Reader Alert! Lessons From How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren


This is a book that Pothidotcomers are familiar with. It’s come up over coffee and at the Bring Your Own Book (BYOB) Parties. There are how-to books about everything under the sun but how do you read a book? Do you really need a manual for that? An avid reader would not agree but once you read How to Read a Book by Adler and Van Doren, you will change your mind.

Kinds of Reading

There are four kinds of reading:

  • Elementary- The basics.
  • Inspectional- The book browsing/skimming kind
  • Analytical- Going into details
  • Syntopical- Reading books related to the book you are reading

Reading Rules:

  • Classify the book according to its 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.

So a reader has to sweat over the sentence like the poor writer has or to put it in a more positive light- a reader needs to be more demanding.

How to Read Books of Different Genres

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 section of the book is sure to change the way you approach different kinds of books.

Bonus Points

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 and Exercises and Tests at the four levels of reading in the book.


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