How To Read A Book is a treatise on reading well. It is concerned with how one become a discerning, active, demanding reader. It enumerates a set of rules for a reader to:
- come to terms with an author
- understand the author’s propositions
- pick out the author’s arguments
- determine which problems the author has solved or not solved
As a result, it allows a reader to criticize a book fairly. And to agree or disagree with an author in a structured manner.
The book is written in 4 parts:
- The Dimensions of Reading
- The Third Level of Reading: Analytical Reading
- Approaches to Different Kinds of Reading Matter
- The Ultimate Goals of Reading
Part 1 and 2 lay out how to read a book in general terms. Part 3 and 4 digs into the specifics of particular categories of books.
The books proposes that the 4 levels of reading are:
- Elementary Reading
- Inspectional Reading
- Analytical Reading
- Syntopical Reading
Elementary Reading is rudimentary reading. Is the reader capable of reading the words and does the reader have basic literacy.
The goals of Inspectional Reading:
- What is the book about as a whole?
- What is being said in detail, and how?
- Is the book true, in whole or part?
- What of it?
The book outlines 15 rules of analytical reading in 3 stages:
Stage 1: Classification
- Classify the book according to subject and category
- Briefly state what the book is about
- Outline the major parts
- Define the problems the author is trying to solve
Stage 2: Interpretation
- Transform key words into terms
- Transform key sentences into propositions
- Construct arguments from propositions
- Determine which problems the author has and has not solved
Stage 3: Critique
- Suspend judgement until after interpretation
- Do not disagree contentiously
- Differentiate between knowledge and opinion with the use of reason
- Show where the author is uninformed
- Show where the author is misinformed
- Show where the author is illogical
- Show where the author’s analysis is incomplete
Part 3 deals with reading different types books. Most of this section can be skimmed and returned to before reading a particular category of book.
Of note is the chapter on reading current events. Questions to ask:
- What does the author want to prove?
- Whom does he want to convince?
- What special knowledge does he assume?
- What special language does he use?
- Does he really know what he is talking about?
Syntopical Reading is the act of reading many books on a subject. There are two requirements:
- Knowing more than one book is pertinent to a subject
- Knowing which books are pertinent
Unless you know what books to read, you cannot read syntopically, but unless you can read syntopically, you do not know what to read.
Stage 1: Surveying
- Create a tentative bibliography
- Inspectional Reading of each book
Stage 2: Quick Read
- Identify important passages
- Take authors’ terms and create neutral terminology
- Create a set of neutral propositions
- Define major and minor issues
- Analyze and order the questions and issues
How To Read A Book is a must read for anyone that reads freqeuntly and would like to get the most out of their reading.