How to Read a Book: Summary & Review

how to reada a book book cover

How to Read a Book teaches readers how to read books in a way that maximizes their understanding and their information retention.

Bullet Summary

  • Read because you need  a book, not for the sake of reading
  • Read quicker on easy parts but slow down on important ones
  • Before you agree or disagree, you have to understand

Full Summary

About The Author: Mortimer J. Adler was an American philosopher, teacher, and author.
He is most famous for the book “How to Read A Book“.


Reading is learning.
But it’s learning from an absent teacher, which requires some necessary adjustments.

In a way, you’re on your own while learning from a book. And that’s why it’s all the most important you use a few tools to maximize your reading effectiveness.

Inspectional Reading: Does It Even Deserve A Read?

Inspectional reading gathers information before you start reading in earnest.

During inspectional reading, for example, you can decide whether or not the book even deserves your full attention.

Inspectional reading concerns: Reading the preface and the table of content.
Checking if the chapters have a summary at the beginning and at the end, and check the end of the book to see if the author summarized it. If so, read it.
If there’s a chapter you’re particularly interested in, start reading that one.

Have a Purpose For Reading

Don’t read books just for the sake of reading.
Read them because you’re interested in a certain topic. Or even better, because you need to read it and the information is relevant to your life.

Use Several Modes

Instead of just reading, writing the information down. Think about it, visualize it, and put it into action.

If It’s Good: Read It More than Once

If a book is very good or if the information is very important to you: read it again.

My Note:
Instead of reading the whole book again, you can read your note again if you’re a good note-taker.

Take Time to Process Information

You know those dares of 50 books a year, or 20 books a month?

That’s crap.

You know Blinkist, encouraging people to read 4 books a day?
That’s also crap.

Don’t cram stuff just so you can say you read X books. Take time to think the information over and it will more easily sink into your brain.

Question The Information

Understand the author and his position, understand the period of time it was written, and question what the author says.

A big note of caution here: before you question anything, I would urge you instead to also do the opposite: accept it. And ask yourself “what if the author was right?”.
I say so because, more than believing everything we say, most of us tend to reject whatever we don’t believe in or whatever causes cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1957) in us.
And that’s probably even more dangerous than believing something that is not true.

Know Where You Can Go Faster

On some pieces of information or on some chapters you can go quicker.

On some others, you have to slow down to really understand the message.
Knowing when you can go faster and when you need to slow down is a major skill in reading quickly and effectively.

Before You Disagree…

… Or before you agree, or suspend judgment, you have to be able to say “I understand”.

Syntopical Reading

Syntopical reading is the reading we do when reading many books on the same topic and comparing what they talk about.

This is how I read and this is how I structure my how to absorb knowledge.

General Tips

  • Take notes as you read
  • Place your thumb and first two fingers together and use them as a pointer as you slide across text lines
  • Understand and respect the difference between knowledge and opinion
  • Read the book before the summaries

More Tips From Me

Finally, for quick and efficient reading you can also consider the following services:

how to reada a book book cover

How to Absorb Knowledge Video Summary

And here is a good summary I have found on YouTube:

Real-Life Applications

Skim Read Before Reading
Read the preface, the summary, and the table of contents before reading the full book.


  • It’s dated quite a bit

How to Read a Book is an old book. And that’s not an issue… Except for the fact it misses many new tools, one can leverage for knowledge.

Of course, there’s no mention of audiobooks, e-books, and checking the Internet.
And that’s not a minor lack because these tools really revolutionize the way we learn.


Knowing how to read a book is a foundational skill.
And “How to Read a Book” is a good help in that direction.

Adler says you should read the full book before reading summaries while I recommend you do the opposite in my guide on how to absorb knowledge.

I also stress that it’s more important that you open your mind even before you question the author.
But I can otherwise agree with most of “How to Read a Book’s” content.

Read more summaries or get the book on Amazon

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