Sunday, July 12, 2009

How to read a book

How to Read a Book How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book promotes reading as an active art. Its goal ought to be more than increased knowledge; rather, it strives for increased understanding. Thus the authors can talk about reading as a form of research, elevating the task of reading far above its stereotype of passivity.

The authors describe four ascending levels of reading: (1) Elementary; (2) Inspectional; (3) Analytical; and (4) Syntopical. The levels are cumulative in the sense that, if you are to read at say level 3, you will have to be simultaneously engaged at levels 1 and 2. The analytical level receives the most attention by far, elementary the least (for those wanting help increasing reading speeds, look elsewhere).

One of the signs of good thinking is careful distinctions. This book introduced me to helpful distinctions between knowledge and understanding, aided and un-aided research, terms and words, practical and theoretical books, good and great books, and many more.

For years I have attempted to read book somewhat “analytically”, but often grew frustrated at the difficulty in outlining certain books. So I cheered when the authors suggested that sometimes that’s because the book isn’t worth reading at any level, never mind analytically.

This quote from p.166 gives the flavor of the book well: “A person who has read widely but not well deserves to be pitied rather than praised. As Thomas Hobbes said, ‘If I read as many books as most men do, I would be as dull-witted as they are.’”

View all my reviews.

1 comment:

Max Weismann said...

We are a not-for-profit educational organization, founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery--three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos, lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

Three hours with Mortimer Adler on one DVD. A must for libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

I cannot over exaggerate how instructive these programs are--we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

Please go here to see a clip and learn more: