How to Read a Book (by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren) – Part 2

| 1 Comment

How to Read a Book (by Mortimer J.Adler and Charles Van Doren) – Part 1

I must admit that reading How to Read a Book is a test in itself- it is a very large book with an almost text book-like aspect. A book I enjoyed but in a different way, being attentive at all times while reading as advised, with X-Ray eyes.

There are some fundamental reading rules outlined:

  • Classify the book according to its kind and subject matter.
  • State what the whole book is about with utmost brevity.
  • Enumerate its major parts in their order and relation.
  • Define the problems the author is trying to solve and see whether he has solved them.

Variations of these rules apply to reading all kinds of books- non-fiction and fiction included.

A large part of this book is dedicated to rules of observation required to make an active reader of you. When you read a book, find the key words. Identify the key sentence. What is the author’s proposition? Translate your reading of the book. Are the author omissions deliberate?

So a reader is more than this


And more of

Reader Marking

So my dear reader, you must try hard when you read and it’s not only the author who has to sweat over that one sentence. It’s you as well.

And book reviewers of which now the world has hordes, remember that novelty, sensationalism and seductiveness are not as important while you write down what you think of a book- the truth is what matters. No contradictions are required- thoughtful minds that ‘weigh and consider’ are what books need.

What about reading aids? Related reading is always a good idea, an idea that the authors reiterate. Reading commentaries and using reference guides like encyclopedias and dictionaries can only hamper the first reading of the book, though reading such books add to the landscape of your mind. It is no heroic feat to rush to the dictionary every time you come across a difficult word in your first reading- it is a waste of time.

How do you read?

There is a way to read every sort of book from mathematics to philosophy. For instance, reading imaginative literature and reading a mathematics treatise is very different indeed. You can afford to be less analytical while reading War and Peace than when you attempt Euclid’s Book I of Elements. Similarly a poem is not unreadable if you follow these steps- read it through in one sitting, preferably read it aloud, find the unity in the poem and discover the conflict of images. A poem requires work, but like all other kinds of literature, you must try to glean something from it.

This brings us to the question of what you should read on your e-reader and what you should read in the good old book. Apparently reading on an e-reader can prevent you from grasping the plot- a traditional publishing gimmick to leave the poor reader in doubt or an unfortunate truth proven in reading labs? Possible if you think about this link and send in your comments on this.

There is a list of recommended books at the end of How to Read a book– a comprehensive guide of what to read in Western Literature. It makes me want to be a teenager again and restart my reading journey from scratch.


I haven’t attempted the Exercises and Tests at the four levels of reading in the book just yet- I dare you to try once you read this extraordinary book. You’ll never read the same way again.



One Comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: