Summary of How to Read a Book

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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.

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 level that offers much greater rewards, including knowledge, self-awareness and inspiration.

When you read skillfully, you read “actively.” You’re awake and focused. Instead of passively absorbing information, you collaborate with the author. The writer provides the material, but you analyze it, argue with it and question it. Instead of merely adding to your store of information, you increase your comprehension of yourself and your world.

“Elementary Reading”

Unfortunately, most readers never learn how to gain this level of joy and wisdom from reading. Reading education in the US focuses on the skills needed at a beginner’s elementary reading level – the ability to recognize words, comprehend sentences and derive the meaning of new words from context. Once you can read at that level, you’re pretty much on your own. Most high schools and colleges in the US offer...

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    M. A. 7 months ago
    Excellent and applies to books of philosophy
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    A. Y. 2 years ago
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    C. Y. 2 years ago
    This book should be read by serious read who wants to be a better reader. It is very practical and require us to put into practice for us to reap the benefits of effective reading. Highly recommend this book to all.
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    X. Z. 5 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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      Anonymous 5 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.