafts of poems and lectures, notes on his trees and garden, and a collection of quotes which he kept on hand to supplement his writings, sermons, and lectures. When he used a quote he would mark a line through it to indicate such. On his traveling lecture tours he brought small leather bound pocket notebooks which he used to keep track of his expenses and to make observations about the sites, local peoples, economy, and geography of the places  he visited. In short, Emerson was simply always writing-nature, religion, politics, people, culture-it all drove him to put pen to paper.

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison started using a pocket notebook as a teenager. He carried it wherever he went and used the notebook to make observations about the natural world, jot down bits of inspiration, record the results of experiments, and draw diagrams and pictures of new ideas. He continued this practice as an adult.

On the advice of a patent attorney, he also kept a set of notebooks specifically for officially recording his ideas in case he had to defend their origin in court.

In 1888 he started a notebook entitled “Private Idea Book.” Within its pages Edison wrote down ideas for inventions he planned to bring to fruition in the near future. These inventions included “artificial silk,” “platinum wire ice cutting machine,” “electrical piano,” “toy phonograph for dolls,” and perhaps most curiously, “ink for blind:”

Edison's To-Do List

Edison also personally vetted each piece of music his company recorded and released and kept a set of notebooks full of his reasons for giving  songs the thumbs up or thumbs down.

Edison ordered the staff at his famous Menlo Park laboratory to adopt his avid notebook-keeping habit, and he and his associates generated 2,500 pocket notebooks of 200-250 pages each during his lifetime.

August 31, 1871 notebook entry for an Automatic Translating Printing Machine for Telegraphy

Early sketch of Edison's incandescent light bulb.

Leonardo da Vinci

Like Emerson, Leonardo da Vinci was a positively prolific writer. 13,000 pages of his writings have come down to us, and there may be another 10,000 which have gone missing. He frequently wrote on loose sheets of paper that he kept barely organized; he made his own “notebooks” by folding the sheets and wrapping them in fabric. But when he turned thirty he also began writing in leather-bound journals. And he carried small bound notebooks with him at all times. He kept these tiny 3.5X2.5 notebooks tied to his belt, always at the ready for his thoughts, observations, drawings, and ideas.

Leonardo has been called “the most curious man who ever lived.” He was always asking questions and thinking of new things to investigate. His notebooks are filled with musings and drawings on every conceivable subject: philosophy, art, botany, geology, anatomy, flight, water and many more. His tireless mind flitted from one idea to the next; on the same page of his notebook he might wax poetic on the human form, sketch a plant, start a draft of a letter, and even record his expenditures and that night’s dinner menu.

The sudden jumps from topic to topic, even within a single page, are not the only thing that makes Leonardo’s notes hard to decipher. He famously wrote in “mirror writing” from right to left across the page, although not because he was trying to keep the writings secret; as a left hander it was simply a way to keep the ink from smearing as he wrote. His writing also lacks punctuation, and he was apt to combine several short words into one long one or divide long words into smaller parts. But while the chaos of his notebooks may impede the average person from delving into their contents, the profound mish-mash only adds to the man’s mystique and mystery and our fascination with his legendary mind.

Pages: 1 2

{ 57 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Andrius September 13, 2010 at 3:57 am

A very interesting read. The already mentioned list of famous people who never had notebooks would be very interesting as well ;)

2 Stefan | September 13, 2010 at 7:07 am

Amazing. Since I carry around a notebook all the time I am always curious on how the great minds used it. Love to see the little drawing, the scribbled texts. Awesome.

3 Paul Vance September 13, 2010 at 7:29 am

I’m curious. Is using a smart phone and Evernote the same thing? Or is there something about carrying a notebook?

4 Benjamin Arie September 13, 2010 at 9:02 am

Another contemporary example is Richard Branson, billionaire founder of Virgin — he is well known to carry around a notebook whether in London or on his Caribbean Island. He’ll resort to writing on his hand if a notebook isn’t within reach!

5 prufock September 13, 2010 at 9:15 am

Cool post. I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of Twain, Hemingway, Darwin, Lucas, and David.

6 Denis Gauthier September 13, 2010 at 10:18 am

Another great post :)

7 Drew September 13, 2010 at 10:29 am

Great post! Since reading the initial post on the pocket notebook, I have started carrying one and have received immediate benefits from the practice. I highly recommend carrying one if you don’t already.

