Sir Francis Bacon once wrote, “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” Mortimer Adler’s book How to Read a Book (here) is such a book to be read with diligence and attention. It is not only one of those books that enlightens upon each reading, but has a particular light that, once comprehended, has a way of shining into every other book you read.
A quick summary of Mortimier’s book would be this: Most have been taught to read, but most have not been taught to read well. Below is a quick summary of each of the 21 chapters of his book, divided into four parts, to provide an ever so slight a context for the complication of quotes I found helpful in my readings. In other blogposts (which I will link from here) I’ll provide a bit more detailed understanding of the four levels of reading and some comments on how to read special genres of books.
While the aim of this post isn’t to persuade you to read this book, I cannot help but say, “If you can swallow your pride and, as my siblings have said, ‘Read a book on how to read a book,’ you’ll be in good hands.”
Part 1 – The Dimensions of Reading
Chapter 1. We are hit with so much information all the time. And this information is sent via a medium to reduce active reading. As a result of “easy reading”, we have by and large lost the sense of unaided discovery through books.
This book proposes that the best readers are not the most widely read but the most well-read. And the most well-read are those who read most actively. And the best active readers are those who read to “understand” the material, or to know the “why” behind the reasons the author has for saying what he is saying and how those reasons correspond to the web of knowledge and facts concerning the subject the author is addressing or contributing.
The tools we would be required to know to make unaided discoveries in the external world are the same tools necessary to read books well and to the best of our abilities.
Chapter 2. There are four levels of reading, levels that assumes mastery of the previous levels. Level one is the most elementary level of reading – identification of sentences and words. The second level is skim reading and understanding the general structure of any book. The third level is a deeply analytical look at a book, it’s concepts, and flow of arguments that stretch beyond one’s own understanding. And level four is a comparative reading of several books to create an emergent analysis that may not be found in any of the particular books that have been read.
Chapter 3. The first level of reading is Elementary Reading. This level of reading should be mastered in elementary school, however, the focus of this level of reading instruction tends to go well into high school and college.
There are four stages of Elementary Reading: Reading Readiness, Word Mastery, Elementary Reading, and Reading Refinement. Reading Readiness develops the general physical, intellectual, linguistical, and personal ability to remember letters and words. Word mastery develops the ability to expand vocabulary and detect meaning from context. Elementary Reading develops, by continuation, a more well-developed vocabulary and more advanced meaning detection from context. And Reading Refinement develops the ability to compare books on a single topic.
Chapter 4. The second level of reading is Inspectional, or Skim, Reading. Inspectional reading can be divided into two sub-levels: Systematic Skimming and Superficial Reading
Systematic Skimming allows us to identify book structure, logic of arguments, range of subjects a book covers, and author’s project/intent.
Superficial Reading is a method for blasting through a book, or lily-pad jumping, in order to have some web of general understanding by which to tackle the tougher portions of the book upon a second or third reading. It’s not systematic skimming in that what you’re attempting to do is create pockets of understanding to contextually understand the meaning of the more difficult sections of the author’s points.
Chapter 5. A demanding reader does two things: he is an active reader and he asks questions of the book. One thing you’ll need to work on is actively placing notes into the margins of your books, write out chapter summaries, providing structural outlines, and underline key word repetition.
Looking forward, it’ll be hard to implement all of these rules at any give time, but if they are original taught as tons of simple rules, you’ll one day be able to complete all of them as if no rules existed – this goes for anything new we attempt to learn, from sports to games.
Part 2 – The Third Level of Reading: Analytical Reading
Chapter 6. Inspectional reading gives us the necessary information to understand what type of book we are reading. This is important because different types of books must be read different – just as different subjects and different sports are taught differently.
Rule #1 to Analytical Reading – You must know what kind of book you are reading, and you should know this as early as possible, preferably before you begin to read.
