42: How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler

42: How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler


It’s finally here. An episode about how to read a book. And what better way to cover the topic than to read a book about it. 168 hours by Laura Vanderkam David Sparks on Hyper-scheduling The Kolbe A Index Conative Connection by Kathy Kobe How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler Think and Grow […]

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How to Read a Book

One of the appendices of the book is a comprehensive list of books that we should read. Plato, Shakespeare, all the classics. I think nothing was said about it in the podcast. Yet I am curious what you think of this list. Should we do something with that? Personally, I found the list very ambitious. Before I have read all those books, the end of life comes into being. I also think it is better to read a book that fits with your current interest. Reading a classic without special interest can be daunting. But how do you develop an interest in Plato? Thanks for the podcast. I first read the book, determine my own opinion and then listen to yours. I now read more than ever and enjoy it intensely.


@Justus I can see value in having read the classics, but I think the context has changed significantly in the past several years with the rise of the internet and the HUGE amount of information that is now available. Back in 2010, Eric Schmidt said we create as much data in 2 days as we had created from the dawn of civilization until 2003 (and it’s only gotten worse since): https://techcrunch.com/2010/08/04/schmidt-data/

This means that you can’t sit down and have a conversation and expect to have “read everything worth reading.” There are so many options it requires intentional choice. My friend Brandon wrote a post over on the Asian Efficiency blog that I believe encapsulates perfectly my approach to reading: http://www.asianefficiency.com/productivity/let-your-biggest-problem-speed-up-your-reading/

The basic idea is figure out what bugs you and read a book to solve it. I would only modify this slightly to say that whatever area you want to become excellent in is also worth reading. For me, that’s productivity. As a result, we’ve covered many of the self-development “classics” here on Bookworm (Think & Grow Rich, Getting Things Done, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, etc.). But obviously, your personal preferences may be different.

But for me, the bottom line is this: if I don’t want to read the book I’m reading, I have a lot harder time finishing it. So I try to pick things that I’m interested in, and every once in awhile @joebuhlig breaks the chain & makes me read an Amanda Palmer book :wink:


I’ll just chime in and say that the classics are classic for a reason… they’ve survived thousands of years. (I’m speaking specifically of the ancients, not Shakespeare who’s really quite modern in the scheme of things.) I doubt that any of the books in the “productivity” genre will be read in 300 years. Certainly not in 3000. (This isn’t to say they’re not worthwhile, far from it, but they’re not something to read for the same purpose.)

To write off works that have stood that test of time, through generation after generation after generation after generation in culture after culture after culture is a very hubristic approach in my opinion. I think that a better approach to such works is one of humility, looking to be formed and challenged by them.

And that’s exactly why you should push yourself and try to work your way up to reading and understanding the best works humans have ever produced if you have the leisure and acumen to do so.

You ask hard questions of yourself and the world. Does “the end of life” actually “come into being”? What does “being” consist in? What does it mean to “come into being”? Where is something before it “comes into being”? What is non-being? Can you even ask what “Is” non-being in a strict way of speaking?

Why do I want to be more productive?

What is man?

Am I good?

What does “good” mean?

Is there right and wrong?

Is there objective truth?

If you can give yourself real answers, not regurgitating someone else, not convincing some dude on a Internet forum, but real answers that satisfy and convince you when you’re sitting alone in silence, then maybe don’t read the ancients. However… if you really have answers for all those kinds of questions, answers which truly satisfy you at the deepest level of your being, why not read Plato and Aristotle and Aquinas and see if they hold a candle to your own thought?

Yes, they’re hard to read. But anyone reading this forum has the ability to make a good go of trying to understand and engage the ancients. You have the Internet, you have a grasp of English, you have a rational soul (c.f. Aristotle) you can do it! It’s worthwhile!