Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren have done us a tremendous favor in supplying us with several excellent rules for reading.
They are as follows:
- Classify the book according to the kind and subject matter.
- State what the whole book is about with the upmost 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 has tried to solve.
- Come to terms with the author by interpreting his key words.
- Grasp the author’s leading propositions by dealing with his most important sentences.
- Know the author’s arguments, by finding them in, or constructing them out of, sequences of sentences.
- Determine which of his problems the author has solved, and which he has not; and of the latter, decide which the author knew he had failed to solve.
- Do not begin criticism until you have completed your outline and your interpretation of the book. (Do not say you agree, disagree, or suspend judgment, until you can say “I understand.”)
- Do not disagree disputatiously or contentiously.
- Demonstrate that you recognize the difference between knowledge and mere personal opinion by presenting good reasons for any critical judgment you make.
- Show wherein the author is uniformed.
- Show wherein the author is misinformed.
- Show wherein the author is illogical.
- Show wherein the author’s analysis or account is incomplete.
Bonus: The four questions you should ask of any book.
- What is the book about as a whole?
- What is being said in detail, and how?
- Is the book true, in whole or part?
- What of it?
All of these rules and questions are wonderfully illuminated in their classic work How to Read a Book. Check it out.