Chapter 7. We are introduced to the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th rules of analytical reading. The second rule is to state the objective of the whole book with utmost brevity – one or two sentences. The third rule is to enumerate its major parts in their order and relation, and outline these parts as you have outlined the whole. And the fourth rule is to define the problem or problems the author is trying to solve. All of four of these rules goes to answer the question of the first stage of analytical reading, “What is the book about as a whole?”
The first rule allows us to understand how we should approach a book. The second rule allows us to understand the unifying principle or principles of the book. The third rule allows us to understand the complexity of the sub-ordinate parts and how they connect to the whole. And the fourth rule allows us to understand the second and third rules in a mirror – to understand the unity and complexity in relation to the questions the author is trying to ask. With all of this understood, we can begin to understand what the book is about as a whole.
Chapter 8. The simplest way to increase your comprehension of any book is by coming to terms with the author.
First, identify the important, troubling, and technical terms. And second, once they have been identified, come to understand how the author uses them. If you would like, studying an introductory text in the philosophy of language will help you understand the complexity in relating “terms”, which is a linguistic aspect, with a word, which is a grammatical aspect. There are many terms that can be associated to a single word and many words that can be associated to a single term. It’s your job to sort and connect the terms and words together.
Chapter 9. Once you have understood which terms go to which words and which words go to which terms, you must then attach the proper propositions to the correct sentences and vice versa. This goes for arguments to paragraphs. The common divide is that semantics is not the same thing as syntax – the former concerns itself with the rules of thought the latter with the rules of grammar or natural language.
The process of ensuring the correct correspondence of thought to natural language completes the second stage of analytical reading – understanding the author’s main concepts, terms, and arguments in detail, or, simply put, understanding the content of a book.
Chapter 10. There are three rules to the etiquette of properly judging a book: First, make sure you understand before you criticize; second, seek the truth through your criticism and not contention; third, through your reasons and distinctions allow room for resolution.
Chapter 11. The first stage of analytical reading is understanding a book’s structure. The second stage of analytical reading is understanding a book’s content. The third stage of analytical reading is criticizing a book fairly.
Criticizing a book is just as important as understanding it. To have read a book and to have understand it but not to judge it is to levy the worst form of judgement: to judge a book and the author as not being worth your time. In order to judge a book effectively, you must understand the etiquette of judging a book – which consists of being willing to understand the book before judging, not judging out of malice but out of grace, and to understand the difference between knowledge and opinion concerning the topics covered in the book – and the criteria of what a book could be criticized for – being uninformed, misinformed, illogical, or incomplete.
Chapter 12. Before you seek aids to reading ensure two things: first, that you have tried to understand the material on your own, and, second, ensure you know how to use the reading aids that you are using. Reading aids in the hands of a knowledgeable person can be indispensable, but they are no cure for ignorance. This includes relevant experience, other books on the subject, commentaries and abstracts, reference books, encyclopedias, and dictionaries.
Part 3 – Approaches to Different Kinds of Reading Matter
Chapter 13. Practical books different from theoretical books in that practical books do not solve themselves – they require action from the reader to solve the reader’s problem.
Chapter 14. Imaginative literature is different than practical or expository books is that practical books teach you to do something and expository books conveys knowledge about an experience. An imaginative book conveys the experience itself. To read an imaginative book well, you must be willing to allow the book to act upon you, to allow yourself to experience that which it was written to convey. While expository focuses upon our judgments, imaginative focuses upon our senses.
Chapter 15. There are two prerequisites in reading stories, plays, and poems: are you willing to read the book on its terms and are you willing to experience it.
Chapter 16. To effectively read history, you must be willing to read more than one perspective, or view point, and not be willing to read history just for “the facts”. History isn’t merely a factual report of the past, it is also a story about those who have lived before us, their experiences, and how their choices impacted people’s lives at that time. History has a moral element which we can take in.
Chapter 17. Science and mathematics books can be tedious and difficult, especially if they are heavy laden with complex equations and technical jargon. To read these books effectively, especially as a layperson, focus not on the complex equations or the technical jargon but upon the problem, or problems, that required the writing of the book and the solutions the author is proposing.
