How to Read a Book

Having just read the classic book, How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler, I must keep a synopsis of his rules for future reference! A classic book I have intended to read ever since my high school teacher read it and claimed it changed his life.

The Analysis of a Books Structure

  1. Classify the book according to kind and subject matter
  2. State what the whole book is about with the utmost brevity
  3. Enumerate its major parts in their order and relation, and analyze these parts as you have analyzed the whole
  4. Define the problem or problems the author is trying to solve

The Interpretation of a Book’s Contents

  1. Come to terms with the author by interpreting his basic words
  2. Grasp the author’s leading propositions through dealing with his most important sentences
  3. Know the author’s arguments, by finding them in, or constructing them out of, sequences of sentences
  4. Determine which of his problems the author solved, and which he did not; and of the latter, decide which the author knew he failed to solve

The Criticism of a Book as a Communication of Knowledge

  1. General Maxims
    1. Do not begin criticism until you have completed analysis and interpretation (Do not say you agree, disagree, or suspend judgement until you can say you understand)
    2. Do not disagree disputatiously or contentiously
    3. Respect the difference between knowledge and opinion, by having reasons for any critical judgement you make
  2. Specific Criteria for Points of Criticism
      1. Show wherein the author is uninformed
      2. Show wherein the author is misinformed
      3. Show wherein the author is illogical
      4. Show wherein the author’s analysis or account is incomplete
          Note: The first 3 are criteria for disagreement. Failing in all of these, you must agree, in part at least, though you may suspend judgement on the whole, in the light of the fourth point.