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How to Read a Book (A Touchstone book) [Kindle Edition]

Charles Van Doren , Mortimer J. Adler
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (249 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.99
Kindle Price: $9.12
You Save: $7.87 (46%)
Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc


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Book Description

With half a million copies in print, How to Read a Book is the best and most successful guide to reading comprehension for the general reader, completely rewritten and updated with new material.

Originally published in 1940, this book is a rare phenomenon, a living classic that introduces and elucidates the various levels of reading and how to achieve them—from elementary reading, through systematic skimming and inspectional reading, to speed reading. Readers will learn when and how to “judge a book by its cover,” and also how to X-ray it, read critically, and extract the author’s message from the text.

Also included is instruction in the different techniques that work best for reading particular genres, such as practical books, imaginative literature, plays, poetry, history, science and mathematics, philosophy and social science works.

Finally, the authors offer a recommended reading list and supply reading tests you can use measure your own progress in reading skills, comprehension, and speed.

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Editorial Reviews


The New Yorker

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.

About the Author

MORTIMER J. ADLER (1902-2001) served as the chairman of Britannica's Board of Editors, director of the Institute for Philosophical Research, and senior associate and founder of the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies. He authored the well-known How to Read a Book and the intellectual autobiography Philosopher at Large, and was co-editor, with Charles Van Doren, of Great Treasury of Western Thought, declared the reference book of 1977 by the American Library Association.

CHARLES VAN DOREN is an American intellectual and former TV quiz show contestant. Van Doren earned a bachelor's degree from St. John's College and went on to earn a masters in astrophysics and a doctorate in English from Columbia University, where he later taught English.

Product Details

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
610 of 621 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Foundational to all non-fictional reading December 9, 2000
"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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893 of 931 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Reading is Really All About June 28, 2002
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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145 of 156 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best reference book you can have!!!! October 29, 1999
By A Customer
Now in my last year of law school, I found myself extremely angry upon completing this book. How invaluable this book would have been if I had read it before reading the hundreds of books that were assigned to me in high school, college, and law school. Why didn't anybody tell me about this marvelous gem?!! But the good news is that I have my entire life ahead of me, and I will begin putting this book to use right away.
Anybody who hasn't bought this book yet, stop reading and buy it NOW!
Anybody who knows somebody about to enter high school, college, or graduate school, or who is serious about education and the pursuit of knowledge in general, buy this book for them NOW and they will be forever grateful!!
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49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A promise kept November 15, 2001
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great
This book definitely helps with deciding if you will like a book. I know it sounds strange but I have a better idea of which book I will enjoy.
Published 7 days ago by Ellie
5.0 out of 5 stars I love it
I have not finished reading the book , the book has some good information. One of my class mates recommended the book to me because we have to do a lot of reading in our classes.
Published 8 days ago by Lois Belle
5.0 out of 5 stars A very valuable book
I wish this book was published when I went to college. I've always loved to read and the enjoyment has grown now that I am in my 80's and have more time to read. Read more
Published 9 days ago by William B. Howard
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book--should have read it in college!
I recommend this book to anyone who loves to read--you will read with better clarity and understanding. If you are in college, do yourself a favor and read this book.
Published 25 days ago by John
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a good book outlining how different books require different...
I bought this for myself and passed it along to my children. This is worth owning and spending some time going through. The book is well written and it is not heavy stuff. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Todd
5.0 out of 5 stars timeless truths
my regret is that I did not know about this when in college. would have made my academic experience a lot different. Read more
Published 1 month ago by d2
5.0 out of 5 stars Think you know how to read? You don't!
I wish my parents or teachers had insisted that I read this book in high school. Such a helpful way to think about the approaching to reading different types of books. Read more
Published 1 month ago by David Gerber
3.0 out of 5 stars Sleeper
Its a book teaching you how to read a book. It took me sometime to read because it is not a page turner. Read more
Published 1 month ago by ES
5.0 out of 5 stars The Art of Reading Explained.
Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- "Perhaps we know more about the world than we used to. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Omar Halabieh
4.0 out of 5 stars Pretty Good
I like what it teaches. However it was not an easy read. I think it would have been better if it was shorter.
Published 1 month ago by jpa
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