Chapter 18. The paradox of philosophy is that it requires the wonder of a child and the understanding of an adult to seek and gain wisdom. To effectively read philosophy books, find the questions they are trying to solve, understand the terms they are trying to use (philosophers are notorious for using private vocabularies), and identify the controlling principles, or assumptions, that the author makes.
Chapter 19. Social science is as hard to define as it is to sort its subject matter. A general definition is, “Social Science systematically organizes human knowledge that focuses on society/culture (not the individual) with concerns surrounding the behavioral aspects, which are both observable and quantifiable.”
To be effective in reading books on social science, you must not only be able to identify the general subject the book belongs, but also untie all the subjects the author cuts across to make his point – each subject will require a different method for interpretation and understanding.
Part 4 – The Ultimate Goals of Reading
Chapter 20. Syntopical reading has two chief stages: preparatory and creation. Preparatory is when you create a tentative bibliography and inspect the books of your bibliography to see how you can expand, contract, or edit your book selection. Of course, these two sub-points are done simultaneously and serves the purposes of the other. Creation is the active process in which you attempt to create a neutral framework in which to allow your sources to flow freely into so as to create an emergent thesis.
Chapter 21. In mastering all four levels of reading, you will be fully equipped to expand your understanding and actively seek discovery without external aids. This is the purpose of this book and the goal of its authors – to read well.
Chapter 1 – The Activity and Art of Reading:
“But knowledge is not as much a prerequisite to understanding as is commonly supposed. We do not have a know everything about something in order to understand it; too many facts are often as much of an obstacle to understanding as too few. There is a sense in which we moderns are inundated with facts to the detriment of understanding.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Thus we can roughly define what we mean by the art of reading as follows: the process whereby a mind, with nothing to operate on but the symbols of the readable matter, and with no help form outside, elevates itself by the power of its own operations. The mind passes from understanding less to understanding more. The skilled operations that cause this to happen are the various acts that constitute the art of reading.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“In short, we can learn only from our “betters.” We must know who they are and how to learn from them.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“To be informed is to know simply that something is the case. To be enlightened is to know, in addition, what it is all about: why it is the case, what its connections are with other facts, in what respects it is the same, in what respects it is different, and so forth.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“The distinction is familiar in terms of the differences between being able to remember something and being able to explain it. If you remember what an author says, you have learned something from reading him. If what he says is true, you have even learned something about the world. But whether it is a fact about the book or a fact about the world that you have learned, you have gained nothing but information if you have exercised only your memory. You have not been enlightened. Enlightenment is achieved only when, in addition to knowing what an author says, you know what he means and why he says it.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“The art of reading, in short, includes all of the same skills hat are involved int he art of unaided discovery: keenness of observation, readily available memory, range of imagination, and, of course, an intellect trained in analysis and reflection.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Near-universal literacy was obtained in the United States earlier than anywhere else, and this in turn has helped us to become the highly developed industrial society that we are at the present day.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“If, however, you ask a book a question, you must answer it yourself. In this respect a book is like nature or the world. when you question it, it answers you only to the extent that you do the work of thinking and analysis yourself.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
Chapter 3 – The First Level of Reading: Elementary Reading
“It is traditional in America to criticize the schools; for more than a century, parents, self-styled experts, and educators themselves have attacked and indicted the educational system.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“That does not mean, however, that reading instruction beyond the elementary level is offered in many U.S. colleges to this day. In fact, it is offered in almost none of them. Remedial reading instruction is not instruction in the higher levels of reading. It serves only to bring students up to a level of maturity in reading that they should have attained by the time they graduated from elementary school. To this day, most institutions of higher learning either do not know how to instruct students in reading beyond the elementary level, or lack the facilities and personnel to do so.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“A college degree ought to represent general competence in reading such that a graduate could read any kind of material for general readers and be able to undertake independent research on almost any subject (for that is syntopical reading, among other things, enables you to do). Often, however, three or four years of graduate study are required before students attain this level of reading ability, and they do not always attain it even then.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“We must become more than a nation of functional literates. We must become a nation of truly competent readers, recognizing all that the word competent implies. Nothing less will satisfy the needs of the world that is coming.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
Chapter 4 – The 2nd Level of Reading: Inspectional Reading
