Monday, August 27, 2007

Book review: How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler

I was telling a friend at work today about How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler. I've written about it couple times, but never got around to posting my review. Below is my review:

This is a great book. This book can make a big improvement in how effective you are in reading. It mostly focuses on how to master a book. It talks about various levels of reading, but mainly the book is trying to help the reader to completely understand and own a book after reading it.

A reader or listener is like a catcher in a baseball game, it takes both the effort of the pitcher (author) and the effort of the catcher (reader) to transmit an idea. In reading only in part, only part of the idea may be caught. The goals of reading: reading for information, reading for understanding. To gain understanding you have to work on the book. Reading for understanding is aided discovery.

The authors point how that there are different levels of reading:

1) Basic reading (See Spot run)

2) Reading with a limit on time, systematic skimming.

3) Reading for maximum understanding, or unlimited time

4) Reading several books, synoptically, this is the ability to do research from several books.

So in reading a book you need to decide what it is you want out of the book. For example you may decide after skimming the book that you are not interested in reading any more. "HOW TO READ A BOOK" gives tips on making that decision, and then how to do a good job of reading at a given level.

The authors give tips on how to skim a book, to check the title page, the table of contents, look through the index, and read the publishers jacket. At some point along the way you may decide you are no longer interested in the book. Next you figure out which chapters are important to the book, read them, and read the summary arguments of the book.

Much of the book is on the third level, where you try to own or master a book, so but the time you are done with the book you have increased your understanding of a topic.

The essence of active reading, trying to answer four basic questions:

1) What is the Book about as a whole?

2) What is being said in detail, and how?

3) Is the Book true, in whole or in part?

4) What of it? What does it mean to me?

There are several suggestions on how to mark up a book, so that when you come back to it later you can quickly remember the key points, and use it as a reference book. And marking up the book helps you to process the material at a deeper level.This is well worth reading, and reading several times, until you own the book.


Anonymous said...

You know, as much as I think it would be useful to me to 'mark up' some of the books I read, I just can't bring myself to do it. I hate picking up a book that's been highlighted or that even just has penciled-in notes - drives me crazy!

Unknown said...

"How to Read a Book" is the book that introduced me to Mortimer Adler. He has written a large number of books. One that all people should read is "The Time of Our Lives." It is an modern presentation and updating of Aristotelian and Thomistic philosophy about what a "good" life is, and why and how we should live such a life.

All people who homeschool should read Mortimer Adler's "The Paideia Proposal" which tells what the aims of education are and how it should be conducted.

Max Weismann said...

We are a not-for-profit educational organization, founded by Mortimer Adler.

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 on the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost and are now available.

For those of you who teach, this is great for the classroom.

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: