Tuesday, March 31, 2015

How to Read a Book, Part 4

How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren. Simon & Schuster, 1972. ISBN 0671212095

The first few posts looked at the first two levels of reading: Elementary Reading and Inspectional Reading. These two levels are to assist the reader to ask the first two questions: "What is the book about as a whole and What is being said in detail and How." The third level of reading is analytical reading and this is covered in part two of the book. This part includes seven chapters. It is the meat of the book. Analytical reading of a book will assist the reader to answer the other two questions that must be answered about a book: Is it true? Why does it matter. In addition, it will help the reader to know what is being said in detail and how.

Adler provides seven rules for analytical reading:

The First Stage of Analytical Reading
1. Classify the book according to kind and subject matter.
What is the book about? What kind of book is it? Is it history, philosophy, or science?

2. State what the whole book is about with the utmost brevity.
Why did the author write the book? What problem is he trying to solve?

3. Enumerate its major parts in their order and relation, and outline these parts as you have outlined the whole.
You are creating your outline of the book. You are showing the overall structure of the book and how it supports the author's argument.

4. Define the problem or problems the author is trying to solve.
Usually the thesis or the overall argument of an expository book is an answer to a research question.

The Second Stage of Reading Analytically
5. Come to terms with the author by interpreting his key words.
Not all of the words of a book are of equal importance. Finding the key words will help you to find the key terms of the book. Words and terms are not the same thing. A term is a word with special qualifications. The author usually specifies how he will be using a term. Adler says a term is a word used "unambiguously."

6. Grasp the author's leading propositions by dealing with his most important sentences.
In rule five the reader looks for the key words to find the key terms used by the author. In this step the reader looks for the key sentences to find the important propositions of the book. Adler notes, "But the heart of his communication lies in his major affirmations and denials he is making, and the reasons he gives for so doing" (121). These are the propositions are claims made by the author.

7. Know the author's arguments, by finding them in, or constructing them out of sequences of sentences.
Basically, an argument "is a sequence of propositions, some of which give reasons for another" (129). In other words, a book is organized around its arguments. An argument is a set of reasons given to support an opinion.

8. Determine which of the problems the author has solved, and which he has not; and as to the latter, decide which the author knew he had failed to solve.
The author set out to solve a research problem. Did he solve it? What are the author's solution?

The Second Stage of Analytical Reading allows you to answer the second question: What is being said in detail, and how? The Third Stage of Analytical reading helps you critique a book fairly. It is not enough to just interpret the book. You must judje it or evaluate it in the next stage. Adler provides seven rules for critiquing a book. They are highlighted below.

A. General Maxims of Intellectual Etiquette

9. Do not begin criticism until you have completed your outline and interpretation of the book.
You must understand the book before you critique it.
10. Do not disagree disputatiously or contentiously.
You are not in a debate to win an argument. The reader must be willing to agree or disagree depending on the validity of the arguments and evidence provided by the author.
11. Demonstrate that you recognize the difference between knowledge and mere personal opinion by presenting good reasons for any critical judgment you make.
It is not enough to say I agree or disagree. You must be able to give reasons why you agree or disagree. Reading a book is like having a conversation with the author.

There are only three reasons for disagreeing with an author and a fourth reason for delaying judgment:

B. Special Criteria for Points of Criticism

12. Show where the author is uninformed.
To say the author is uninformed you are saying he is lacking important knowledge that is relevant to his argument.
13. Show where the author is misinformed.
In this situation you are saying the author is incorrect. There is something faulty about his knowledge.
14. Show where the author is illogical.
In this case the reader is faulting the author for some type of logical fallacy.
15. Show wherein the author's analysis or account is incomplete.
This point argues that something is missing in the author's claim. He has not solved all the problems he purposed to solve or there are problems in his handling of evidence and objections.

Adler and Doren does a good job in providing the reader with tips or rules on reading an expository work analytically. In the next section of the book they show how to apply analytical reading to different kinds of books: philosophy, fiction and literature, history, science, and social science.

1 comment:

  1. Hello,

    We are a not-for-profit educational organization founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery—three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos—lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

    Three hours with Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, lively discussing the art of reading on one DVD. A must for all readers, libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

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    Please go here to see a clip and learn more:


    ISBN: 978-1-61535-311-8

    Thank you,

    Max Weismann, Co-founder with Dr. Adler