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How to Read a Book

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  20,240 ratings  ·  2,201 reviews
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 i
Kindle Edition, 426 pages
Published May 10th 2011 by Touchstone (first published January 1st 1940)
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Jignesh Darji Yes, this book is worth it. Yes, this book will change a lot on your reading.

This book was written in a very different time where authors like to tal…more
Yes, this book is worth it. Yes, this book will change a lot on your reading.

This book was written in a very different time where authors like to talk too much and convey too little. Author has filled it with sound advice wrapped in a lot of criticism of the education system and approach to education and reading. To really learn from the book, you'll need to see past the rhetoric.

How to go about reading this book if you find it too boring, and/or repetitive:
- Look at the outline - understand the structure of the book and draw the big picture.
- Read a summary of the levels of reading the author mentions (Elementary, Inspectional, Analytical, and Syntopical) and the steps to achieve each level. The book is about these 4 levels and how to achieve them. That's all. If you know this, you can skip all the rhetoric and finish the book really quickly while still taking-in all that the author wanted to convey.

I hope this will be of some help. (less)
Claire What you describe sounds more like a learning disability (LD): LD can be comorbid with other psychological/cognitive disorders or you can mimic such d…moreWhat you describe sounds more like a learning disability (LD): LD can be comorbid with other psychological/cognitive disorders or you can mimic such disorders when taking prescription drugs to treat other disorders.

I am a former sufferer of depression, and a graduate in psychology. I struggled in school but, when I complained to my health care providers, they always blamed the disorder or the drugs and said there was nothing I could do. After suffering for more than a decade, I stopped treatment AMA (it worked well for me, but I do not recommend this) and wound up in remission (my body finally recovered but the drugs were interfering with my body asserting itself). I still struggled with reading problems. Finally, being off meds and medically diagnosed as in remission, they listened to me and referred me for testing: turns out, I have had Learning Disabilities - including a form of dyslexia - since birth and they were always blaming something else.

My point is that Health Care Providers can get a little lazy, attributing everything to one diagnosis and missing the rest of the picture. I would ask your psychiatrist for help investigating this issue: some psychiatrists are qualified to diagnose cognitive issues/psychoeducational issues, most are not but they can refer you to an appropriate provider (usually a psychoeducational psychologist) for testing and consult. If you can afford it or your insurance will pay for it, it is worth it even later in life.

This book probably WON'T help with your issue: this book discusses different methods of reading, and changing your method will change your processing of the material, which may alter your memory of the material, it does not help with working memory. It will teach you how to find the main points, but that may not be enough if you have a memory issue.

That said, book club members often take notes as they go along and bring them to group: if you keep a book journal, know how to analyse such things and write them down as they occur to you (with an extra "download" or review when you finish the book), you will have more than enough material to describe and discuss. Going over notes will also strengthen your memory, and this book will teach you to take notes.

Good luck!(less)

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Nandakishore Mridula
How do you read a book?

Look at the cover, probably glance at the blurb; run your eye down the table of contents, perhaps; possibly rifle through the book... then plunge right in into Chapter One.


Wrong! According to Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, the authors of How to Read a Book.

According to them, this is only the first level of reading, called “Elementary” reading: and this is the only level the majority of readers in this world have reached. They posit three more levels: “Inspe
Jan 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: education
Probably one of the most important books you can read. I outlined the first three levels of reading a while back and I saved it. I'll post that for my "review."

How To Read A Book:

(This is an outline of part of Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren’s excellent book, "How To Read A Book." The outline takes one up to the third level of reading - analytical reading. There is a fourth level, syntopical reading, but most of the intended readers of this outline, and your every day reader, does not re
Who This Book is (not) For

It focuses mainly on reading expositional, rather than imaginative material. It was written in 1940, and revised in 1972, though it looks and feels more like a 40s book.

I read it in the hope of becoming a more analytical reader who could go on to write more coherent, concise, and original reviews. It didn’t help. A much more relevant book is How to Read Literature Like a Professor, which I've reviewed HERE.

This may once have been a good book. Had I read it as an underg
It’s such a dinosaur. Cranky, snooty, stuffy, pedantic, often condescending. It’s a manual. For intelligent reading. Very textbook-y, very fundamental. Very practical. Like some invisible ruler cracked against my keyboard-clobbering knuckles, like a pesky voice in your head.

It’s like having tea with your cane-thumping retiree-professor of a great-grandfather. Him demanding why you aren’t wearing hose, and will you please stand up straight? You bide your time, you promised you’d keep him company.
Apr 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Dante by: Doug Geivett
I'm reading this awesome book again. I'll be writing my notes for each chapter below (It will be like a "running account" of my summary of and thoughts about every chapter). So, be warned, this is going to be a very, very, very long review. I hope I'll be able to write a shorter version after I'm done with the book.


