Have you already read an entire book but ended up getting nothing out of it?

Believe it or not, many folks have gone through that too!

Usually, we blame the authors for this, isn’t it?

However, the reality is that many times, we have not read it the book in a proper way.

Reading this book has even been an amazing experience to me as it helped me to enhance my reading instantly.

“How to read a book” will teach you how to make more sense of your readings and give you great tips on going about different types of books without prejudices.  

How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent

The art of reading, in short, includes all of the same skills that are involved in the art of unaided discovery: keenness of observation, readily available memory, range of imagination, and, of course, an intellect trained in analysis and reflection.

For the sake of comprehension, we will divide the process of reading into 4 different categories.

As the reader gets more skilled, one goes up across all levels towards the fourth one.

Elementary Reading

This the first level of reading. When one masters this level one passes from non literacy to at least beginning literacy.

During the first years of elementary school we usually learn how to make sense of the united vowels and consonants that compose the words, which, in turn, make a phrase when put together.

Inspectional Reading

Whenever before a new book, your main aim is to discover whether it requires a more careful reading.

Your goal is to examine the surface of the book, to learn everything that the surface alone can teach you.

For that function, skimming is key and characterizes the second level of reading: Inspectional reading.

This technique can tell you lots of other things about the book, even if you decide not to read it again with more care.

That is often a good deal. Most people, even many quite good readers, are unaware of the value of inspectional reading.

If you want to know how to perform this properly, the author offers the following advice…

For preparation, make questions


The art of reading on any level above the elementary consists in the habit of asking the right questions in the right order.

There are four main questions you must ask about any book.

a) What is the book about as a whole?

You must try to discover the leading theme of the book, and how the author develops this theme in an orderly way by subdividing it into its essential subordinate themes or topics.

b) What is being said in detail, and how?

You must try to discover the main ideas, assertions, and arguments that constitute the author’s particular message.

c) Is the book true, in whole or part?

You cannot answer this question until you have answered the first two. You have to know what is being said before you can decide whether it is true or not.

When you understand a book, however, you are obligated, if you are reading seriously, to make up your own mind. Knowing the author’s mind is not enough.

d) What of it?

If the book has given you information, you must ask about its significance.

Why does the author think it is important to know these things?

Is it important to you to know them?

And if the book has not only informed you, but also enlightened you, it is necessary to seek further enlightenment by asking what else follows, what is further implied or suggested.

Inspectional Reading Playbook

1. Take notes as you take agency on answering all of the 4 questions in wherever section you are;

2. Look at the title page and, if the book has on, at is preface;

3. Study the table of contents to obtain a general sense of the book’s structure; use it as you would a road map before taking a trip;

4. Check the Index if the book has one.

Make a quick estimate of the range of topics covered and of the kinds of books and authors referred to.

When you see terms listed that seem crucial, look up at least some of the passages cited;

5. Read the publisher’s blurb;

6. Look now at the chapters that seem to be pivotal to its argument.

If these chapters have summary statements in their opening or closing pages, as they often do, read these statements carefully.

7. Turn the pages carefully, dipping in here and there, reading a paragraph or two, sometimes several pages in sequence, never more than that.

Thumb through the book in this way, always looking for signs of the main contention, listening for the basic pulse beat of the matter.

Above all, do not fail to read the last two or three pages, or, if these are an epilogue, the last few pages of the main part of the book.

Few authors are able to resist the temptation, to sum up what they think is new and important about their work in these pages.

8. Do not try to understand every word or page of a difficult book the first time through.

This is the most important rule of all; it is the essence of inspectional reading. Do not be afraid to be, or to seem to be, superficial.

Race through even the hardest book. You will then be prepared to read it well the second time.

Analytical Reading

Thorough reading, complete reading, or good reading – the best reading you can do is what the third level of reading means.  

If inspectional reading is the best and most complete reading that is possible given a limited time, then analytical reading is the best and most complete reading that is possible given unlimited time.

Francis Bacon once remarked:

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.

Analytical reading is preeminently for the sake of understanding.

Analytical Reading Playbook

1. Find what the book is about

a) Classify the book according to kind and subject matter;

b) State what the whole book is about with the utmost brevity;

c) Enumerate its major parts in their order and relation, and outline these parts as you have outlined the whole;

d) Define the problem or problems the author has tried to solve.

2. Interpret the book’s contents

a) Come to terms with the author by interpreting his key words;

b) Grasp the author’s leading propositions by dealing with his most important sentences;

To imagine a possible case is often as good as citing an actual one.

If you cannot do anything at all to exemplify or illustrate the proposition, either imaginatively or by reference to actual experiences, you should suspect that you do not know what is being said.

Know the author’s arguments, by finding them in, or constructing them out of, sequences of sentences;

There are many paragraphs in any book that do not express an argument at all—perhaps not even part of one;

In the first place, remember that every argument must involve a number of statements. Of these, some give the reasons why you should accept a conclusion the author is proposing.

If you find the conclusion first, then look for the reasons.

If you find the reasons first, see where they lead.