“In 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.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Take a basic work in economics, for example, such as Adam Smith’s classic The Wealth of Nations. If you insist on understanding everything on every page before you go on to the next, you will not get very far. In your effort to master the fine points, you will miss the big points that Smith makes so clearly about the factors of wages, rents, profits, and interest that enter into the cost of things, the role of the market in determining prices, the evil of monopoly, the reasons for free trade. you will miss the forest for the trees. You will not be reading well on any level.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Every book should be read no more slowly than it deserves and no more quickly than you can read it with satisfaction and comprehension.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
Chapter 5 – How to be a Demanding Reader
“Ask questions while you read – questions that you yourself must answer in the course of reading.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Reading a book on any level beyond the elementary is essentially an effort on your part to ask it questions (and to answer them to the best of your ability). That should ever be forgotten. And that is why there is all the difference in the world between the demanding and the undemanding reader. The latter asks no questions – and gets no answers.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Good books are over your head; they would not be good for you if they were not.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“[U]nderstanding is a two-way operation; the learner has to question himself and question the teacher. He even has to be willing to argue with the teacher, once he understands what the teacher is saying.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“The art as something that can be taught consists of rules to be followed in operation. The art as something learned and possessed consists of the habit that results from operating according to the rules.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“[I]n order to forget them as separate acts, you have to learn them first as separate acts.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
Part II – The Third Level of Reading:Analytical Reading
Chapter 6 – Pigeonholing a Book
“(Rule 1 to Analytical Reading) You must know what kind of book you are reading, and you should know this as early in the process as possible, preferably before you begin to read.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“There is so much social science in some contemporary novels, and so much fiction in much sociology, that it is hard to keep them apart.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“It is not merely a question of knowing which books are primarily instructive, but also which are instructive in a particular way. The kinds of information or enlightenment that a history and a philosophical work afford are not the same. The problems dealt with by a book on physics and one on morals are not the same, nor are the method the writers employ in solving such different problems.: – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“To make knowledge practical we must convert it into rules of operation. We must pass from knowing what is the case to knowing what to do about it if we wish to get somewhere.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“[Theoretical Books] tries to show that something is true, that these are the facts; not that things would be better if they were otherwise, and here is the way to make them better.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Now, just as there is a difference in the art of teaching in different fields, so there is a reciprocal difference in the art of being taught. The activity of the student must somehow be responsive to the activity of the instructor. The relation between books and their readers is the same as that between teachers and their students. Hence as books differ in the kinds of knowledge they have to communicate they proceed to instruct us differently; and, if we are to follow them, we must learn to read each kind in an appropriate manner.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
Chapter 7 – X-Raying a Book
“[E]very book without exception that is worth reading at all has a unity and an organization of parts. A book that did not would be a mess. It would be relatively unreadable, as bad books actually are.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“(The Second Rule to Analytical Reading) State the unity of the whole book in a single sentence, or at most a few sentences (a short paragraph).” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“(The Third Rule to Analytical Reading) Set forth the major parts of the book, and show how these are organized into a whole, by being ordered to one another and to the unity of the whole.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“As houses are more or less livable, so books are more or less readable. The most readable book is an architectural achievement on the part of tehe author. The best books are those that have the most intelligible structure. Though they are usually more complex than poorer books, their greater complexity is also a greater simplicity, because their parts are better organized, more unified.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“The difference between good and bad stories having the same essential plot lies in what the author does with it, how he dresses up the bare bones.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“The reader tries to uncover the skeleton that the book conceals. The author starts with the skeleton and tries to cover it up.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“(The Fourth Rule of Analytical Reading) Find out what the author’s problem’s were.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“They will fail to see the unity of a book because they do not see why it has the unity it has; and their apprehension of the book’s skeletal structure will lack comprehension of the end that it serves.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
Chapter 8 – Coming to Terms with an Author