Basically, How to Read a Book is a practical book. It aims to help people become intelligent readers. To read intelligently means to read actively. To read actively means to r
Roy Lotz
The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks.

I had a lot of fun holding this book upside-down on the subway with a puzzled look on my face.

For much of his remarkably long life, Mortimer Adler was the leading proponent of the ‘Great Books’ paradigm of education. Under his leadership, the Encyclopedia Britannica published the 54-volume Great Books of the Western World (1952) as well as the Gateway to the Great Books (1963)—which, cons
Mar 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I heard about this book in a casual conversation and my interest was piqued. When I heard that the book instructs on analytical reading I knew I had to read it.

I have decided that I am not going to summarize the rules enunciated in this book. Instead I would keep my review short.

In the first chapter the authors have mentioned that “…… this book is about the art of reading for the sake of increased understanding.” The authors have clearly stated that the book intends to help people understand e
Feb 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: education
In junior high & high school I made it my job to avoid reading altogether, just like politicians who avoid hard questions. When I was twenty I hadn't read a book since I was in fourth grade, was only partially literate, & was a high school drop out with no intentions of ever cracking another book or attending another school....then I became a Christian. Jesus not only transformed my desires, habits, and life's direction; he radically transformed two things: my desire to learn and my pursuit of t ...more
Read this with my two daughters when they were in seventh and eighth grades respectively. It not only teaches how to read different materials, but also gives a list of must-read books. Every serious reader needs to read this book! Both of my daughters say they still use things they learned from this book in their reading. (But they weren't terribly crazy about the book when we read it! Ha!)

Most important thing about the book--while there are many useful books you will read over the course of you
Sep 04, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: serious readers
Recommended to Natasha by: Oliver DeMille
Shelves: education
I read this book because I live by the mantra, "Life is Short---Read Fast" and I hoped it would teach me how to read faster. Instead it teaches you to read slower, analytically. It also teaches you how to "date" a book---to decide if you really want to spend the time to read the whole thing before commiting yourself to it. This book has a rather pedantic tone, which makes it a little dry to plow through. But I kept at it because there were philosophical gems interspersed throughout the pages. On ...more
Mar 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
This is a tremendous personal victory for me for two reasons, the first of which has to do with the book itself and the second of which has to do with a concerted reallocation of time.

Ever since I first learned of the book's existence I understood that it was a book that I really SHOULD read. And I had an intention to read it. A desire to read it. And yet, I never read it. I did lots of other things that could have gone without doing. So, it really wasn't a matter of time. Celebrities got fat a
Dec 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I have been reading this book very slowly, on and off, the past two months, trying to have enough time to concentrate, focus, be analytical, critical and syntopical.

This pedagogical work is so comprehensive, it will take forever to summarize the content. In short, this book is a must-read for any serious reader of the GREAT BOOKS of all times.

It can be regarded as a manual for lecturers/teachers/reviewers, or anybody who needs to discuss a serious book. Book clubs comes to mind here for those
This is a book for readers and for those who wish to become readers.
so writes Mortimer Adler in his first sentence.

3 ½

I stopped reading this book over MD (that's 1500) days ago. Hope no one was waiting for the review. Not likely, I know.

Mortimer Adler (1902-2001) published this book in the early days of 1940. Before the U.S. had entered WW II. I guess at that point Americans were still concerned about how they should be reading books. (Adler, working at the University of Chicago, was one of the
I read this in 2003. Most of it was concerned with the various levels of reading - from skimming to syntopical - and the various methods and processes involved in reading at each of those levels. There was also a lengthy section on ways to approach the reading of different genres. While I found all of this interesting, I felt it was ultimately impractical for me because focusing on the method by which I read would distract from the enjoyment reading has always afforded me. I'm sure I've subconsc ...more
Apr 13, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Tedious,turgid, and torturous--

Thank God I've gained a few insights from this: the usefulness of inspectional reading and how to read poetry (which consists of reading it as fast as you can and rereading it aloud). Some thoughts on syntopical reading are somewhat interesting for anyone writing dissertations and theses, but not really for the average reader without a Ph.D. to pursue.

I thank God for the insights because otherwise I would've wasted all my time. I found 90% of the information simply
May 30, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: education
May 26, 2013: My kids laughed at me when they saw I was getting a book about how to read a book. I'm an avid reader so I honestly didn't think I would get much from reading this, but I have to be honest, I usually don't remember much about what I read once I'm finished. This book teaches you how to get the most from books that are actually worth reading.

