February 8, 2017
“A man is known by the books he reads.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Read not to contradict and confuse; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.”
– Francis Bacon
This particular book is a book that helps you think better, shaper, more incisively.
At the behest of the author of Socratic Logic [review here], Peter Kreeft PhD, the following book was recommended. Holding Kreeft’s opinion in high respect – and after doing some research into the book – getting this book seemed to be more than a safe bet. In fact, it was much more than that.
How To Read A Book – The Classic Guide To Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren is a phenomenal book in various ways. Not only does it ‘teach’ the reader how to read different kinds of books – by reading proactively, by rather reactively – but it also provides essential tools for the synthesis of other great – and more meaningful – pieces of literature. However, it also features much more than that.
As a caveat, the authors make the distinction in the fact different type of genres should be read in different ways. To say it another way, poetry, plays or even fiction will be ready drastically different from nonfiction books. This is something that’s not taught to individuals for the most part, and sometimes we miss out because of it.
Adler and Van Doren cover an extensive set of tools for reader’s to learn and implement – if they so choose – in order to maximize one’s understanding of the information held within books. The book features a wide ranging set of suggestions that build on themselves throughout the chapters that help the reader navigate all the way from the basics to the more advanced.
Without a doubt, the authors show the lengths to which proper reading can be taken too, as well as the depth that can be gathered by undertaking their advice. As an avid reader and researcher, the information within the pages of this book have helped me considerably not only in pushing myself as a reader, but in understanding – and even merging – the depth and scope of information that is stated, as well as sifting out deeper implications when information isn’t obvious.
Furthermore, covered within How To Read A Book are topics such as inspectional reading, systematic skimming, problems in comprehension, ‘x-raying’ a book, coming to terms with the author, criticizing a book fairly, reading aids, how to read practical books, how to read imaginative literature, suggestion for reading stories, plays and poems, how to read history, how to read philosophy as well as much, much more.
Particularly of interest to me related to the above point was the topic of syntopical reading, which is what the authors call ‘The Fourth Level Of Learning’.. In laymen terms, syntopical reading is the ability to essentially synthesize information from various sources. Since synthesizing information is a process carried out [or attempted too] on nigh a daily basis by myself, the information for me in this particular section was quite noteworthy. Admittedly, some of it was already being done by me since one learns how to streamline various components of one’s learning when done long enough, but the book still offered more than plenty in this and many other areas.
A book like How To Read A Book should be an integral component in everyone’s education, and that is no overstatement. In an age where cognitive decline of education continues unabated, it’s those that push themselves into the realm of self-teaching or autodidacticism that will breakaway from the pack.
This book should function as a foundational piece in a school curriculum, because, after all, a large part of what individuals learn comes via reading.
All of the suggestions in this book seep into most if not all books [or reading] in some way shape or form. When carried out, this undoubtedly filters into an individuals’ everyday lives proportional to how much its concepts are used. It’s sure helped me in such a fashion. There really isn’t too many books out there that urge the reader to go beyond the conventional baseline understanding of data within books, but this book is certainly one of those precious few.
Appreciatively, the authors also make it a point to strive for a greater education as individuals, to seek to further one’s education beyond the bounds of modern schooling. Mind you, schooling and education are not the same thing, which is an important distinction because what society gets in America nowadays – given that we have strewn away from classical education – is barely a facsimile of schooling, and in no way shape or form the true education of times past. Authors like award winning teacher John Taylor Gatto’s in his landmark Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, Dr. Joseph P Farrell & Gary Lawrence’s Rotten To The Common Core , and Charlotte Iserbyt, who served as the Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, in her The Deliberate Dumbing Down Of America outline the deliberate dumbing down of America quite saliently, and these authors by far are not even the only ones talking about it.
In any case, at the end of the book the authors also thankfully feature a set of the greatest books of all time, and after having read the list it’s hard to disagree. Having read perhaps a dozen or so of them, out of the more-than-one-hundred books recommended, it’s definitely something that’s worth considering.
Furthermore, the authors postulate that there exists specific books which fall into the category of what they call ‘Great books’, such as The Illiad, The Odyssey, Organon, The Republic, Paradise Lost, The Divine Comedy, et al.
The authors also postulate that only 1% of the millions of book out there – if not less – fall within this category of ‘Great Books’. What makes this particular category of great books so unique? That the gems of knowledge contained within these books and growth the reader will attain will not only be extensive, given the depth and immensity of the concepts within the book, but these books will teach you the most about reading and about life. Moreover, regardless of how many times one reads these books, they are so profound and demanding of the reader that one will always learn something from them.
If you appreciate books, reading, classical education, or are striving to demand more from yourself or even plan on building a home-schooling curriculum, GET THIS BOOK! This book really is for everyone. Educated minds have great foundations, and this book helps lay those foundations in an ironclad manner.