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How to Read a Book

I am currently reading the classic guide to intelligent reading: “How to read a Book” (  or

It was first published in  1940, the most current edition is from 1970. The original author is Mortimer J. Adler and his associate Charles van  Doren at the  Institute for Philosophical Research (University of North Carolina) revised it.

This book is not about speed reading, good reading conditions, fonts or the chemo-biological process of reading. It is all about understanding a book and gaining insight from it.

The main theme is, you have to work on a book to understand it. Only if it takes hard reading, it is worth reading it. If it is a good book, it can educate you  on subjects, you  did not know before.

So, everybody who is reading to learn, this guide might be important to you. However personally think it is not an easy book. Even if it sounds trivial and pathetic in some passages, you really  have  to think about the details to learn from it. I would like to present a simple example for this, the Chapter 8: Coming to Terms with an Author.

In this Part Adler and van Doren describe how important it is to find and understand the Terms of the book, the key words and phrases. They recommend you underline or write down the words you have difficulties. The one the author defines or uses in a unknown context. Those are the terms which are important to understanding the book.

I had a problem with this advice, because generally I am used to spot those technical terms, and with some educational background you are able to understand authors. So most people will understand the usage of “wealth” in Adam Smith texts, as well as “species” in Darwin’s.

However, pondering some more I was alerted: it is not that the guide is wrong, it just means I am reading the wrong literature. All those books (especially the unimportant print matter about Information Technology or Business Process) do simply  not contain enough challenge, they will not enlighten me. Since they are part of my job and since I find entertainment in reading them, I will most likely continue, however: I do plan to work on more valuable books, too.

I am very curious which additional insights I will gain from that book, and I can only recommend it. Just don’t take it to easy.

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