“How To Read A Book” sounds like it’s a book intended for elementary school students, but that couldn’t’ be farther from the truth. Mortimer Adler’s 1940 nonfiction lesson on how to read effectively should be read by everyone before they pick up another book. Using beautifully concise yet characteristically 1940s-era language, Adler’s book is a primer about how to absorb written information. If you’re interested in growing smarter by reading a book, look no further.
As Adler says early on, “Books are the way that we learn from absent teachers.” For How to Read a Book, the reader quickly understands that the teacher is Adler, and the book itself is, in fact, more of a class than a simple library of facts to plow through. Adler’s professorial tone guides the reader through an exploration of what he calls the “levels of reading”—basic semantic understanding, basic interpretation, and finally, critical thinking. During his discussion of each of the levels of reading, Adler explains how to identify opportunities for the reader to improve their skills at that level.
By reading through How to Read a Book, the reader will pick up good reading habits and boost their critical thinking. Asking questions of your reading material like “what is the author trying to accomplish with this piece?” and “does the author succeed in what they were trying to do?” becomes second nature. As an bonus, Adler provides a bibliography of challenging books to read to improve each level of reading at the end of How to Read a Book. Though all of the books that are mentioned are from earlier than 1940, the breadth and sophistication of Adler’s reading list is quite impressive and contains books that will challenge the reader no matter how competent they are at reading.
You may want to go back to your collection and re-read some of your favorites after you’re equipped with new reading skills. With How to Read a Book behind you, it’s likely that you’ll find new perspectives on your favorites, as well as points of improvement. Once you’ve learned how to read a book, your skill will only increase with time.