8 Jon S. September 13, 2010 at 10:34 am

@Paul, for me, there’s just something about the notebook. It’s not pure affectation, though. if it were, I think, the focus would be wrong. I feel *compelled* to write in a notebook; If it’s at hand, I want to fill it. Not so with any electronic program. I’m very analog-minded when it comes to sketching out ideas and making lists and whatnot. With the occasional exception of Google Tasks, I’ve never ended up using any digital program I’ve ever set up for more than a few days before returning to pen and paper. I don’t want to have to turn on my phone or PDA or click around to whatever program I need.

Now that’s just me, of course. The idea, I think, is that we should capture our thoughts, not carry around a particular medium for stylistic reasons. If a smartphone works you, by all means tap away! But if you’ve had trouble sticking to the habit of using them to capture your thoughts, you may just find that there is indeed something about notebooks.


9 bhud September 13, 2010 at 10:42 am

I loved using pencil/pen and paper, but with having a smartphone, I find carrying both is cumbersome. I’ll jot down quick notes on my phone, then transpose them to notebooks later.

10 James Strock September 13, 2010 at 10:58 am

Great post! A wonderful concept that all of us can learn from. Thanks for sharing!

11 Keith Claridge September 13, 2010 at 11:06 am

What kind of size should they be?

12 Chris W September 13, 2010 at 11:16 am

My issue with carrying a pocket notebook is where do I keep it? I don’t even have room in my pockets for the things I already carry, wallet, blackberry, swiss army knife (which has come in VERY handy) keys… I suppose I could make sure my shirts always have a pocket in which to keep a little notebook… For those of you who carry a pocket notebook, where do you carry it?

13 Elizabeth September 13, 2010 at 11:27 am

A well-published poet recommended setting up a working notebook, consisting of a legal pad, an attached pen, and a waterproof cover made from a gallon-sized ziploc bag. This is especially appropriate for poets, who may have an idea pop up anywhere and everywhere.

14 JC Carter September 13, 2010 at 11:37 am

Jack Kerouac carried a notebook that would fit in his top pocket with him everywhere he went and, like an artist with a sketchbook, he would work on improving his writing skills by writing descriptions of mundane things in his long, rambling style, like a streetlight or a doorway.

15 Derrick September 13, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Great article. Very similar, if identical, to the practice of “commonplacing” (making entries into a “commonplace book.”)


16 Lindsey Hinkle September 13, 2010 at 12:47 pm

I agree with Jon S. There really *is* just something about paper. I, too, am analog-inclined and prefer to jot down thoughts and lists as opposed to typing them out.

@ Chris W – my brother recently sent me this link:

While pocket protectors may not suit everyone’s style, I found these to be updated and clever…. possibly a suitable alternative to a notebook.

17 Alex V September 13, 2010 at 2:13 pm

I write songs, and I often find myself using the note function on my cell phone to jot down little poetic, lyrical chunks that are the building blocks for the songs I write.

great Post!

18 Rich September 13, 2010 at 2:14 pm

One point about having a paper notebook vs a PDA, is the permanency of your notes. I have several journals, notebooks and diaries from relatives from the Civil War up to about 70 years ago. If well preserved, paper can last decades or even centuries. If saving your thoughts and notes for posterity is important to you, then I don’t think that digital would be the way to go.

19 Joe September 13, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Honorary fictional example – Dr. Henry Jones Sr.’s notebook had all the information one needed to track down the Holy Grail! Now that’s a notebook!

20 Andrew September 13, 2010 at 2:48 pm

I’ve always carried around a small journal (but not small enough to be a pocket book), and it’s been very beneficial in helping me collect my thoughts about all kinds of things. My journal started as solely a prayer journal in the 10th grade (I’m now 23 in my first year of graduate school), and through college it expanded to include my thoughts on Bible passages, then theology and philosophy, and then thoughts on fiction stories, movies, people I’ve met, daily events, and even dreams I’ve had etc.

I recently bought an Amazon Kindle, and it allows me to make notes in the books. As helpful and convenient as it is, I still prefer the act of writing with pen and paper. I think that I remember and understand my thoughts better when I write them out instead of typing them out. My journals also feel much more permanent.

21 Colin N. September 13, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Could you imagine if you could find a nine year old today who even knew who Rudyard Kipling was?


22 Derrick September 13, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Henry Jones, Sr.’s Holy Grail diary. Agreed—THAT is a notebook!


