On Reading


How To Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler & C. V. Doren

Reading follows certain stages:

  • Elementary
  • Inspectional
    • Systematic skimming:
      • Title, preface, ToC, index, blurbs, pivotal chapters
      • Skim some pages
    • Superficial reading
      • Read through the book even without understanding without stopping.
      • Ask the questions:
        • What is the book about as a whole?
        • What is being said, and how?
        • Is the book true? in Whole or in Part?
        • What of it?
      • Take notes on the structure, whole & type of book
  • Analytical
    • Know the Kind of the book
    • State the Unity of the book in a sentence/paragraph
    • Set for the the major parts, and how they are organized
    • Define the problems the author is trying to solve
    • Find the important words and come to terms with the author
    • Mark the most important sentences and discover their propositions
    • Locate or construct the basic arguments by finding them in the connections of sentences
    • Determine the author's solutions
    • Understand before deciding to judge, or avoiding judgement
    • Disagree in a reasonable fashion, not disputatiously or contentiously
    • Respect the difference between knowledge and personal opinion; give reasons for all critical judgments
    • For criticism
      • Show there the author is uninformed
      • or misinformed
      • or illogical
      • or where the analysis or account is incomplete
    • Extrinsic aids
      • Experience that complements the contents of the book
      • Other books can help frame a book
      • Commentaries and abstracts: read them after the book
      • Reference books can be useful
        • if you can frame a question
        • know where to find the answer
        • know how the reference book is organized
        • what is considered knowable
  • Syntopical 1
    • Survey the field
      • Create a tentative bibliography
      • Inspect all books to acquire a clearer idea
    • Actual reading
      • Inspect relevant books to find passages
      • Construct a neutral terminology across authors
      • Establish neutral propositions across all authors
      • Define major and minor issues that differ across authors
      • Analyze the discussion, prioritize appropriately

Named after the syntopicon compiled by Mortimer Adler: a collection of topics.

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