How to Read a Book

I recently came across this blog post on Farnam Street on how to read a book. The post outlines Mortimer Adler’s four levels of reading from his book, How to Read a Book. The four level outline includes:

  1. Elementary: The level of reading taught in elementary schools (I can do this).
  2. Inspectional: Looking at the author’s blueprint to evaluate which sections you’d like to read deeper. This involves….
    1. Systematic Skimming where you (1) read the preface; (2) study the table of contents; (3) check the index; and (4) read the inside jacket. All of this is done to understand which chapters in the book are pivotal to the authors argument.
    2. Superficial Reading is when you just read. This helps you get the gist of what the book is about so you can back and go deeper next time.
  3. Analytical: A thorough reading where you engage your mind and dig into the work required to understand what’s being said. There are several rules.
    1. Classify the book according to kind and subject matter
    2. State what the whole book is about with utmost brevity
    3. Enumerate its major parts in order and relation, outlining the book in whole
    4. Define the problem or problems the author is trying to solve
  4. Syntopical: The most demanding type of reading. This involves reading many books on the same subject and comparing and contrasting the ideas. The goal is not to understand any particular book, but rather to determine how to make the book useful to you. There are five steps to syntopical…
    1. Find the relevant passages – Inspectional reading of all the works you find relevant
    2. Bring the author to terms – Use your own language to translate and synthesize what the author is saying
    3. Get the questions clear – What questions do you want answered?
    4. Defining the issues – Opposing answers, translated in your terms, to understand multiple perspectives and help you form an intelligent opinion
    5. Analyzing the discussion

Additionally, there are four main questions you need to ask of every book:

  1. What is this book about?
  2. What is being said in detail and how?
  3. Is this book true in whole or in part?
  4. What of it?
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Barley Wine

The strongest of beer styles, Barley Wine gets it’s name from both a potency that rivals regular wine (typically 8-12% alcohol) as well it’s complexity on the palate. The difference between Barley Wine and normal wine is that the latter is made with fruit while Barley Wine is made with grains, making it a beer. This style of beer can be anything from an amber (lighter) color or a darker and will typically be very flavorful.

Two beers in this category that I am going to have on my radar are going to be Old Ruffian Barley Wine by the Great Divide Brewing Company and the Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale.

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Different Categories of Beer

Last night I was out at the Standard Biergarten with some co-workers enjoying a few beers. Seeing that it’s located in New York’s Meatpacking District, it’s a great place to enjoy some suds and do some serious people watching as the clientele isn’t what you would find at your typical biergarten. As we sat on our bench enjoying our first beer, the question of “what’s the difference between a Lager and a Pilsner” came up, and I found myself having a tough time coming up with an answer. Being such an avid beer drinker, I was determined to gain a better understanding of the different genres of beer.

The Two Categories of Beer

It turns out there are two main categories of beer, Ale and Lager. Within each of these categories are different sub-sets of beer, but they all essentially roll up into the Ale or Lager category. The difference between Ales and Lagers has to do with what temperature the fermentation is done, the length of the fermentation process, and where the yeast “flocculates” during fermentation (fancy terminology used to describe active yeast cells gathering).  The yeast for Ales typically flocculates near the top of the tank at a higher temperature and has a short aging process (a few weeks). This  technique makes for a warmer and more flavorful beer. Lagers, on the other hand, are typically made by having the yeast flocculate near the bottom of the tank at a lower temperature and age for a longer period of time (a few months). The cooler temperatures and longer aging process typically make for a more refreshing and light tasting beer.

To go back to the original question, a Pilsner is actually a type of Lager. There are many different types of Ales and Lagers, such as those listed below:

Ales

  • Barley Wine
  • Bitter
  • Brown Ale
  • India Pale Ale (I.P.A.)
  • Pale Ale
  • Porter
  • Stout
  • Wheat Beer

Lager

  • Bock
  • Dunkel
  • Oktoberfest
  • Pilsner

I want to spend the next few posts going into more detail about each type of beer. I’ll start next w/ Barley Wine beer since I seem to know little about that style. Maybe I can even enjoy a sample of each beer while I write. Now there’s an idea!

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Mornings and Evenings

I’ve come to realize that if I really want to get something done that requires serious thought and focus, I’m best off allocating some time to do it very early in the morning (before 8am) or later in the evening (after 7pm). This is obviously not sustainable when it comes to being able to spend quality time with friends and family outside of work, so I’m going to need to figure out a solution to focusing during the day. Until then, I need to figure out how to make the most of my time in those un-focused hours….

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The McDonald’s Theory

I came across a blog post yesterday that really struck my interest. The blogger wrote about a theory he had called “The McDonald’s Theory”. 

I use a trick with co-workers when we’re trying to decide where to eat for lunch and no one has any ideas. I recommend McDonald’s.

An interesting thing happens. Everyone unanimously agrees that we can’t possibly go to McDonald’s, and better lunch suggestions emerge.

I’ve noticed that this is how my mind functions when I’m working on projects or reports at the office that need to be started from scratch or re-modeled. I get stuck in this weird limbo that feels like a writer’s bloc mixed with a panic of how to approach this new task. The first move is always the scariest, and the longer I sit action-less the more insurmountable the project appears.

I’m going to make a sincere effort on implementing this new theory I’ve come across into my everyday life. Just go, just do it, just start.

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Persistence

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race” – Calvin Coolidge

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The Empathic Civilization

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