23 Richard Williams September 13, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Here’s a good one – Stonewall Jackson:

“The maxims–Jackson’s self-selected principles of personal conduct and self-improvement–are brief and to the point. They were recorded by the general in a small blue-marbled notebook over a five-year period, starting in 1848, and are largely drawn from the collective practical and philosophical teachings of others who influenced Jackson’s life, including Lord Chesterfield, John Bunyan, Joel Parker, O. S. Foster, George Winfred Hervey, and, most significantly to Jackson, the Bible. The notebook disappeared after Jackson’s death in 1863. More than 120 years later, in the course of researching a detailed biography of Stonewall Jackson, Robertson uncovered the maxim book while examining other materials in the Davis Collection of Civil War manuscripts at Tulane University.”

You can buy the book here:

24 Ezmelts September 13, 2010 at 5:48 pm

While I find myself with already filled pockets, I do have a notebook handy and visible inside my car (lots of ideas sprout up while stuck in traffic) and also next to my bed, for those times I can’t go to sleep because my mind is racing.

25 Julia September 13, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Personally, I like to use index cards and organize them later. I haven’t used notebooks for jotting down ideas in since high school. It just didn’t seem efficient enough a system for me.

26 ARP September 13, 2010 at 5:59 pm

James Joyce was known to write down ideas on little scraps of paper. When he got home, he’d empty his pockets of all the scraps and write his novels. Some say that’s the reason some of his novels feel disjointed- it may not have been a literary mechanism- just the way he gathered his ideas and wrote.

27 Martin September 13, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Thoreau was another good example. As an amateur (and later, a professional) surveyor and general observer, he would writes pages and pages of field notes. He would then reflect on them, expand on them, and finally transfer everything to his journal, which would eventually exceed 2 millions words.

Cool blog post.

28 Christina September 13, 2010 at 7:46 pm

This post got me into a google frenzy today…and I stumbled upon this post…also by AOM

29 Paul Evans September 13, 2010 at 8:19 pm

How did you manage not to include John Wilkes Booth, Jack Kerouac, and former U.S. Senator Bob Graham (D-Florida)?

30 James September 13, 2010 at 9:47 pm

I carried a moleskine and a bic pen (sometimes space pen for writing outside in winter) around as my PDA for years, before getting iPhone 4. I minimize pocket stuff, and my phone is essential, so out went the notebook

31 Daniel September 13, 2010 at 10:12 pm

I find carrying a notebook to not only be a good source of inspiration for capturing your thoughts, but also for copying things down to memorize. Once you take the initial time to copy something down, you would be amazed at the length of passages you are able to memorize by only spending a few minutes here and there working on it. I haven’t carried a notebook in about a year, but I think its time to start again.

32 Matt D September 13, 2010 at 10:26 pm

I can’t stress the utility of a pocket notebook enough, back when I was a newspaper reporter I couldn’t leave the house without AT LEAST one notebook. Now that I’m the job hunt again I’ve got my “Recession Journal,” a Moleskine pocket notebook where I write down my job seeking to-do list, contacts, UI info, random thoughts and potential leads. It lives in the pocket of my briefcase alongside a few copies of my resume and a pen, and the briefcase is in turn either hanging from my shoulder or in the front seat of the car.

33 Eagle Driver September 13, 2010 at 11:57 pm

Outstanding article, thank you very much for educating and reminding me of the need to take notes. So much happens and so many thoughts along with the events, that it is incredibly simple – carry a notepad. Incredible, thank you again for engaging my thoughts. A great technique for not being another mindless sheep following the herd.


34 Jason September 14, 2010 at 9:52 am

I’m a graduate student as well as amateur artist. Although I always end up carrying around a smartphone and at times an iPod, I still make sure to carry around a pocket notebook. I mostly use it for commonplacing, sketching, or recording thoughts about my research.

I like moleskine-style notebooks (but not necessarily that brand) with a pocket that can hold index cards, post-it notes, or slips of paper people hand me. My pen of choice is the Sakura Pigma Micron 03 which produce nice, dark, thin, smear-free lines and are great for sketching!

35 Timothy September 14, 2010 at 12:57 pm

I remember the exhilerating feeling I got whilst gazing upon a notebook of Leonard da Vinci while it was on a museum tour a few years ago. To see with my own eyes the ink laid down by the hand of the master was humbling. The fact that it was written in Italian (which I don’t understand) and was reverse-reading didn’t detract from the experience.