“[T]he miracle of two minds with but a single thought.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Where there is unresolved ambiguity in communication, there is no communication, or at best communication must be incomplete.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“[Terms are] a skilled use of words for the sake of communicating knowledge.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Find the important words and through them come to terms with the author.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Philosophers are notorious for having private vocabularies.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Most of us are addicted to non-active reading. The outstanding fault of the non-active or undemanding reader is his inattention to words, and his consequent failure to come to terms with the author.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“[Y]ou have to discover the meaning of a word you do not understand by using the meaning of all the other words in the context that you do understand.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“[Y]ou will find that your comprehension of any book will be enormously increased if you only go to the trouble of finding its important words, identifying their shifting meanings, and coming to terms.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
Chapter 9 – Determining an Author’s Message
“As in the case of the rule about words and terms, we are here also dealing with the relation of language and thought. Sentences and paragraphs are grammatical units. They are units of language. Propositions and arguments are logical units, or units of thought and knowledge.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Mark the most important sentences in a book and discover the propositions they contain.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Locate or construct the basic arguments in the book by finding them in the connection of sentences.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom in learning from books as well as from nature. If you never ask yourself any questions about the meaning of a passage, you cannot expect the book to give you any insight you do not already possess.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“[V]erbalism is the besetting sin of those who fail to read analytically?” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“The failure in reading – the omnipotent verbalism – of those who have not been trained in the arts of grammar and logic shows how lack of such discipline results in slavery to words rather than master of them.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Find if you can the paragraphs in a book that states its important arguments; But if the arguments are not thus expressed, your task is to construct them, by taking a sentence form this paragraph and one from that, until you have gathered together the sequence of sentences that state the propositions that compose the arguments.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Find out what the author’s solutions are.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
Chapter 10 – Criticizing a Book Fairly
“The profit in good conversation is something learned.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“The activity of reading does not stop with the work of understanding what a book says. It must be completed by the work of criticism, the work of judging. The undemanding reader fails to satisfy this requirement, probably even more than he fails to analyze and interpret. He not only makes no effort to understand; he also dismisses a book simply by putting it aside and forgetting it. Worse than faintly praising it, he damns it by giving it no critical consideration whatever.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book (Quoting Sir Francis Bacon)
“There is no book so bad but something good may be found in it.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Teachability is often confused with subservience.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“No one is really teachable who does not freely exercise his power of independent judgment.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“To regard anyone except yourself as responsible for your judgement is to be a slave, not a free man.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“You must be able to say, with reasonable certainty, “I understand,” before you can say any one of the following things: “I agree,” “I disagree,” or, “I suspend judgement.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“To agree is just as much an exercise of critical judgement on your part as to disagree.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“To agree without understanding is inane. To disagree without understanding is impudent.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Students who plainly do not know what the author is saying seem to have no hesitation in setting themselves up as his judges. They not only disagree with something they do not understand but, what is equally bad, they also often agree to a position they cannot express intelligibly in their own words. Their discussion, like their reading, is all words.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“When you disagree, do so reasonably, and not disputatiously or contentiously.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Men are creatures of passion and prejudice. The language they must use to communicate is an imperfect medium, clouded by emotion and coloured by interest, as well as inadequately transparent for thought. Yet to the extent that men are rational, these obstacles to their understanding can be overcome.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“He does not judge the book but the man.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Respect the difference between knowledge and mere personal opinion by giving reasons for any critical judgement you make.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
Chapter 11 – Agreeing or Disagreeing with an Author
