How To Read A Book- A Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading

Charles Van Doren Mortimer J. Adler

You have a mind. Now let us suppose that you also have a book that you want to read.

if you remember what an author says, you have learned something from reading him. If what he says is true, you have even learned something about the world.

Being informed is prerequisite to being enlightened.

literate ignoramuses who have read too widely and not well.

At this level of reading, the question asked of the reader is "What does the sentence say?'' That could be conceived as a complex and difficult question, of course. We mean it here, however, in its simplest sense.

We also want to stress that analytical reading is hardly ever necessary if your goal in reading is simply information or entertainment. Analytical reading is preeminently for the sake of understanding.

Near-universal literacy was obtained in the United States earlier than anywhere else, and this in turn has helped us to become the highly developed industrial society that we are at the present day.

A college degree ought to represent general competence in reading such that a graduate could read any kind of material for general readers and be able to undertake independent research on almost any subject

What is wrong can be corrected.

That we do not yet know how to provide that kind of opportunity is no reason to give up the attempt.

pre-reading is the first sublevel of inspectional reading. Your main aim is to discover whether the book requires a more careful reading.

In fact, many authors spend a considerable amount of time in creating the table of contents, and it is sad, to think their efforts are often wasted.

3. CHECK THE INDEX if the book has one-most expository works do. Make a quick estimate of the range of topics covered and of the kinds of books and authors referred to. When you see terms listed that seem crucial, look up at least some of the passages cited.

5. From your general and still rather vague knowledge of the book's contents, LOOK NOW AT THE CHAPTERS THAT SEEM TO BE PIVOTAL TO ITS ARGUMENT. If these chapters have Summary statements in their opening or closing pages, as they often do, read these statements carefully.

Above all, do not fail to read the last two or three pages, or, if these are an epilogue, the last few pages of the main part of the book. Few authors are able to resist the temptation to sum up what they think is new and important about their work in these pages.

You will have a much better chance of understanding it on a second reading, but that requires you to have read the book through at least once.

The tremendous pleasure that can come from reading Shakespeare, for instance, was spoiled for generations of high school students who were forced to go through Julius Caesar, As You Like It, or Hamlet, scene by scene, looking up all the strange words in a glossary and studying all the scholarly footnotes. As a result, they never really read a Shakespearean play.

To make this clearer, let us take an example of something to read. Let us take the Declaration of Independence. You probably have a copy of it available.

Finally, do not try to understand every word or page of a difficult book the first time through. This is the most important rule of all; it is the essence of inspectional reading. Do not be afraid to be, or to seem to be, superficial. Race through even the hardest book. You will then be prepared to read it well the second time.

1. WHAT IS THE BOOK ABOUT AS A WHOLE? You must try to discover the leading theme of the book, and how the author develops this theme in an orderly way by subdividing it into its essential subordinate themes or topics.

2. WHAT IS BEING SAID IN DETAIL, AND HOW? You must try to discover the main ideas, assertions, and arguments that constitute the author's particular message.

4. WHAT OF IT? If the book has given you information, you must ask about its significance. Why does the author think it is important to know these things? Is it important to you to know them? And if the book has not only informed you, but also enlightened you, it is necessary to seek further enlightenment by asking what else follows, what is further implied or suggested.

The four questions stated above summarize the whole obligation of a reader. They apply to anything worth reading -a book or an article or even an advertisement.

Knowing what the four questions are is not enough. You must remember to ask them as you read.

Good books are over your head; they would not be good for you if they were not.

And books that are over your head weary you unless you can reach up to them and pull yourself up to their level.

It is not the stretching that tires you, but the frustration of stretching unsuccessfully because you lack the skill to stretch effectively.

Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it-which comes to the same thing-is by writing in it.

The front endpapers are better reserved for a record of your thinking. After finishing the book and making your personal index on the back endpapers, turn to the front and try to outline the book, not page by page or point by point (you have already done that at the back) , but as an integrated structure, with a basic outline and an order of parts.

Knowing the rules of an art is not the same as having the habit.

You do not always have to find out the unity of a book all by yourself. The author often helps you.

The requirement that you outline the parts of a book, and show how they exemplify and develop the main theme, is thus supportive of your statement of the book's unity.

This fourth rule can be stated thus : RULE 4. FIND OUT WHAT THE AUTHOR'S PROBLEMS WERE. The author of a book starts with a question or a set of questions. The book ostensibly contains the answer or answers.

If the author uses a word in one meaning, and the reader reads it in another, words have passed between them, but they have not come to terms.

You can be sure of one thing. Not all the words an author uses are important.