36 Zahir September 14, 2010 at 7:26 pm

@Chris W

back-left pocket–we never use it! Get something slim and well-bound. I’ve been using a Muji, but I think Moleskine are stronger bound. Mine is thinner than my wallet, and I hardly even feel it after a few days after it shapes around my ass hehe.

If you wear suits daily, you can keep it in your inner suit pocket. No excuses! A life worth living is worth recording

37 Rowland Jones September 16, 2010 at 3:07 am

Wonderful stuff. Yes I know all the facts about iphones etc; but if Da Vinci (or any of the above) had used the equivalent of an iphone (or a Zip disk…remember them) we wouldn’t be able to see them now…

38 Guru Eduardo September 16, 2010 at 1:20 pm

“an insight not recorded is soon forgotten and the connection to its source is broken”

I loved this article. Personally, I use 3X5 cards, which are so easy to carry in a pocket to jot down ideas and insights. I can save the cards until l get chance to transcribe them somewhere more pernament.

A pen and paper..I don’t leave home without them!

39 Loren September 17, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Wow, I found this post really fascinating! I really want to print it out, but when I click on the “print” button, it prepares an article on Lost Cities to print. Hmmmm. Help!

40 L V Banta September 17, 2010 at 4:38 pm

I loved both of these articles. Specific dimensions would be helpful when available. Thank you !

41 chris September 19, 2010 at 7:31 pm

i use Moleskine “Cahier” notebooks. craft brown cover (much tougher than the other covers). graph paper. pack of 3 for $6.

42 Eric September 19, 2010 at 9:40 pm

OK, You have me sold on the idea of a pocket notebook. It would be far more convenient than the plethora of notecards, sticky notes, and napkins that I currently use to jot down notes and momentary musings. I’m particularly fond of Mark Twain’s notebook with the tear-off tabs. I have several notebooks in the attic that are full of blank pages merely because finding the first blank page was so much of a hassle that I’d just start writing anywhere.

But finding such a notebook is proving difficult … and I’m not quite up to following Twain and having a set custom made (though the personalized name stamp on the front would be cool). So aside from hiring a bookbinder or cutting up another notebook, can you recommend anywhere I could purchase such a notebook?

43 Promod Sharma | @mActuary September 22, 2010 at 8:40 pm

Thanks for this detailed post and the comments above. Looking at actual pages is fascinating!

I carry a 5″x8″ notepad in my bag and scan the pages into PDFs for archiving. I used to turn more content into text, but scanning is much faster. Using sensible filenames helps in retrieving content.

I carry a smaller notebook in my jacket pocket and retype those thoughts into my computer later.

44 Dan September 25, 2010 at 4:50 am

What a great post! As a lover of fountain pens, I would be thrilled if someone was to write a post on the fountain pens used by these great men, or other famous persona for that matter.

45 Law Office of Bowman and Associates September 29, 2010 at 11:30 am

Is anyone else having issues printing this? I love it!!!

46 jon October 3, 2010 at 6:44 pm

I used a pocket notebook for years but then switched to taking notes on iPhone when I got a 3GS last year. That lasted for about 8-9 months. Recently, however, I switched back to the pocket notebook because I still don’t think the technology has yet caught up to be as good as notebook/paper yet for this purpose (thought it is very close).

The key thing about having a pocket notebook is that there it is very easy with a fleeting moment to whip it out of your pocket and jot a note down. There is zero friction. With a phone, you still have to take it out, open up the app, and type in your note. Since I’m not as fast as tapping out something as with just scrawling, and it’s also easier to scribble with a pen if you’re walking, this extra little friction adds a small mental weight, and I think I ended up taking down less stuff than I would have otherwise. What really made me switch back was iOS4, which slowed down my phone a lot and made the phone randomly fail to save notes – this is very very bad since that’s the whole purpose.

The positive sides of iPhone note-taking are that it’s basically unlimited storage so you don’t have to worry about running out of pages on the road. In addition, if someone can create a good, reliable cloud synching service to store all notes, that will be a huge benefit. You wouldn’t ever have to worry about losing notes. Right now I don’t think the current solutions like Evernote or Simplenote do this very well.