In the second place, discriminate between the kind of argument that points to one or more particular facts as evidence for some generalization and the kind that offers a series of general statements to prove some further generalizations.

The former kind of reasoning is usually referred to as inductive, the latter as deductive; but the names are not what is important.

What is important is the ability to discriminate between the two.

In the third place, observe what things the author says he must assume, what he says can be proved or otherwise evidenced, and what need not be proved because it is self-evident.

He may honestly try to tell you what all his assumptions are, or he may just as honestly leave you to find them out for yourself.

Obviously, not everything can be proved, just as not everything can be defined.

If every proposition had to be proved, there would be no beginning to any proof.

Such things as axioms and assumptions or postulates are needed for the proof of other propositions.

If these other propositions are proved, they can, of course, be used as premises in further proofs.

c) 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;

d) Criticize a book as a communication of knowledge (The most teachable reader is, therefore, the most critical.)

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.

Plato and Aristotle here give us advice that most people ignore.

Most people think that winning the argument is what matters, not learning the truth.

Thus the reader must do more than make judgments of agreement or disagreement.

He must give reasons for them.

In the former case, of course, it suffices if he actively shares the author’s reasons for the point on which they agree.

But when he disagrees, he must give his own grounds for doing so.

Otherwise, he is treating a matter of knowledge as if it were opinion.

If it is the case,

Show wherein the author is uninformed or wherein the author is misinformed or wherein the author is illogical or wherein the author’s analysis or account is incomplete.

Of these last four, the first three are criteria for disagreement.

Failing in all of these, you must agree, at least in part, although you may suspend judgment on the whole, in the light of the last point.

These rules of analytical reading describe an ideal performance.

Few people have ever read any book in this ideal manner, and those who have, probably read very few books this way.

The ideal remains, however, the measure of achievement.

You are a good reader to the degree in which you approximate it.

When we speak of someone as “well-read,” we should have this ideal in mind.

Too often, we use that phrase to mean the quantity rather than the quality of reading.

Syntopical Reading


The reader reads many books, not just one, and places them in relation to one another and to a subject about which they all revolve.

First, you do not know whether you want to read the book.

You do not know whether it deserves an analytical reading.

But you suspect that it does, or at least that it contains both information and insights that would be valuable to you if you could dig them out.

Second, let us assume—and this is very often the case—that you have only a limited time in which to find all this out.

A curious paradox is created whose solution comes with the level of reading here named as syntopical reading.

In other words, this level of reading is defined as the reading of two or more books on the same subject, which implies that the identification of the subject matter occurs before the reading begins.

It is here, in fact, that inspectional reading comes into its own as a major tool or instrument for the reader.

The first thing to do when you have amassed your bibliography is to inspect all of the books on your list.

It will perform two essential functions.

First, it will give you a clear enough idea of your subject so that your subsequent analytical reading of some of the books on the list is productive.

Second, it will allow you to cut down your bibliography to a more manageable size. Once you have identified, by inspection, the books that are relevant to your subject matter, you can then proceed to read them syntopically.

In syntopical reading, it is you and your concerns that are primarily to be served, not the books that you read.

The special quality that a syntopical analysis tries to achieve can, indeed, be summarized in the two words “dialectical objectivity.”

The syntopical reader, in short, tries to look at all sides and to take no sides. Absolute objectivity is not humanly possible.  

All possible sides of an issue cannot be exhaustively enumerated. Nevertheless, he must try.

Speed is never important in syntopical reading.

Make notes if you want to.

Syntopical Reading Playbook

1. Search Step

a) Create a tentative bibliography of your subject by recourse to library catalogues, advisors, and bibliographies in books;

Inspect all of the books on the tentative bibliography to ascertain which are indeed related to your subject, and also to acquire a clearer idea of the subject.

These two steps are not, strictly speaking, chronologically distinct; that is, the two steps have an effect on each other, with the second, in particular, serving to modify the first.

2. Process Step

a) Inspect the books already identified as relevant to your subject in 1 in order to find the most relevant passages;

b) Bring the authors to terms by constructing a neutral terminology of the subject that all, or the great majority, of the authors can be interpreted as employing, whether they actually employ the words or not.

c) Establish a set of neutral propositions for all of the authors by framing a set of questions to which all or most of the authors can be interpreted as giving answers, whether they actually treat the questions explicitly or not;

d) Define the issues, both major and minor ones, by ranging the opposing answers of authors to the various questions on one side of an issue or another.

You should remember that an issue does not always exist explicitly between or among authors, but that it sometimes has to be constructed by interpretation of the authors’ views on matters that may not have been their primary concern.

e) Analyze the discussion by ordering the questions and issues in such a way as to throw maximum light on the subject.

More general issues should precede less general ones, and relations among issues should be clearly indicated.

Note: Dialectical detachment or objectivity should, ideally, be maintained throughout. One way to ensure this is always to accompany an interpretation of an author’s views on an issue with an actual quotation from his text.

Aids to Book Reading


The reading process does not stay in the book’s chapters themselves. It can go far beyond those.

In order to enhance the reading experience, the reader can rely on resources that are within the very book – intrinsic – or outside of it – extrinsic.

