Rules of analytical reading

Analytical reading is the best reading that you can do. In the book How to read a book – Mortimer J. Adler writes

Analytical reading is thorough reading, complete reading, or good reading – the best reading you can do. The analytical reader must ask many, and organized, questions of what he is reading. On this level of reading, the reader grasps a book – the metaphor is apt – and works at it until the book becomes his own. Francis Bacon once remarked that “some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” Reading a book analytically is chewing and digesting it.

Here are the rules

Stage 1 – Rules for Finding What a Book is About

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

Stage 2 – Rules for Interpreting a Book’s Contents

  1. Come to terms with the author by interpreting his key words.
  2. Grasp the author’s leading propositions by dealing with his most important sentences.
  3. Know the author’s arguments, by finding them in, or constructing them out of, sequences of sentences.
  4. 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.

Stage 3 – Rules for Criticizing a Book as a Communication of Knowledge

  1. 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.”)
  2. Do not disagree disputatiously or contentiously.
  3. Demonstrate that you recognize the difference between knowledge and mere personal opinion by presenting good reasons for any critical judgment you make.
  4. Show wherein the author is uninformed.
  5. Show wherein the author is misinformed.
  6. Show wherein the author is illogical.
  7. Show wherein the author’s analysis or account is incomplete.

Analytical reading is very hard and it takes a lot of time to read a book this way. Few people read a book analytically and hence there are only very few “well-read” people.


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