How To Read a Book

How To Read a Book is a book by Mortimer J. Adler. It was required reading for incoming freshmen at the University of Dayton when I was a high school senior. Dad bought the books for me at that time. I remember there were three books on the list. I don’t remember the other two. This one was worth reading.

(Oh, dad wanted me to go to UD. He went there for one semester. Majored in going to the movies. Wound up in the Army. But was a life-long fan of UD basketball. I went to the University of Cincinnati. Big mistake. That’s another story.)

Mortimer J. Adler was a philosophy professor. He was notable for editing a set of books called The Great Books of the Western World. I bought that set with my second paycheck after college and still have it. The first paycheck went toward a good guitar–once again, that’s another story.

Adler was also the foil of Robert Pirsig at the University of Chicago in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

This book was mentioned in a recent podcast interview I heard, and that brought all these thoughts out of hiding.

Oh, how to read a book? (This is a good thinking skill.)

You will not want to do his entire methodology for every book. But if you pick a few books a year with some meat to them (and I hope you do), try this.

Every good writer has an outline. How do you figure out her outline? Check the Table of Contents.

Then scan the book. Look, for example, at the first and last paragraphs of each chapter. You will then have an idea of where the author is taking you.

As you read, write your version of the outline including important points to remember. I also tend to stop occasionally and recheck the TOC to get a sense of where I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going.

Think of the argument the author is making and whether it is sound or has some gaps of logic.

Think about the book when you finish.

I believe the thinking part is the important part. It allows you to digest the information and consider the validity of the argument.

Oh, yes, and I’ve read almost all of the Great Books set. Some several times.

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