Summary of How to Read a Book

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How to Read a Book book summary


8 Overall

8 Applicability

8 Innovation

8 Style


According to professors Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, schools don’t teach the higher-level reading skills you need to engage with and enjoy both informational and enlightening literature. You also need such skills to tackle books you might at first think are beyond your understanding. Those very books, the authors say, ultimately provide the most profound, lasting insights. Adler and Van Doren (yes, the Van Doren in the 1950’s quiz show scandal), outline a systematic approach to help you build and sustain new reading abilities. These skills will help you connect with the most difficult, complex or multileveled works. First published in 1940, this revised edition radiates an enjoyable, rare tweedy-professor ambiance. The authors love their pedantically precise syntax: A book “consists of language written by someone for the sake of communicating something to you.” In keeping with the biases of an earlier era, every pronoun is “he” and the prime reading list from the European and American canon has only two women (Jane Austen and George Eliot). Anachronisms duly noted, getAbstract recommends this clear manual to any reader pursuing personal growth and excellence. Executives, managers and entrepreneurs will especially benefit from increasing their reading comprehension and retention.

In this summary, you will learn

  • Why conventional reading skills are insufficient for understanding difficult books,
  • How to acquire more sophisticated reading skills and
  • How to apply those skills to analyzing great books.

About the Authors

Mortimer J. Adler (1902-2001) was a philosopher and a professor at Columbia University and the University of Chicago. Charles Van Doren (1926-) taught at Columbia University and the University of Connecticut and was assistant director of the Institute of Philosophical Research.



Skillful Reading
When you’re curled up with a good book, reading can feel relaxing and effortless. For many people, however, a book is just a first-class ticket to slumberland. But a wondrous alternative awaits – even for reluctant readers. You can learn to embrace reading at a more skillful...

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    Xuan Zhang 3 years ago
    Was looking forward to this summary but felt a bit disappointed. Seems like these tips mostly apply to non-fiction. I guess they could apply to fiction to a certain extent, but I struggle to see how far I could take it in practice.
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      Guest 3 years ago
      The book has chapters for all kind of reading matter. Chapters 14 is about fiction in general, chapter 15 offers techniques for prose, plays and poetry.

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