Book Review: How To Read A Book – The Classic Guide To Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren

HowToRead
Blocked Up
Zy Marquiez
January 5, 2018

“A man is known by the books he reads.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Read not to contradict and confuse; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.”
– Francis Bacon

This particular book is a book that helps you think better, shaper, more incisively.

At the behest of the author of Socratic Logic [review here] Peter Kreeft PhD, the following book was recommended.   Holding Kreeft’s opinion in high respect – and after doing some research into the book – getting this book seemed to be more than a safe bet.  In fact, it was much more than that.

How To Read A Book – The Classic Guide To Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren is a phenomenal book in a multitude of ways.  Not only does it the book teach individuals how to read different kinds of books – by reading proactively, by rather reactively, for instance – but it also provides essential tools for the synthesis of other great – and more meaningful – pieces of literature.  But the book doesn’t stop there.

One crucial point the authors make is to point out the fact different type of genres should be read in different ways.  Put differently, different type of books demand different types of focus from the reader – poetry, plays or even fiction will be ready drastically different from nonfiction books, or better yet, medical studies or something more dense.  This is something that’s not taught to individuals for the most part, and it’s quite a crucial skill to be lacking in the age of information.

Throughout the length of the book, Adler and Van Doren cover an extensive set of tools for individuals to learn and implement in order to maximize their understanding of the information held within books and all reading in general.  The book features a wide ranging set of suggestions that build on themselves throughout the chapters and also help the reader navigate all the way from the basics to the more advanced.

With utmost precision, the authors show the lengths to which proper reading can be taken too, as well as the depth that can be gathered by undertaking their advice.  As an avid reader and researcher, the information within the pages of this book have helped me considerably not only in pushing myself as a reader, but in understanding – and even merging – the depth and scope of information that is stated, as well as sifting out deeper implications when information isn’t obvious.

Covered within How To Read A Book are topics such as inspectional reading, systematic skimming, problems in comprehension, ‘x-raying’ a book, coming to terms with the author, criticizing a book fairly, reading aids, how to read practical books, how to read imaginative literature, suggestion for reading stories, plays and poems, how to read history, how to read philosophy as well as much, much more.

Particularly of interest to me was the topic of syntopical reading, which is what the authors call ‘The Fourth Level Of Learning’..  In laymen terms, syntopical reading is the ability to essentially synthesize information from various sources.  Since synthesizing information is a process carried out [or attempted too] on nigh a daily basis by myself, the information for me in this particular section was quite noteworthy and immensely useful.  Admittedly, some of it was already being done by me since one learns how to streamline various components of one’s learning when done long enough, but the book still offered more than plenty to learn from in this and many other areas.

A book like How To Read A Book should be an integral component in everyone’s education, and that is no overstatement.  In an age where cognitive decline of education continues unabated, it’s those that push themselves into the realm of self-teaching or autodidacticism that will breakaway from the pack.

This book can easily function as a foundational piece in a school curriculum, because, after all, a sizeable portion of what individuals learn comes via reading.

Most of the suggestions in this book seep into most types of reading in some way shape or form.  When carried out, this undoubtedly filters into an individuals’ everyday lives proportional to how much its concepts are used, and I can certainly vouch for it.  There really isn’t too many books out there that urge the reader to go beyond the conventional baseline understanding of knowledge within books, but this book is certainly one of those precious few.

Appreciatively, the authors also make it a point to strive for a greater education as individuals, to seek to further one’s education beyond the bounds of modern schooling.  Mind you, schooling and education are not the same thing, which is an important distinction because what society gets in America nowadays – given that we have strewn away from classical education – is barely a facsimile of schooling, and in no way shape or form the true education of times past.  Authors like award winning teacher John Taylor Gatto’s in his landmark Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, Dr. Joseph P Farrell & Gary Lawrence’s Rotten To The Common Core , and Charlotte Iserbyt, who served as the Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, in her The Deliberate Dumbing Down Of America, all outline various angles of the deliberate dumbing down of America quite saliently.  More and more people are beginning to speak out as well.

In any case, at the end of the book the authors also thankfully feature a set of the greatest books of all time for individuals to take into consideration.  Having read some of those books, it’s hard to disagree.  That book list is definitely something that’s worth considering for someone looking to extend their learning.

Furthermore, the authors postulate that there exists specific books which fall into the category of what they call ‘Great books’, such as The Illiad, The Odyssey, Organon, The Republic, Paradise Lost, The Divine Comedy, et al.  The authors state that only 1% of the millions of book out there – if not less – fall within this category of ‘Great Books’.  What makes this particular category of great books so unique?  That the gems of knowledge contained within these books, and growth the reader will attain will not only be quite extensive given the depth and immensity of the concepts within the books, but these books will teach you the most about reading and about life.  What’s more, regardless of how many times one reads these books, they are so profound and demanding of the reader that one will always learn something from them.

If you appreciate books, reading, classical education, or are striving to demand more from yourself or perhaps even plan on building a home-schooling curriculum, GET THIS BOOK!  This book really is for everyone.  Educated minds have great foundations, and this book helps lay those foundations in an ironclad manner.

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This article is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Zy Marquiez and Blocked-Up.com

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Blocked Up and its individuals appreciate creativity in its endless forms for many reasons, especially considering its endless possibilities. Not only is Blocked Up a blog that allows us to share all things Creativity, but will also venture into the crucial importance of Individuality, Imagination, Consciousness and more. That said, an individuals limitless creative potential will be at the center of this mind trek. All avenues that help individuals excel will be explored, with healthy doses of creative tidbits found from the halls of the internet in order to get people's creative faculties going and hopefully spawn new ideas and solutions to different areas of life. If the above sounds like your cup of tea, then by all means join me on this voyage of curiosity into the realm of the unknown as we crack the Matrix's reality egg and figure out what really lies hidden inside.

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