How to Read a Book


Title: How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading
Author: Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren
Year Read: 2016
My Rating: 10 / 10
Buy This Book: Amazon

I wish I had read this book earlier, it’s an absolute must for anyone who wants get more serious about their reading. It teaches you how to supercharge your reading in order to learn and to understand. Most of us learn how to read superficially, when we are little, and never improve upon that. Learning from the books, using the same reading techniques that we use, when we read for pleasure, is very ineffective and there are many ways to optimize it. This book provides great strategies and very actionable advice about how to become a better reader and learner.

The Goals of Reading

The goal a reader seeks — be it entertainment, information, or understanding — determines the way he reads. The effectiveness with which he reads is determined by the amount of effort and skill he puts into his reading. Reading, like unaided discovery, is learning from an absent teacher.

How to Be a Demanding Reader

Ask questions while you read — questions that you yourself must try to answer in the course of reading.

  1. What is the book about as a whole?
  2. What is being said in detail, and how?
  3. Is the book true, in whole or part?
  4. What of it?

The Levels of Reading

Level 1: Elementary Reading
Level 2: Inspectional Reading
Level 3: Analytical Reading
Level 4: Syntopical Reading

Inspectional Reading

Systematic skimming or pre-reading

Skimming or pre-reading is the first sublevel of inspectional reading. Your main aim is to discover whether the book requires a more careful reading. Secondly, skimming can tell you lots of other things about the book, even if you decide not to read it again with more care.

  1. Look at the title page and, if the book has one, at its preface.
  2. Study the table of contents.
  3. Check the index.
  4. Read the publisher’s blurb
  5. Look at the chapters that seem to be pivotal to the book’s argument.
  6. Turn the pages, dipping in here and there, reading a paragraph or two, sometimes several pages in sequence, never more than that.
Superficial reading

In tackling a difficult book for the first time, read it through without ever stopping to look up or ponder the things you do not understand right away.

Analytical Reading

Pigeonholing a Book
X-raying a Book
Coming to Terms with an Author
Determining an Author’s Message
Criticizing a Book Fairly
Summary of the rules
  1. Rules for finding what a book is about
    1. Classify the book according to kind and subject matter.
    2. State what the whole book is about with the utmost brevity.
    3. Enumerate its major parts in their order and relation, and outline these parts as you have outlined the whole.
    4. Define the problem or problems the author has tried to solve.
  2. Rules for interpreting a book’s contents
    1. Come to terms with the author by interpreting his key words.
    2. Grasp the author’s leading propositions by dealing with his most important sentences.
    3. Know the author’s argument, by finding them in, or constructing them out of, sequences of sentences.
    4. Determine which of his problems the author has solved, and which he has not; and of the latter, decide which the author knew he had failed to solve.
  3. Rules for criticizing a book as a communication of knowledge
    1. Do not begin your criticism until you have completed your outline and your interpretation of the book.
    2. Do not disagree disputatiously or contentiously.
    3. Demonstrate that you recognize the difference between knowledge and mere personal opinion by presenting good reasons for any critical judgement you make.
    4. Show wherein the author is uninformed.
    5. Show wherein the author is misinformed.
    6. Show wherein the author is illogical.
    7. Show wherein the author’s analysis or account is incomplete.

Syntopical Reading

  1. Surveying the field preparatory to syntopical reading
    1. Create a tentative bibliography of your subject by recourse to library catalogues, advisors, and bibliographies in books.
    2. Inspect all of the books on the tentative bibliography to ascertain which are germane to your subject, and also to acquire a clearer idea of the subject.
  2. Syntopical reading of the bibliography amassed in stage 1
    1. Inspect the books already identified as relevant to your subject in stage 1 in order to find the most relevant passages.
    2. Bring the authors to terms by constructing a neutral terminology of the subject that all, or the great majority, of the authors can be interpreted as employing.
    3. Establish a set of neutral propositions for of the authors by framing a set of questions to which all or most of the authors can be interpreted as giving answers.
    4. Define the issues, both major and minor ones, by ranging the opposing answers of authors to the various questions on one side of an issue or another.
    5. Analyze the discussion by ordering the questions and issues in such a way as to throw maximum light on the subject.

How to Read Practical Books