Saturday, 19 December 2015

How to Read a Book | Adler & Van Doren

Rating: 6/10

What? How to Read a Book? Surely if you’ve read this book, you already know how to read a book? Yes and no. It all depends on what you mean by 'read'. The authors distinguish three different types of reading, reading for pleasure, reading for information and reading for understanding. This book deals with the latter.

This is a real back to basic guide on how to fully understand a book (the classics of fiction and non-fiction) unaided. It has a lot of good pointers. Some explanations are a bit long winded; I’m not sure if I feel that because I’ve understood it or it is just needlessly long. 
The authors do not dress up what the guide as some magical tour de force; they make it quite clear that what it contains is common sense. 

I’ve had a quick glance over other reviews and I feel some have been unfairly harsh in this respect. The authors are very clear from the outset what their aims are and they stick to them. As long as you read the blurb, you should have a pretty good indication of whether the book is worth your time to read. Humanity students and people following programs like the Well Educated Mind are the ideal audience for How to Read a Book.

I do have to say that I have already read a condensed version of this book in How to Write Essays. It is also has Plato’s Meno’s Paradox as a subtext (very basically, it’s the problem of ‘How do I know x? If I already know x, I don’t need to learn it but if I don’t know x, I can’t learn it because I don’t know how’). My subtext is that you should never believe that you know everything already, but rather that there is always potential in anything to learn something new. 

Overall, I would say that the blurb acts as a good indicator for whether this book will be any use for you. You can buy How to Read a Book here, affiliate proceeds help fund giveaways!  

Book facts
Original publication: August 15th 1972
Publisher: Simon & Schuster 
Pages: 426
Book cover for book review of How to read a book Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren


  1. I find the hardest book to read and review is non-fiction especially biography. Book is filled with facts and opinions that you don't have to repeat. I must choose some aspect of the book that impresses me, that's all I can do. Common sense: we all have it but forget to use it when reading/reviewing. I pick one or two characters to follow one plot line and let the rest of the book just drizzle over me.

    1. Yes, biography is very hard because you're just judging how interesting someones life is really. I feel a bit mean to say it was boring but I guess we can't all like the same things. I read Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and that was very good but I couldn't tell if the claims and stats/research were accurately presented or if there was a flaw in the argument.

      Yes! I've seen a few reviews on Goodreads criticising authors for not doing something when they clearly state their aim is to do the opposite... common sense looks like it got lost among the pages there.


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