How to Read a Book

This week’s book is aimed at the upper-age-group-end of the homeschool community.  “How to Read a Book” is a classic which was written by Mortimer Adler and first published in 1940. It was updated with the help of Charles Van Doren in 1972. This book really is a course on how to approach and understand different kinds of books at a deep level. Its subtitle is “The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading” and it is suitable for upper secondary aged students, adults and university students.

In his book, Adler talks about four different levels of reading: elementary reading, inspectional reading, analytical reading and synoptical reading.

His book is also divided into four parts where he talks about the dimensions of reading, analytical reading, approaches to different kinds of reading matter and the ultimate goal of reading.

The book itself is a challenging read; it will make you think, it will change the way you read and how you choose what to read, and you will be so glad that you’ve read it.  It is a valuable classic reference book which needs to be on the shelf of any serious student.

A quote from “How to Read a Book”, Chapter 21, ‘Reading and the Growth of the Mind’ (pp 339 – 341):

“If you are reading in order to become a better reader, you cannot just read any book or article. You will not improve as a reader if all you read are books that are well within your capacity. You must tackle books that are beyond you, or, as we have said, books that are over your head. Only books of that sort will make you stretch your mind. And unless you stretch, you will not learn.

“Thus, it becomes of crucial importance for you not only to be able to read well but also to be able to identify those books that make the kinds of demands on you that improvement in reading ability requires. A book that can do no more than amuse or entertain you may be a pleasant diversion for an idle hour, but you must not expect to get anything but amusement from it. We are not against amusement in its own right, but we do want to stress that improvement in reading skill does not accompany it. The same goes for a book that merely informs you of facts that you did not know adding to your understanding of those facts. Reading for information does not stretch your mind any more than reading for amusement. It may seem as though it does, but that is merely because your mind is fuller of facts than it was before you read the book. However, your mind is essentially in the same condition that it was before. There has been a quantitative change, but no improvement in your skill.

“…The books that you will want to read…must also make demands on you. They must seem to you to be beyond your capacity…

“…A good book does reward you for trying to read it. The best books reward you most of all. The reward, of course, is of two kinds. First, there is the improvement in your reading skill that occurs when you successfully tackle a good, difficult work. Second–and this in the long run is much more important–a good book can teach you about the world and about yourself. You learn more than how to read better; you also learn more about life. You become wiser. Not just more knowledgeable–books that provide nothing but information can produce that result. But wiser, in the sense that you are more deeply aware of the great and enduring truths of human life.”

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How to Read a Book — 1 Comment

  1. We are a not-for-profit educational organization, founded by Mortimer Adler and 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, lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

    Three hours with Mortimer Adler on one DVD. A must for libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

    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:

    ISBN: 978-1-61535-311-8

    Thank you,

    Max Weismann