Read a book to receive knowledge, not just words

Here’s a test to see if you understood something that you read: “State it in your own words.”

If, when you are asked to explain what the author means by a particular sentence, all you can do is repeat his very words, with some minor alterations in their order, you had better suspect that you do not know what he means.

Ideally, you should be able to say the same thing in totally different words.

If you cannot get away at all from the author’s words, it shows that only words have passed from him to you, not thought or knowledge.  You know his words, not his mind.  He was trying to communicate knowledge, and all you received was words.

How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren

2 Responses to “Read a book to receive knowledge, not just words”

  1. kdzugan Says:

    Dr. Adler was an educator, philosopher, lecturer, and author with a prodigious output of over 50 books and more than 200 articles. Here’s a little more on what “How to Read a Book” did for me.

    I have been a voracious reader all my life. I never thought that I needed to know anything more about how to read. However 1990 I read about a book by someone named Mortimer Adler whom I had never heard of. The title of the book was “How to Read a Book.” Even though I thought I knew everything about how to read I became intrigued by the title. I finally bought the book. I read it and then I read it again, and again, and again. Over the course of several years Dr. Adler dramatically changed what I read, how I read, and why I read. I used to read predominantly to be entertained. Now I read to learn. Using what Dr. Adler taught me, I now get in order of magnitude more out of books that I ever did before.

    For more information on Mortimer Adler and his work, visit The Center for the Study of The Great Ideas at http://www.thegreatideas.org

    Ken Dzugan
    Senior Fellow and Archivist
    The Center for the Study of The Great Ideas

  2. Roger Costello Says:

    Ken, you wrote: “I used to read predominantly to be entertained. Now I read to learn.” How did this happen? What in Adler’s book caused this shift?

    Thanks for the excellent comment!

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