47 Ryan Tyler October 12, 2010 at 11:41 am

I came here by way of “The Craftman’s Humility,” which is so far excellent. Moleskin advertises that Hemingway used their journal, but I didn’t know some of the others. I was impressed to see that Patton drew in his journal. I always assumed that he and I would have little in common. Maybe I’ll read a little more about him.

48 Francis October 12, 2010 at 12:42 pm

I have an iPad with several notes apps, but still find myself reaching for my Moleskine instead when I need to take down some notes. Not sure if it’s simply habit or a subliminal preference, but I’m rolling with it.

49 Eric W. October 12, 2010 at 12:55 pm

I am in the Recreation field. I’ve worked for State Parks, National Parks, and even the Bureau of Land Management, taking care of campgrounds, park visitors, and maintaining the facilities and nature they encompass. And I have found a pocket notebook invaluable for years.
I really started carrying one with my first job in retail, 16 years ago.
With most park jobs, there’s a lot of freedom and autonomy to the profession. So you’re constantly looking for work to do, while working. It’s a self-motivators job. As I’m walking regular rounds or working on one task, I’m jotting down ideas or things I see to work on tomorrow or even next week.
On an average day, I work 70 miles or more from any help or resupply, and I most likely will not see the office for a week or more. Jobs to complete are up to me to figure out, or handed down from above with me to finish at my leisure. Hundreds or thousands of people are visiting in a day, and law enforcement is spotty. I record suspicious vehicle numbers and descriptions, those sites or cars that I’ve had to talk to about violations and those I need to talk to, attendance figures, Names of regular visitors I just met, and any other information I think I might need to use later.
I’m also listening to talk radio most days at work, and my notebook has lists of books I think I might like from author interviews I heard, statistics I hear and want to remember to improve my political arguments later, interesting facts, and even lists of things I need to accomplish when I make it home at the end of the week.
Now my pocket notebook even makes its way into my coat pocket at home, and still records all the information I might come across in a day at work, but now it’s personal.

50 Albert Jonkjer November 27, 2012 at 11:55 pm

UIsed to carry a Symbian PDA for some days, but now with the presence of notebooks capable of all the muti media functions and not to mention acccess to cloud WEBAPPS, I think of carrying the notebook next to a regular mobile phone.for some more years..I know I am late.

BTW intertesting thread.

51 George F Matheis Jr January 3, 2013 at 11:42 am

I am an index card guy too and just got this{4712AAEA-F549-4225-8442-3ECF66A5CA34}

52 adam January 29, 2013 at 9:48 am

I used to keep a pocket notebook in my labcoat at work to jot down ideas and to-do lists. Now I just put them in my lab notebook. To keep track of ideas for projects in my free time (sometimes I get an idea while driving and don’t want to forget it!), I use my smartphone.

53 Robert Karl Skoglund February 28, 2013 at 9:13 am

Anyone who writes keeps a notebook. I have dozens of them going back over 50 years. All of my pants have a tailor-made pocket just above the right knee on the outboard side. It holds my notebook and two pens.

The humble Farmer

54 Steve May 22, 2013 at 9:51 pm

As others here, I have notebooks going back 20 years and more. I like Moleskins, though of late their quality has declined. I wonder if the comparatively voluminous daily menswear of older notebook users facilitated carrying them around at all times? Lots of pockets, big ones. I’ve used European men’s handbags to carry notebook, glasses, wallet, etc. when wearing warm weather togs, but would rather not. Perhaps the Humble Farmer, whose musings I used to listen to in Maine, has the right idea.

55 Michael November 17, 2013 at 6:57 pm

Loved the post! Being able to write out my thoughts by hand vs typing them on my phone seems to help in processing ideas. Personal notebooks are great so I’m not left trying to sort through all of my notes written on restaurant napkins! Writing is a lost art; it’s great to be inspired with the above pictures!

56 Paul February 1, 2014 at 8:19 am

Love the voice transcription of modern smartphones. Use the “notes” app on iPhone (5); works like a charm. Wondering if I should periodically print them out for “posterity” (Lord knows they won’t be using iOS 7 in 7 years, let alone 70!)

57 michael mata February 25, 2014 at 3:57 pm

I like the pocket notebooks from office depot they are 3.99 are really durable the spine is flexible the cover is too the notebook takes a beating from how I use it from being in my back pocket but it’s great the best I’ve used plus I can buy three for the price of a moleskine

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Site Meter