Let’s go over each for them.


Examples of extrinsic aids to reading are Relevant experiences, Other books, Commentaries and summaries & Reference Books.

Upon using them, two remark is important to be made.

The first one is you should avoid reading a commentary by someone else until after you have read the book.

This applies particularly to scholarly and critical introductions.

They are properly used only if you do your best to read the book first, and then and only then apply to them for answers to questions that still puzzle you.

If you read them first they are likely to distort your reading of the book.

You will tend to see only the points made by the scholar or critic, and fail to see other points that may be just as important.

The second is you should read the great books in relation to one another, and in an order that somehow respects chronology.

A later writer has been influenced by an earlier one.

If you read the earlier writer first, he may help you to understand the later one.

Reading related books in relation to one another and in an order that renders the later ones more intelligible is a basic common-sense maxim of extrinsic reading.



In terms of intrinsic aids, the author advises the reader to simply take advantage of the resources the book itself already brings.

They are often forgotten, but should not.

These are Abstract, Preface, Introduction, Prologue & Author’s note.

An important notice here is that an abstract can never replace the reading of a book, but it can sometimes tell you whether you want or need to read the book or not.

Genres of Reading


Did you know that each book genre deserves a particular fashion to be read and understood?

Many people who are accustomed to a given genre of reading have trouble enjoying other types because they just ignore this principle.

Then, let’s have a look on how to read properly some genres.



Read it quickly and with total immersion.

Ideally, a story should be read at one sitting, although this is rarely possible for busy people with long novels.  

Nevertheless, the ideal should be approximated by compressing the reading of a good story into as short a time as feasible.

Otherwise, you will forget what happened, the unity of the plot will escape you, and you will be lost.



If you can, read more than one history of an event or period that interests you.

Read a history not only to learn what really happened at a particular time and place in the past, but also to learn the way men act in all times and places, especially now.

Keep in mind those questions:

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



Poetical works are quite likely to be the hardest, the most demanding, books that you can read. Homer, for example, is in many ways harder to read than Newton.

3 Types of Books


The great majority of the several million books that have been written in the Western tradition alone—more than 99 per cent of themwill not make sufficient demands on you for you to improve your skill in reading.

But you should not expect to learn anything of importance from them. In fact, you do not have to read them—analytically—at all.

Skimming will do.

There is a second class of books from which you can learn—both how to read and how to live.

Less than one out of every hundred books belongs in this class—probably it is more like one in a thousand, or even one in ten thousand.

They make severe demands on the reader.

Of the few thousand such books there is a much smaller number—here the number is probably less than a hundred—that cannot be exhausted by even the very best reading you can manage.

You should seek out the few books that can have this value for you.

They are the books that will teach you the most, both about reading and about life.

They are the books to which you will want to return over and over.

They are the books that will help you to grow.

Additional Notes


“I don’t know what you mean, but I think you’re wrong.”

There is actually no point in answering critics of this sort.

Though it may not be so obvious at first, suspending judgment is also an act of criticism. It is taking the position that something has not been shown.

You are saying that you are not convinced or persuaded one way or the other.

You will not improve as a reader if all you read are books that are well within your capacity.

You must tackle books that are beyond you, or, as we have said, books that are over your head.

Only books of that sort will make you stretch your mind.

And unless you stretch, you will not learn.

A book that can do no more than amuse or entertain you may be a pleasant diversion for an idle hour, but you must not expect to get anything but amusement from it.

The great writers have always been great readers, but that does not mean that they read all the books that, in their day, were listed as the indispensable ones.

In many cases, they read fewer books than are now required in most of our colleges, but what they did read, they read well.

Because they had mastered these books, they became peers with their authors.

They were entitled to become authorities in their own right.

In the natural course of events, a good student frequently becomes a teacher, and so, too, a good reader becomes an author.

Finally, one last negative rule.

Don’t criticize fiction by the standards of truth and consistency that properly apply to the communication of knowledge.

The mind can atrophy, like the muscles, if it is not used. Atrophy of the mental muscles is the penalty that we pay for not taking mental exercise.

Television, radio, and all the sources of amusement and information that surround us in our daily lives are also artificial props.

They can give us the impression that our minds are active, because we are required to react to stimuli from outside.

But the power of those external stimuli to keep us going is limited. They are like drugs.

We grow used to them, and we continuously need more and more of them. Eventually, they have little or no effect.

Then, if we lack resources within ourselves, we cease to grow intellectually, morally, and spiritually.

And when we cease to grow, we begin to die.


The art of reading, in short, includes all of the same skills that are involved in the art of unaided discovery: keenness of observation, readily available memory, range of imagination, and, of course, an intellect trained in analysis and reflection.

This books brings a 4 step framework for anybody who wants to challenge his/her reading capability.

Plus, it details how to approach different types of reading. This work is all about self-learning and the happiness that stems from a rich intellectual life. Indeed, this is a fabulous reading for those who actively seek wisdom.

Over to you

What do you think of this advice on reading?

Would be delighted to have your thoughts in the comments down below 🙂

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