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How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to…

How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading (A Touchstone… (original 1940; edition 1972)

by Mortimer J. Adler, Charles Lincoln Van Doren

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Title:How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading (A Touchstone book)
Authors:Mortimer J. Adler
Other authors:Charles Lincoln Van Doren
Info:Touchstone (1972), Edition: Revised edition, Paperback, 300 pages
Collections:Your library

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How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler (1940)

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This book is a handbook for reading books, what the Greeks would call an Enchiridion. The handbook is divided into four parts that cover all aspects of reading from the dimensions of the subject to ultimate goals one may expiscate from reading books.

Part one begins with a discussion of reading as both an activity and an art. It is an activity in the sense that it is something that you do to, according to the authors, become an "active" reader. But it is also an art in the sense that the reader is as much an artist in his recognition of the beauty of the book as was the author who created it. I believe this applies to all works whether they are fiction or non-fiction.

The remainder of parts one and two provide detailed discussions of both the levels of reading with a concentration on analytical reading and determining a book's message. The authors provide a lot of detailed rules and "how to" suggestions, yielding an ideal structure for reading books. In creating this ideal approach to reading books I believe they leave sufficient room for each reader to develop their own personal methods appropriating the guidelines provided.

The book concludes with a discussion of different kinds or genres of reading matter followed by the introduction of the idea of syntopical reading or reading books with other relevant books in mind. This provides a way to focus on ideas presented in different ways and manners across different texts. Finally, the ultimate goal of serious reading is to improve your mind. This process is analogous to strength training for the muscles in your body. This reader was impressed with the text and the ideas presented and when applied along with a focus on the enjoyment of reading they provide a useful approach to reading great books. ( )
  jwhenderson | Nov 27, 2018 |
Mortimer Adler was Editor-in-Chief of the Great Books series, and a proponent of a liberal education in the Western tradition. This work is in the same vein, but it is what Adler refers to as a "practical" book. In the introduction he notes the fun that was made of his book title, with a spoof How to Read Two Books written shortly after by Erasmus G. Addlepate. As I started reading the book, I felt like I was being taught by an "old school" teacher who had to go through the basics before getting to the point some time later in life. But therein lies the charm of the work - by the end, I felt I had been reading [a:John Stuart Mill|57651|John Stuart Mill|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1208804881p2/57651.jpg]'s [b:On Liberty|385228|On Liberty|John Stuart Mill|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1459346459s/385228.jpg|2387235] - all the ideas were lining up, my liberal education had been delivered correctly, and I understood why I do what I do. What struck me most is that the four stages of reading, from elementary to syntopical, lead one to being able to organise a literature review. If ever there was a book that teaches how to systematically, and practicably, go about conducting a literature review, this is it. The process seems almost absurd when spelt out - much like [a:Aristotle|2192|Aristotle|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1390143800p2/2192.jpg]'s [b:Poetics|13270|Poetics|Aristotle|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1348161995s/13270.jpg|2301058] - it reads like:1. Select two eggs. 2. Suck. But that would be so wrong! There is so much here, I am pleased it was my first read for the year, and I intend to add some of the techniques to my daily journalling practice (or maybe even keep a separate book journal). The two appendices are helpful. The first provides an updated list of the Great Books of the Western World (most of which are available online free these days). The second provides a series of tests on each of the levels of reading. This was designed to be "exemplary" but it was also a bit of fun, with some interesting text on Mill, Newton, Dante, et al. For anyone interested in classic works, this book is a useful guide to the art of reading, but also desktop research. One interesting change to my reading habits has resulted. Adler states that part of the fun of owning a book is that you can write in the margins. For decades I have cringed at the thought of doing this - my books are all catalogued and covered - but in Adler's book, I took out my sharpened pencil and begin to make margin notes. I suppose it is fine if I do this in pencil. And it will certainly make it easier to relocate quotes, instead of using my typically ineffective method of remembering page numbers for important quotes. I am a devotee to the Great Books cause. I was pleased to note that Adler writes that he has limited knowledge of the great books of the eastern world, and this was his main reason for not introducing "Eastern" works (a little Orientalism goes a long way), but given the work was written in 1940 and then revised in the 1970s, it was ahead of its time. There is something about the liberal democratic ideal and reading that Adler points to time and again, and while my own ideals have been systematically destroyed through practice, Adler paints an honourable picture of liberalism as it is rarely practised these days. This is not an easy book, and for some it might be off-putting, but for me, I learnt more in this volume than I have in the last five years. ( )
  madepercy | Oct 11, 2018 |
An insightful if pedantic volume on what to read and how to read, focusing primarily on analytical reading and the pursuit of knowledge. ( )
  jasonli | Mar 14, 2018 |
Once you have a general understanding of the english language, this is the very first book you should read. ( )
  EroticsOfThought | Feb 27, 2018 |
Some books take no extra skills to read--all of their benefits are on the surface waiting for you. Others hide their treasures below the surface and you have to go after them like a deep sea diver, returning and returning again to appreciate their beauty and discover their meaning. Books like The Brothers Karamazov and City of God require extra literary skills to understand, but the effort is worth it.