Some important points I gleaned:
- Not all books are worth reading well. Some are only worthy of a cursory read-through.
- A good book should mov
Farhan Khalid
Feb 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading can be done for three reasons:

Entertainment – to relax, hear a story

Information – to acquire facts

Understanding – to develop insight

Reading actively means mastering four levels of reading:

Elementary reading – Turning symbols into information

Inspectional reading – Getting the most from a book in a given time

Analytical reading – Thorough and complete reading for understanding

Synoptic reading – Exploring a subject through wide reading

Make every book you read your own. Use:

150715: this is a later addition: in answer to the title question 'how to...' I must offer my considered reply, that might be buried, might be forgotten, might be so obvious no one ever states it. how? with joy, with pleasure, with desire, in whatever language, in translations, in genres, in history. to add to this, in personal claim: from a comfortable, shaded, breezy lanai of the condo facing the beach, listening to the surf, the wild chickens, the laughter of children in the pool...

first revi
Apr 11, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: partially-read
It changed the way I read books (I read primarily non-fiction). Reading is no longer just "look at every word until they are all seen," nor is it like a tape that plays from the beginning to the end. This book taught me the value of skimming books as a way of time management. From this, I also became better aware of how to connect with the author of a book, through using the 'tools' the author provides to help understand the content: everything from the table of contents, to the introduction, to ...more
Alok Mishra
Well, this is a book that tells the readers about the 'right methods' to read a book. However, this book is for the readers who are classic in their thoughts and can bear a book without any trouble. The content might be richer only for those who believe in rich content but not in the delivery of the content.
Too much analysis might not be suitable for readers who read works for pleasure. Ideal for students of literature (mainly non-fiction readers).
Feb 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 0-re-read, education
Having thousands of books behind me, I thought that a book with the title How to Read a Book would fall into the same category as the books about how to walk or how to ride a bicycle. But then there's a question -- how many of those books I really understood and how many of them just gave me information, which would anyway be gone almost completely after a while? This regards primarily to expository books, since reading of literature has a different purpose.

Sometimes, the most obvious is not tha
Matthew Selby
Feb 01, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reading-list
The book did what it sought to do: It explained how to read actively and critically. And did it very well. The only drawbacks to this book is how it sometimes rambles on about examples, that are easy to skim, and the structure, which is kind of a mess. This is redeemed through the Appendices which include a reading list and some tests on the reading skills discussed throughout the book.

I would recommend this to anyone who wishes to improve their critical reading.
It's not how much you read, but how well--and this book gives you specific, step-by-step techniques to get you to read as well as possible.

First of all, who would be so presumptuous as to advise fellow adults on how to read--a skill notionally possessed by everyone who's made it through public school? Well, Mortimer J. Adler, philosopher, longtime editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and moving force behind the Britannica Great Books of the Western World series; and Charles Van Doren, Adler's
Jul 26, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love this book. This is not to say that I bear it the kind of feeling that puts it on a shelf of 'All Time Classics', but I do have a certain affinity for it; it is the love of admiration.

As a life-long reader, I admit that I scoffed at the title. My children did too, along with complete strangers (I had more people approach me about this book than any other I have ever read). The reaction was always the same: a mixed incredulity that a person should read a book about how to read a book. Doesn
Aug 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book in the mid-seventies. I was in my early twenties I think. I had a voracious appetite for books. This volume really helped me organize the way that I read and helped me be discerning regarding what books to read.

One idea from the book that I still recall 30 years later is his discussion about teachers, dead and alive. Books were the dead teachers, but teachers nonetheless. And as a result of the published work, one could get to know the teacher if the work was of good quality and
"Reading well, which means reading actively, is thus not only a good in itself, nor is it merely a means to advancement in our work or career. It also serves to keep our minds alive and growing." (p. 336).
This practical guide is about the Art of Reading. Highly recommended for readers who prefer quality over quantity.
K.M. Weiland
Dec 17, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Ironically, I found this book nearly unreadable. Basic tenets are presented as high concepts in a pompous, bloated style.
Oct 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: didn-t-read
- "We do not know, we cannot be sure, that the real world is good. But the world of a great story is somehow good. We want to live there as often and as long as we can."
- "Every book, no matter how difficult, contains interstitial material that can be and should be read quickly."
- "If a (reader) realizes that the only profit in conversation, with living or dead teachers, is what one can learn from them, if he realizes that you win only by gaining knowledge, not by knocking the other fellow down,
John Harder
Mortimer Adler is a pompous snob. This is why I like him. Old Mort (actually he is now dead Mort) takes us through various techniques of reading, with a focus on how to gather the most from a book in the most efficient manner. Depending in the circumstances and type of book a light skim might be best, others a lifetime of study.

Much of what Adler discusses is obvious but like with all things we sometimes get lazy and ignore the fundamentals.

