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How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading (A Touchstone book) Revised Edition

396 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 004-2516291251
ISBN-10: 0671212095
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"These four hundred pages are packed full of high matters which no one solicitous of the future of American culture can afford to overlook." (Jacques Barzun)

"It shows concretely how the serious work of proper reading may be accomplished and how much it may yield in the way of instruction and delight." (The New Yorker)

About the Author

Dr. Mortimer J. Adler was Chairman of the Board of the Encyclopedia Britannica, Director of the Institute for Philosophical Research, Honorary Trustee of the Aspen Institute, and authored more than fifty books. He died in 2001.

Dr. Charles Van Doren earned advanced degrees in both literature and mathematics from Columbia University, where he later taught English and was the Assistant Director of the Institute for Philosophical Research. He also worked for Encyclopedia Britannica in Chicago.
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Product Details

  • Series: A Touchstone book
  • Paperback: 426 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; Revised edition (August 15, 1972)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671212095
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671212094
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (396 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,285 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

721 of 733 people found the following review helpful By Rob Taylor on December 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested" (Francis Bacon). This is one of those books.

How to Read a Book is a classic guide to intelligent reading and my opinion is that it should be standard reading, particularly for the college-bound student. Don't let the title fool you. This book is not a simplistic review of what you learned in the second grade. The book is divided into four parts.

Part one includes what Adler calls the first two levels of reading: elementary and inspectional reading. In total he sets forth four levels of reading: elementary reading, inspectional reading, analytical reading and syntopical reading. He proceeds to tell us that reading is an active process since the teacher is not available to deliberate. In keeping with this activity we are told how to read faster while comprehending more, how to find answers to our questions from within the book and how to make the right kind of notes in the book.

Part two contains the third level of reading: analytical reading. "Reading a book analytically is chewing and digesting it" (p.19). We now learn how to determine the type of literature we are reading, what type of structure it has and we learn that we must come to grasp with the author's vocabulary. The point of all this is to understand the message of the author. If we are unable to state the author's message concisely in our own terms, we have learned nothing. Only after we first understand what the author is saying, can we begin criticize him fairly. Once we have read analytically, we can agree with the author, disagree with him or we can postpone judgment until we have learned more if we wish. Adler suggests that we do not consult other study helps until we first have read the book analytically.
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957 of 1,002 people found the following review helpful By Sunnye Tiedemann on June 28, 2002
Format: Paperback
As a book reviewer for the past 20 years, with hundreds of reviews in print and electronic media, I think I know a little about reading books. I was fascinated to find that Adler and Van Doren have, in HOW TO READ A BOOK, clearly articulated what I had discovered on my own.
Most people read at an elementary level. Common print media -- newspapers, magazines -- are geared to this first level, that of eighth or ninth grade. Reading at this level is simple and unsophisticated. It is a fairly simple procedure. As someone once said, "You just pick up a book and look at every word until you've seen them all."
The second level of reading is inspectional. Two steps are performed simultaneously. The reader skims, or pre-reads, by studying the title page, preface, table of contents, index, dust jacket and a chapter or two. He thumbs through the book, reading a bit here and there. Then he reads the entire book superficially without bothering whether he understands it or not. I might argue that if you don't understand what you're reading, you're not reading at all. However, this is the kind of reading I do when I'm selecting a book to review. It is just the beginning.
Adler and Van Doren argue that this kind of superficial reading can prepare a reader for enjoying more difficult works. "The tremendous pleasure that can come from reading Shakespeare, for example, 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 footnotes," write the authors. "As a result, the never read a Shakespeare play. By the time they reached the end, they had forgotten the beginning and lost sight of the whole...
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71 of 75 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Hoins on November 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
Adler does exactly what he promises in the title. He tells you how to read a book. I read this book for a high school rhetoric class and though we read it in three weeks, I was so impacted by it that I have tried to apply his many suggestions.
He covers reading very thoroughly. Ideally, when we read a book, we first grasp what the author is saying (the who's and what's), then what he means, then how that relates to our life. These three steps fit into the first three levels of reading. The first asks 'What is the book saying?,' the second 'What type of book is it?,' and the third 'What does the book mean?.' There is another level which basically is a topical study- reading books to find what various authors say about a given topic.
Adler recognizes that we often don't get much from a book because we don't know how to read well. (He covers the relationship between reader and writer and their responsibilities toward each other)So for each level he gives rules and suggestions for how to read on that level. Often these are in the form of questions to ask that book.
Another thing Adler recognizes is that not all books are equal. Many books only need to be read on the first level, some on the second, and a few on the third. This also affects how fast one reads. The speed should match the difficulty, importance, and quality of the reading- even within the same book.
In addition to covering the four reading levels, Adler takes different types of books and gives specific applications of his suggestions to these books. You would not ask the same questions of a history book that you would of a play.
Oh and Adler provides exercises and a very good reading list to get you started on the road to good reading.
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