How to Read a Book: The Ultimate Guide by Mortimer Adler - Deepstash

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The Difference Between Reading for Understanding and Reading for Information.

The Difference Between Reading for Understanding and Reading for Information.

There is a difference between reading for understanding and reading for information. Anything easily digested is reading for information. The regurgitation of facts without solid understanding and context gains you little in the real world. Learning something insightful requires mental work. It’s uncomfortable. If it doesn’t hurt, you’re not learning. You need to find writers who are more knowledgeable on a particular subject than yourself.

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The Four Levels of Reading

Mortimer Adler literally wrote the book on reading. Adler identifies four levels of reading:

  1. Elementary Reading
  2. Inspectional Reading
  3. Analytical Reading
  4. Syntopical Reading

They are thought of as levels because you can’t move to a higher level without a firm understanding of the previous one — they are cumulative.

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Inspectional Reading

Inspectional reading allows us to look at the author’s blueprint. There are two sub-types of inspectional reading:

  • Systematic skimming, this is meant to be a quick check of the book by reading the preface; studying the table of contents; checking the index; and reading the inside jacket.
  • Superficial reading, this is when you just read. If you don’t understand something, move on.

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Analytical Reading

There are four rules to Analytical Reading:

  • Classify the book according to kind and subject matter.
  • State what the whole book is about with the utmost brevity.
  • Enumerate its major parts in their order and relation, and outline these parts as you have outlined the whole.
  • Define the problem or problems the author is trying to solve.

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Syntopical Reading

Syntopical Reading involves reading many books on the same subject and comparing and contrasting ideas, vocabulary, and arguments.

This task is undertaken by identifying relevant passages, translating the terminology, framing and ordering the questions that need answering, defining the issues, and having a conversation with the responses.

The goal is not to achieve an overall understanding of any particular book, but rather to understand the subject and develop a deep fluency.

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