I ran across this bit of wisdom today from a guy who runs a major blog and used to write speeches for George Bush. I can't think of what to do with it, so I am posting it here.
When I was in law school, I devised my own idiosyncratic solution to the problem of studying a topic I knew nothing about. I'd wander into the library stacks, head to the relevant section, and pluck a book at random. I'd flip to the footnotes, and write down the books that seemed to occur most often. Then I'd pull them off the shelves, read their footnotes, and look at those books. It usually took only 2 or 3 rounds of this exercise before I had a pretty fair idea of who were the leading authorities in the field. After reading 3 or 4 of those books, I usually had at least enough orientation in the subject to understand what the main questions at issue were — and to seek my own answers, always provisional, always subject to new understanding, always requiring new reading and new thinking.