Book Notes: How To Read A Book

How To Read A Book


How To Read A Book is a treatise on reading well. It is concerned with how one becomes a discerning, active, demanding reader. It enumerates a set of rules for a reader to:

  1. come to terms with an author
  2. understand the author’s propositions
  3. pick out the author’s arguments
  4. determine which problems the author has solved or not solved

As a result, it allows a reader to criticize a book fairly. And to agree or disagree with an author in a structured manner.


The book is written in 4 parts:

  1. The Dimensions of Reading
  2. The Third Level of Reading: Analytical Reading
  3. Approaches to Different Kinds of Reading Matter
  4. The Ultimate Goals of Reading

Part 1 and 2 lay out how to read a book in general terms. Part 3 and 4 digs into the specifics of particular categories of books.

The books proposes that the 4 levels of reading are:

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

Elementary Reading

Elementary Reading is rudimentary reading. Is the reader capable of reading the words and does the reader have basic literacy?

Inspectional Reading

The goals of Inspectional Reading:

  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?
  4. What of it?

Analytical Reading

The book outlines 15 rules of analytical reading in 3 stages:

Stage 1: Classification

  1. Classify the book according to subject and category
  2. Briefly state what the book is about
  3. Outline the major parts
  4. Define the problems the author is trying to solve

Stage 2: Interpretation

  1. Transform key words into terms
  2. Transform key sentences into propositions
  3. Construct arguments from propositions
  4. Determine which problems the author has and has not solved

Stage 3: Critique

  1. Suspend judgement until after interpretation
  2. Do not disagree contentiously
  3. Differentiate between knowledge and opinion with the use of reason
  4. Show where the author is uninformed
  5. Show where the author is misinformed
  6. Show where the author is illogical
  7. Show where the author’s analysis is incomplete

Part 3 deals with reading different types books. Most of this section can be skimmed and returned to before reading a particular category of book.

Of note is the chapter on reading current events. Questions to ask:

  1. What does the author want to prove?
  2. Whom do they want to convince?
  3. What special knowledge do they assume?
  4. What special language do they use?
  5. Does they really know what they are talking about?

Syntopical Reading

Syntopical Reading is the act of reading many books on a subject. There are two requirements:

  1. Knowing more than one book is pertinent to a subject
  2. Knowing which books are pertinent

Unless you know what books to read, you cannot read syntopically, but unless you can read syntopically, you do not know what to read.

Stage 1: Surveying

  1. Create a tentative bibliography
  2. Inspectional Reading of each book

Stage 2: Quick Read

  1. Identify important passages
  2. Take authors’ terms and create neutral terminology
  3. Create a set of neutral propositions
  4. Define major and minor issues
  5. Analyze and order the questions and issues


How To Read A Book is a must read for anyone that reads frequently and would like to get the most out of their reading.