“To the extent that a reader can support his charge that the book is unintelligible, he has no further critical obligations.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“No higher commendation can be given any work of the human mind than to praise it for the measure of truth it has achieved; by the same token, to criticize it adversely for this failure in this respect is to treat it with the seriousness that a serious work deserves. Yet, strangely enough, in recent years, for the first time in Western history, there is a dwindling concern with this criteria of excellence. Books win the plaudits of the critics and gain widespread popular attention almost to the extent that they flout the truth – the more outrageously they do so, the better.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“One might hazard the guess that if saying something that is true, in any sense of that term, were ever again to become the primary concern it should be, fewer books would be written, published, and read.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“If communications were not complex, structural outlining would be unnecessary. If language were a perfect medium instead of a relatively opaque one, there would be no need for interpretation. I error and ignorance did not circumscribe truth and knowledge, we should not have to be critical.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“A person who has read widely but not well deserves to be pitied rather than praised.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“In the natural course of events, a good student frequently becomes a teacher, and so, too, a good reader becomes an author.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
Chapter 12 – Aids to Reading
“The philosopher, like the poet, appeals to the common experiences of mankind.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“The surest test is one we have already recommended as a test of understanding: ask yourself whether you can give a concrete example of a point that you feel you understand.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“[Y]ou should not read a commentary by someone else until after you have read the book.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Reference books are useless to people who know nothing. They are not guides to the perplexed.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
Part 3 – Approaches to Different kinds of Reading
“The most important thing to remember about any practical book is that it can never solve the practical problems with which it is concerned. But a practical problem can only be solved by action itself.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“The best protection against propaganda of any sort is the recognition of it fro what it is. only hidden and undetected oratory is really insidious. What reaches the heart without going through the mind is likely to bounce back and put the mind out of business. Propaganda taken in that way is like a drug you d not know you are swallowing. The effect is mysterious; you do not know afterwards why you feel or think the way you do.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
Chapter 14 – How to Read Imaginative Literature
“A critical reading of anything depends upon the fullness of one’s apprehension. Those who cannot say what they like about a novel probably have not read it below its most obvious surfaces.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Imaginative literature primarily pleases rather than teaches. It is much easier to be pleased than taught, but much harder to know why one is pleased. Beauty is harder to analyze than truth.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“(Rule One of Reading Imaginative Literature) Do not try to resist the effect that a work of imaginative literature has on you.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“The imaginative writer tries to maximize the latent ambiguities of words, in order thereby to gain all the richness and force that is inherent in their multiple meanings. The uses metaphors as the units of his construction just as the logical writer uses words sharpened to a single meaning.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“(Rule Two of Reading Imaginative Literature) Don’t look for terms, propositions, and arguments in imaginative literature.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Expository works do not provide us with novel experiences. They comment on such experiences as we already have or can get.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“(Rule Three of Reading Imaginative Literature) Don’t criticize fiction by the standards of truth and consistency that properly apply to communication of knowledge.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“You have not grasped a story until you are familiar with its characters, until you have lived through its events.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“To read a story well you must have your finger on the pulse of the narrative, be sensitive to its very beat.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Don’t criticize imaginative writing until you fully appreciate what the author has tried to make you experience.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
Chapter 15 – Suggestions for Reading Stories, Plays, and Poems
“To read it well, all you have to do is experience it.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“A story is like life itself; in life, we do not expect to understand events as they occur, at least with total clarity, but looking back on it after he has finished it, understands the relation of events and order of actions.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“All Greek tragedies could have been solved if they had more time. The question we should be concerned with is if we could have made a better decision given that time.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Read through the entire poem even if you don’t think you understand it.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book (Rule one for poetry)
“Read the poem a second time but aloud.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book (Rule two for poetry)
Chapter 16 – How to Read History
“A historical fact, though we may have a feeling of trust and solidity about the word, is one of the most elusive things in the world.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“(Rule One in Reading History) Ensure you read history from more than one view point. Every account is from a viewpoint, but closer approximations to the truth require more than a single viewpoint.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“The victories are now meaningless, and the defeats without pain.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“History is the story of what led up to now.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“(Rule Two in Reading History) Read history not only to gather facts but also to understand how men acted, what resulted, and what that means for our current decisions.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“History suggests the possible, for it describes things that have already been done.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“If we are interested in humanity, we will tend, within reasonable limits, to read any book partly with an eye to discovering the character of its author.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
