Wednesday, March 19, 2008

How to Read a Book by Mortimer J Adler & Charles Van Doren

This book was originally published in 1940, and has since been reissued in many editions. The edition I read was released in 1972, although there are newer ones. The main changes are the addition of more contemporary examples, including books that the authors themselves have written.
How to Read a Book attempts to guide the reader towards "intelligent" reading. It is not a book about reading fiction, although that is covered to a small extent. The main purpose of the book is to teach the reader how to use books to become more knowledgeable. If used correctly, the techniques can lead the reader to developing their own course of study, and get the most out of the books that they read for that subject. The techniques are laid out very specifically, and are reiterated multiple times, so there is no worry that the reader may miss one. The highest goal in reading a book is analytical reading, which includes extensive note-taking and will give you a full understanding of the book. The highest goal for reading about a particular subject is syntopical reading, which allows the reader to first inspect and develop a bibliography, and then analytically read each book in the bibliography in order to become familiar with the subject of study. In this way, you allow books to become your teacher, and you need no other.
I did enjoy reading this book, although it took longer than it should have. It is very dense, and rather pedantic. I was very interested in what the authors had to teach, but sometimes I did not feel like slogging through their writing to get there. From what I have heard of newer editions, this does not get any better. It is a valuable book, and the ideas that they are teaching are very useful. It should be at least attempted by anyone who wants to become a more thorough reader.

1 comment:

Rebecca Reid said...

thanks for this review! It's on my list, but it's good to know that it's very dense and pedantic. Knowing that going in helps.
(I'm working my way through Bloom's How to Read and Why -- reading the books before his commentary -- and I wish I realized how pedantic he can be as well.)