If you've never had a good literature class, or if it's been a while since your last one, then you might consider reading Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book. Adler begins with the best definition of reading I've ever come across:

Reading is "...the process whereby 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. The skilled operations that cause this to happen are the various acts that constitute the art of reading."

I like to share that definition and break it down for my eighth grade students each year because it's easy to think of reading as just an alternative to television. The idea that reading elevates is important for them to understand. As Henry Fielding states in On Taste in Books, books are not merely for entertainment:

"This present age seems pretty well agreed in an opinion, that the utmost scope and end of reading is amusement only; and such, indeed, are now the fashionable books, that a reader can propose no more than mere entertainment, and it is sometimes very well for him if he finds even this, in his studies.

Letters, however, were surely intended for a much more noble and profitable purpose than this. Writers are not, I presume, to be considered as mere jack-puddings, whose business it is only to excite laughter...when no moral, no lesson, no instruction is conveyed to the reader, where the whole design of the composition is no more than to make us laugh, the writer comes very near to the character of a buffoon; and his admirers, if an old Latin proverb be true, deserve no great compliments to be paid to their wisdom."

Reading and writing are not only meant to elevate us intellectually, but spiritually as well. All of our skills and abilities are given to us by God so that we may know, love and serve Him; any other use of them is a waste of time and will detour us off the road to eternal joy. It does, however, take a conscious and deliberate act of the will to use our gifts in this way, and it often requires extra effort. Regarding reading, Adler puts it this way:

"To pass from understanding less to understanding more by your own intellectual effort in reading is something like pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. It certainly feels that way. It is a major exertion. Obviously, it is a more active kind of reading than you have done before....Obviously, too, the things that are usually regarded as more difficult to read, and hence as only for the better reader, are those that are more likely to deserve and demand this kind of reading."

For one interested in acquiring the skills to read difficult books, How to Read a Book is an essential resource. Not only does Adler explain how to read in general, but he also devotes individual chapters to reading specific kinds of literature, including how to read history, philosophy, science and mathematics. I've owned the book for fifteen years, and I still return to it again and again to improve my reading skills. I spent $10.95 on my copy of How to Read a Book but it is worth more than some of the college classes I took, which cost me considerably more. ( )
  nsenger | Nov 12, 2017 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Adler, Mortimer J.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Van Doren, Charlesmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0671212095, Paperback)

How to Read a Book, originally published in 1940, has become a rare phenomenon, a living classic. It is the best and most successful guide to reading comprehension for the general reader. And now it has been completely rewritten and updated.

You are told about the various levels of reading and how to achieve them -- from elementary reading, through systematic skimming and inspectional reading, to speed reading, you learn how to pigeonhole a book, X-ray it, extract the author's message, criticize. You are taught the different reading techniques for reading practical books, imaginative literature, plays, poetry, history, science and mathematics, philosophy and social science.

Finally, the authors offer a recommended reading list and supply reading tests whereby you can measure your own progress in reading skills, comprehension and speed.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:09 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Investigates the art of reading by examining each aspect of reading, problems encountered, and tells how to combat them.

(summary from another edition)

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