Chapter 17 – How to Read Science and Mathematics
“Most important of all, it is the activity of the mind that is essential to education, the essential aim of which has always been recognized, from Socrates’ day down to our own, as the freeing of the mind through the discipline of wonder.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Scientific objectivity is not the absence of initial bias. It is attained by frank confession of it.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“We are not told, or not told early enough so that it sinks in, that mathematics is a language, and that we can learn it like any other, including our own. We have to learn our own language twice, first when we learn to speak it, second when we learn to read it. Fortunately, mathematics has to be learned only once, since it is almost wholly a written language.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
Chapter 18 – How to Read Philosophy
“Out of the mouths of babes comes, if not wisdom, at least the search for it. Philosophy according to Aristotle, begins in wonder. It certainly begins in childhood, even if for most of us it stops there, too.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Adults do not lose the curiosity that seems to be a native human trait, but their curiosity deteriorates in quality. They want to know whether something is so, not why.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“A mind not agitated by good questions cannot appreciate the significance of even the best answers.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“The ability to retain the child’s view of the world, with at the same time a mature understanding of what it means to retain it, is extremely rare…” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“[We want] you to recognize that one of the most remarkable things about great philosophical books is that they ask the same sort of profound questions that a child asks.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“A proposition was not accepted as true unless it could meet ht test open discussion; the philosopher was not a solitary thinker, but instead faced his opponents in the intellectual market place.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book, Concerning Medieval Philosophers
“The author [of the aphoristic style] is like a hit-and-run driver; he touches on a subject, he suggests a truth or insight about it, and then runs off to another subject without properly defending what he has said.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“[T]he most distinctive mark of philosophical questions that everyone must answer them for himself. Taking the opinions of another is not solving them, but evading them. And your answer must be solidly grounded, with arguments to back them up. This means, above all, that you cannot depend on the testimony of experts, as you may have to do in the case of science.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“It would be true to say that, in the European tradition at least, the Bible is the book in more senses than one. It has been not only the most widely read, but also the most carefully read, book of all.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
Chapter 19 – How to Read Social Science
“The situation in social science is quite different. Much social science is a mixture of science, philosophy , and history, often with some fiction thrown in for good measure.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
Part 4 – The Ultimate Goal of Reading
Chapter 20 – The Fourth Level of Reading: Syntopical Reading
“In syntopical reading, it is you and your concerns that are primarily to be served, not the books that you read.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Thus it is you who must establish the terms, and bring your authors to them rather than the other way around.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“[W]e are faced with the task of establishing a set of neutral propositions as well.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Thus, in order to present this truth to our minds – and to the minds of others – we have to do more than merely ask and answer the questions. We have to ask them in a certain order, and be able to defend that order; we must show how the questions are answered differently and try to say why; and we must be able to point to the texts in the books examined that support our classification of answers.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“The special quality that a syntopical analysis tries to achieve can, indeed, be summarized in the two words, “dialectical objectivity.”” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“Unless you know what books to read, you cannot read syntopically, but unless you can read syntopically, you do not know what to read.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
Chapter 21 – REading and the Growth of the Mind
“If you are reading in order to become a better reader, you cannot read just any book or article.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“There are some human problems, after all, that have no solution. There are some relationships, both among human beings and between human beings and the nonhuman world, about which no one can have the last word. This is true not only in such fields as science and philosophy, where it is obvious that final understanding about nature and its laws, and about being and becoming, has not been achieved by anyone and never will be it is also true of such familiar and everyday matters as the relation between men and omen, or parents and children, or man and God. These are matters about which you cannot think too much, or too well. The greatest books can help you to think better about them, because they were written by men and women who thought better than other people about them.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
“[W]hen we cease to grow, we begin to die.” – Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book