I love how Mort says that in the history of man only ab
The writing style was okay, but the book needed to be trimmed a bit. Some advice was useful even to more experienced readers.

This is a good book if you're interested in reading for something other than pure enjoyment. It's a great book if you're doing research for an essay or want to explore certain themes withing the literary cannon. It tackles different types of books, but I still think Reading Like A Writer is better.



PART ONE: The Dimensions of Reading

1. The Activity and
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Mortimer Jerome Adler was an American educator, philosopher, and popular author. As a philosopher he worked with Aristotelian and Thomistic thought. He lived for the longest stretches in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, and San Mateo. He worked for Columbia University, the University of Chicago, Encyclopædia Britannica, and Adler's own Institute for Philosophical Research.

Adler was born in N

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“Reading list (1972 edition)[edit]
1. Homer – Iliad, Odyssey
2. The Old Testament
3. Aeschylus – Tragedies
4. Sophocles – Tragedies
5. Herodotus – Histories
6. Euripides – Tragedies
7. Thucydides – History of the Peloponnesian War
8. Hippocrates – Medical Writings
9. Aristophanes – Comedies
10. Plato – Dialogues
11. Aristotle – Works
12. Epicurus – Letter to Herodotus; Letter to Menoecus
13. Euclid – Elements
14. Archimedes – Works
15. Apollonius of Perga – Conic Sections
16. Cicero – Works
17. Lucretius – On the Nature of Things
18. Virgil – Works
19. Horace – Works
20. Livy – History of Rome
21. Ovid – Works
22. Plutarch – Parallel Lives; Moralia
23. Tacitus – Histories; Annals; Agricola Germania
24. Nicomachus of Gerasa – Introduction to Arithmetic
25. Epictetus – Discourses; Encheiridion
26. Ptolemy – Almagest
27. Lucian – Works
28. Marcus Aurelius – Meditations
29. Galen – On the Natural Faculties
30. The New Testament
31. Plotinus – The Enneads
32. St. Augustine – On the Teacher; Confessions; City of God; On Christian Doctrine
33. The Song of Roland
34. The Nibelungenlied
35. The Saga of Burnt Njál
36. St. Thomas Aquinas – Summa Theologica
37. Dante Alighieri – The Divine Comedy;The New Life; On Monarchy
38. Geoffrey Chaucer – Troilus and Criseyde; The Canterbury Tales
39. Leonardo da Vinci – Notebooks
40. Niccolò Machiavelli – The Prince; Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy
41. Desiderius Erasmus – The Praise of Folly
42. Nicolaus Copernicus – On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres
43. Thomas More – Utopia
44. Martin Luther – Table Talk; Three Treatises
45. François Rabelais – Gargantua and Pantagruel
46. John Calvin – Institutes of the Christian Religion
47. Michel de Montaigne – Essays
48. William Gilbert – On the Loadstone and Magnetic Bodies
49. Miguel de Cervantes – Don Quixote
50. Edmund Spenser – Prothalamion; The Faerie Queene
51. Francis Bacon – Essays; Advancement of Learning; Novum Organum, New Atlantis
52. William Shakespeare – Poetry and Plays
53. Galileo Galilei – Starry Messenger; Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences
54. Johannes Kepler – Epitome of Copernican Astronomy; Concerning the Harmonies of the World
55. William Harvey – On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals; On the Circulation of the Blood; On the Generation of Animals
56. Thomas Hobbes – Leviathan
57. René Descartes – Rules for the Direction of the Mind; Discourse on the Method; Geometry; Meditations on First Philosophy
58. John Milton – Works
59. Molière – Comedies
60. Blaise Pascal – The Provincial Letters; Pensees; Scientific Treatises
61. Christiaan Huygens – Treatise on Light
62. Benedict de Spinoza – Ethics
63. John Locke – Letter Concerning Toleration; Of Civil Government; Essay Concerning Human Understanding;Thoughts Concerning Education
64. Jean Baptiste Racine – Tragedies
65. Isaac Newton – Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy; Optics
66. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz – Discourse on Metaphysics; New Essays Concerning Human Understanding;Monadology
67. Daniel Defoe – Robinson Crusoe
68. Jonathan Swift – A Tale of a Tub; Journal to Stella; Gulliver's Travels; A Modest Proposal
69. William Congreve – The Way of the World
70. George Berkeley – Principles of Human Knowledge
71. Alexander Pope – Essay on Criticism; Rape of the Lock; Essay on Man
72. Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu – Persian Letters; Spirit of Laws
73. Voltaire – Letters on the English; Candide; Philosophical Dictionary
74. Henry Fielding – Joseph Andrews; Tom Jones
75. Samuel Johnson – The Vanity of Human Wishes; Dictionary; Rasselas; The Lives of the Poets”
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