Monthly Archives: March 2015

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?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized