Review of How To Read a Book – The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading
There is so much information out there that professionals can become overwhelmed just thinking about it. How can you keep pace? Do you know how to read effectively?
How t o Read a Book which was originally written in 1940 and updated in 1972 is packed with lots of useful information, and it is not the type of book you read once. I thought that on my second reading it would be very helpful if I discussed the contents with a group of people, then and only then I would be able to really make use of the wealth of knowledge that it contains.
The stated primary goal of How to Read a Book is to "know how to make books teach us well" if we are open to continuing learning and discovering. Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren define the art of reading as "The process where a mind, with nothing to operate on but the symbols of the readable matter, and with no help from outside, elevates itself by the power of its own operations . The mind passes from understanding less to understanding more … "Adler and Van Doren suggest that before reading a book you should decide if you are reading for entertainment, information or for the sake of understanding. Making this kind of distinction determines how you would read the book.
The authors describe four levels of reading in How to Read a Book – Elementary Reading, Inspiratory Reading, Analytical Reading and Syntopical Reading. Elementary Reading is the level of reading that you learn in elementary school. There are two types of disciplinary reading, (1) systematic skimming or pre-reading and (2) superior reading. With inspiratory reading, the emphasis is on time – getting the most out of a book within a short time frame. Analytical Reading deals with classifying the book, coming to terms with it, determining the book's message, criticizing the book and the author. Analytical reading is a very active type of reading. And finally, syntopical reading or comparative reading, the most complex form of reading, is the reading of multiple books on the same subject and placing them in relation to each other.
If you actively read a book, you should be able to answer the following questions –
(1) what is the book about?
(2) What is being said in detail, and how?
(3) Is the book true, in whole or in part?
(4) What of it? If you are able to answer these questions, you really understand what the author is trying to say.
Adler and Van Doren made an interesting comment. They suggest that if you are reading to become a better reader, or in other words reading for understanding and enlightenment, you can not read just any article or book. You must read material that stretches and grows your mind.
I recommend this book, but be prepared to read it at least twice to get the most out of it. This extra effort will save you lots of time later when you are using the information to read other books.