A Mind needs a book as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep it’s edge.”
– George R. R. Martin

“A man is known by the books he reads.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Read not to contradict and confuse; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.”
– Francis Bacon

Zy Marquiez
February 10, 2020

This particular book is a book that helps you extract more information from all types of reading, whether it is books, or otherwise.   How To Read A Book will help you think more effectively, more incisively and ultimately help you achieve more from the full spectrum of reading.

At the behest of Peter Kreeft PhD, the author Socratic Logic Peter Kreeft PhD, the following book came highly recommended in his list of critical content to further your own education.   Holding Kreeft’s opinion in high respect – and after doing some research into the book – getting this book seemed to be more than a safe bet.  In fact, it was much more than that, for getting this book has made me a better reader, writer, and communicator due to the logical and cogent way in which it explains its concepts, as well as how to extract the most out of reading proactively.

How To Read A BookThe Classic Guide To Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren is an extraordinary book in various ways.  Not only does it teach the reader how to correctly read different kinds of books – by reading proactively, by rather reactively – but it also provides essential tools for the synthesis of other great – and more meaningful – pieces of literature.  However, How To Read A Book still features an extensive array of tools to enable individuals to increase the breadth and scope of their reading repertoire to a significant degree.

As a caveat, the authors do make a crucial distinction in the fact different type of genres should be read differently.  To say it another way, poetry, plays, or even fiction, will be read drastically different from nonfiction books.  This is something that’s not taught to individuals for the most part, and we miss out incredibly because of it.

Adler and Van Doren cover an extensive range of tools for reader’s to learn and implement – if they so choose – in order to maximize their understanding of the information held within books.  The book features a wide ranging set of suggestions that build on themselves throughout the chapters, all of which help the reader navigate all the way from the basics to the more advanced in seamless fashion.

To a great extent, the authors show the lengths to which proper reading can be taken too, as well as the depth that can be gathered by undertaking their advice.  As an avid reader and researcher, the information within the pages of this book have helped me considerably not only in pushing myself as a reader, but in understanding – and even merging – the depth and scope of information that is stated in various reading formats, as well as sifting out deeper implications when information isn’t obvious.

Additionally, covered within How To Read A Book are topics such as inspectional reading, systematic skimming, problems in comprehension, ‘x-raying’ a book, coming to terms with the author, criticizing a book fairly, reading aids, how to read practical books, how to read imaginative literature, suggestions for reading stories, plays and poems, how to read history, how to read philosophy as well as much, much more.

A significantly striking component of the book was the topic of syntopical reading, which is what the authors call ‘The Fourth Level Of Learning’.  In laymen terms, syntopical reading is the ability to  synthesize information from various sources, which paradoxically is not taught much, if at all, in public schooling.  Since synthesizing information is a process that yields incredible growth for all individuals, the information in this particular section was quite vital.

A book like How To Read A Book should be an integral piece in everyone’s education, be it self-directed or otherwise, given that an incredible amount of what individuals learn comes via reading, and that is no overstatement.  In an age where cognitive decline of education continues unabated, it’s those that push themselves into the realm of self-directed learning who will be the ones that will always stay ahead of the masses.  More saliently, self-directed education is crucial because simply, it’s what’s best for you as an individual, irrespective of what anyone else is doing.  It is something that is possible or anyone to do, of nigh any age.

The suggestions in this book seep into most if not all books [or reading] in some way shape or form.  When carried out, this undoubtedly filters into an individuals’ everyday lives proportional to how much its concepts are employed.  There really aren’t too many books out there that urge the reader to go beyond the conventional baseline of public schooling and education, but this book is certainly one of those precious few.  The authors certainly to seek to further one’s education beyond the bounds of modern schooling.

Please keep in mind, schooling and education are not the same thing, which is an important distinction because what individuals receive in America is barely a facsimile of education, and is in no way shape or form the true education of times past, given that America as a nation has strewn away from classical education.

Authors like the late award winning teacher John Taylor Gatto’s in his landmark Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, Dr. Joseph P Farrell & Gary Lawrence’s Rotten To The Common Core , and Charlotte Iserbyt, who served as the Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, in her The Deliberate Dumbing Down Of America  all outline the deliberate dumbing down of America with incredible precision, and these authors by far are not even the only speaking at length about this disturbing trend.

At the end of the book the authors also graciously feature a list of ‘the greatest books of all time’ in their opinion, and after having read the list and having read a few dozen of them it’s hard to disagree.  This additional piece of mental pie is something that’s worth considering for an individual’s mental faculties.

What’s more, the authors state that there exist specific books which fall into the category of what they call ‘Great books’, such as The Illiad, The Odyssey, Organon, The Republic, Paradise Lost, The Divine Comedy, et al.  The authors postulate that only 1% of the millions of book out there – if not less – fall within this category of ‘Great Books’.  What makes those books special is that:

“…if the book belongs to the highest class – the very small number of inexhaustible books – you discover on returning that the book seems to have grown with youYou see new things in it – whole new sets of new things – that you did not see before.  Your previous understanding of the book is not invalidated; it is just as true as it ever was, and in the same ways that it was true before.  But now it is true in still other ways, too.”[1][Bold, Underline & Italics Emphasis Added].

Essentially, that the gems of knowledge contained within these books and the growth the reader will attain will not only be extensive, given the depth and immensity of the concepts within the book, but these books will teach you the most about reading and about life.  Equally, regardless of how many times one reads these books, they are so profound and demanding of the reader that one will always learn something from them.

If you appreciate books, reading, classical education, or are striving to demand more from yourself or even plan on building a home-schooling curriculum, GET THIS BOOK!  This book really is for everyone.  Educated minds have great foundations, and this book helps lay those foundations in an ironclad manner.


[1] Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren, How To Read A Book – The Classic Guide To Intelligent Reading, p. 333.

If you find value in this information, please share it.  This article is free and open source.  All individuals have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Zy Marquiez and  BreakawayIndividual.com
Suggested Reading & Viewing:

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Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto
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Mindset Musings#1: Venturing Outside Of Comfort Zones
Rotten To The Common Core by Dr. Joseph P. Farrell & Gary Lawrence
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