Top 10 Takeaways from How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler

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Here’s a confession: throughout elementary school, middle school, and high school, I never finished the books that were assigned to me because I didn’t enjoy reading. It was a chore and I simply didn’t understand much of what I read. I thought reading was boring.
That all changed in my 1st semester of my 2nd year in college. In those 4 months, I finished more books than I had ever read in my entire life! Having a strong appetite for reading also inspired me to become a better reader so I did what any book reader would do: I searched for books on how to read books.
That is when I came across the old classic, How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler.
Adler was an American philosopher and educator as well as a best selling author. This book taught me how to become a more competent reader.

Here are my top 10 takeaways from How to Read a Book.

“Goal of reading: being lifted from a state of understanding less to understanding more.”



“…listening is learning from a teacher who is present-a living teacher-while reading is learning from one who is absent.”



“Always pre-read/skim a book before reading it to make sure that it is worth reading. When you are done skimming (which should only take about an hour at max), you should know what the thesis of the book is.”


How to skim:

  1. Look at page title and preface

  2. Study table of contents

  3. Read the publisher’s blurb

  4. Read random paragraphs and certain pages to get a run down of the book


4 questions to ask when finishing a book:

1.    What is the book about as a whole?

2.   What is being said in detail, and how?

3.   Is the book true, in whole or part?

a.   Knowing what the author said is not enough. You need to make up your own mind.

4.   What of it? (i.e., in Moffitt’s words: “So what? Why does this matter?”)

a.   What is further implied or suggested?

“Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author.” Question him/her and question yourself. Critique the author once you understand his/her point.



Figure out what the author’s question(s) are/were. The book should be the answer to those questions.



You must be able to say, “I understand,” before you can say, “I agree” or “I disagree.”



Before disagreeing with an author:

1.    Acknowledge your emotions (so that you don’t simply vent; you must give reasons)

2.    Make your own assumptions explicit (we are all biased)

a.    “Good controversy should not be a quarrel about assumptions.” P. 155

3.    Try to put yourself in the author’s shoes first and see where he is coming from.



“The great authors were great readers, and one way to understand them is to read the books they read.”

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