“How to Read a Book” by Mortimer Adler & Charles Van Doren

1. Overview

Books Purpose: There are two reasons to read: 1) to gain information and understanding or 2) entertainment; This book helps you get better at 1)

1.1. Four levels of Reading

Elementary – basic literacy

Inspectional – speed reading, systematically skimming, pre-reading

Analytical – understanding meaning of book and its messages

Synoptical – Analytical reading of an entire genre of books on a particular subject; also called comparative reading

2. Inspectional Reading

1st Goal of inspectional reading – figure out if you want to read the book and if so, which parts are most important

Three Questions to answer in inspectional reading

  1. What kind of a book is it?
  2. What is it about?
  3. What is the structure?

How to systematically skim

  1. Read title page & preface: try to categorize book
  2. Study table of contents: get general idea of book’s structure
  3. Check index: get quick range of topics covered
  4. Read Publishers Blurb: author’s often summarize book here
  5. Chapter start/ends Look at seemingly pivotal chapters and reading summary statements at beginning or end
  6. Scan: Flip through all pages, looking for parts highlighted with bold, italic, underlined text, pictures, etc. reading paragraphs here or there to get sense of book’s tone, and last few pages of book

Speed reading tips

  • Don’t sub-vocalize words as you read them
  • Keep pace
    • Most people fixate eyes 5 or 6 times per line
    • Eyes are blind while moving, meaning only reading 2-3 words at a time
    • The mind, unlike the eye, however, can read many words at a time
    • Keep pace by scanning lines with your finger
    • Can force eye only make 1 or 2 stops per line or paragraph with practice
  • Change pace – some key or complicated parts of book will require to read slowly, other less important parts will allow you to read face. Try to recognize the difference and change speeds appropriately

3. Analytical reading

Step 1) Inspectional

Type of book?

Summarize book in 2 sentences

Create outline of structure and key points / questions (outlines or cheat sheets can be helpful to use here)

Step 2) Understanding the point

Key words and definitions look for bold words, italics,.., explicit definitions, repeated usage,…

Key quotes

Key arguments and solutions

Step 3) Criticizing fairly

Understand it first

Disagree rationally, not emotionally or contentiously

Know difference between opinions and facts

4. Syntopical Reading

Understand book context by reading about author, bibliography used, other books from time period, other books on same subject…

Syntopicon – reference book that outlines books related to a particular topic and objectively provides key passages from wide range of books

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