how to read a book - mortimer jerome adler

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How to Read a Book Notes


How To Read a Book

Inspectional Reading

Inspectional Reading I: Systematic Skimming or Pre-reading (46)1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Look at the title page and, if the book has one, at its preface Study the table of contents Check the index If the book is a new one with a dust jacket, read the publisher's blurb Look at the chapters that seem to be pivotal to its argument Turn the pages, dipping in here and there, reading a paragraph or two, sometimes several pages in sequence, never more than that

Inspectional Reading II: Superficial ReadingIn tackling a difficult book for the first time, read it through without ever stopping to look up or ponder the things you do not understand right away.

Speed ReadingPlace your thumb and first two fingers together. Sweep this "pointer" across a line of type, a little faster than it is comfortable for your eyes to move. Force yourself to keep up with your hand. Keep practicing this, and keep increasing the speed at which your hand moves.

Active Reading

The Essence of Active Reading: The Four Basic Questions a Reader Asks1. 2. 3. 4. What is the book about as a whole? (What's his main theme) What is being said in detail, and how? (What are the author's claims) Is the book true, in whole or part? (Are his warrants good) What of it? (What's the impact)

How to Make a Book Your Own1. Underline major points or important points 2. Vertical lines at the margin (for same reason as underlining) 3. Star, asterisk, or other doodad at margin to emphasize 10-20 of the most important passages in the book. You may want to fold the corner of the pages. 4. Numbers in the margin to indicate a sequence of points 5. Numbers of other pages in the margin to indicate contradiction, or similar claims, or claims within a theme 6. Circling of key words or phrases 7. Writing in the margin, or at the top or bottom of the page to record questions; to reduce a complicated discussion. You can use the end of the book to make a personal index

Analytical Reading

The First Stage of Analytical Reading: Rules for Finding What a Book Is About1) Classify the book according to what category it falls under 2) Describe what the whole book is about in a detailed outline 3) Enumerate the major parts in relation to the whole and outline these parts as you have outlined the whole 4) Define the problems the author is trying to solve

The Second Stage of Analytical Reading: Rules for Interpreting a Book's Contents1. Come to terms with the author by interpreting his key words 2. Grasp the author's leading propositions by dealing with his most important sentences 3. Know the author's arguments, by finding them in, or constructing them out of, sequences of sentences. 4. Determine which of his problems the author has solved, and which he has not; and of the latter, decide which the author knew he had failed to solve

The Third Stage of Analytical Reading: Rules for Criticizing a Book as a Communication of KnowledgeA. General Maxims of Intellectual Etiquette1. Do not begin criticism until you have completed your outline and your interpretation of the book. (Do not say you agree, disagree, or suspend judgment, until you can say "I understand.") 2. Do not disagree disputatiously or contentiously. 3. Demonstrate that you recognize the difference between knowledge and mere personal opinion by presenting good reasons for any critical judgment you make.

B. Special Criteria for Points of Criticism1. 2. 3. 4. Show wherein the author is uninformed Show wherein the author is misinformed Show wherein the author is illogical Show wherein the author's analysis of account is incomplete

Failing to do all of these, you must agree, at least in part, although you may suspend judgment on the whole, in light of the last point.

Extrinsic Aids

How to Use a Dictionary (178)1. 2. 3. 4. Words are physical things ; they are always uniform Words are parts of speech Words are signs. One word will have many different meanings. Words are conventional; each one has its own history

A good dictionary will answer all of these four different kinds of questions about words. Anyone who fails to consult the explanatory notes and the list of abbreviations at the beginning of a dictionary has only himself to blame if he is not able to use it well.

How to Use an Encyclopedia (182)1. 2. 3. 4. Facts are propositions. Facts are "true" propositions Facts are reflections of reality Facts are to some extent conventional. Facts change.

A good encyclopedia will answer your questions about facts if you remember the points about facts that I have just outlined.

Approaches to Different Kinds of Books

How to Read Practical Books (191)

How to read imaginative Literature (203)1. You must classify a work of imaginative literature according to its kind 2. You must grasp the unity of the whole work 3. You must not only reduce the whole to its simplest unity, but you must also discover how that whole is constructed out of all its parts.

How to Read About Current Events1. 2. 3. 4. 5. What does the author want to prove? Whom does he want to convince? What special knowledge does he assume? What special language does he use? Does he really know what he is talking about?

On Philosophical Styles1. 2. 3. 4. 5. The Philosophical Dialogue The philosophical Treatise or Essay The Meeting of Objections The Systemization of Philosophy The Aphoristic Style

Syntopical Reading

I. Surveying the Field Preparatory to Syntopical Reading1. Create a tentative bibliography of your subject by recourse to library catalogues, advisors, and bibliographies in books. 2. Inspect ALL of the books on the tentative bibliography to ascertain which are germane to your subject and also to acquire a clearer idea of the subject Note: These two steps are not, strictly speaking, chronologically distinct; that is, the two steps have an effect on each other, with the second, in particular, serving to modify the first.

II. Syntopical Reading of the Bibliography Amassed in Stage 11. Inspect the books already identified as relevant to your subject in Stage I in order to find the most relevant passages. 2. Bring the authors to terms by constructing a neutral terminology of subject that all, or teh great majority, of the authors can be interpreted as employing, whether they actually employ the words or not. 3. Establish a set of neutral propositions for all of the authors by framing a set of questions to which all or most of the authors can be interpreted as giving answers, whether they actually treat the questions explicitly or not. 4. Define the issues, both major and minor ones, by ranging the opposing answers of author to the various questions on one side of an issue or another. You should remember that an issue does not always exist explicitly between or among authors, but that it sometimes has to be constructed by interpretation of the authors' views on matters that may not have been their primary concern. 5. Analyze the discussion by ordering the questions and issues in such a way as to throw maximum light on the subject. More general issues should precede less general ones, and relations among issues should be clearly indicated. Note: Dialectical detachment or objectivity should, ideally, be maintained throughout. One way to insure this is always to accompany an interpretation of an author's views on an issue with an actual quotation from his text.


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