Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

“How to read a book” book review

Written by: on September 8, 2016

How to Read a Book –  Adler and van Doren

How to read a book

This book looks at the four different types of reading, ranging from elementary reading, to inspectional reading, to analytical reading to syntopical reading, focusing in particular detail on the latter two categories.

All books are not equal, and they should be read in different ways, at different levels of detail, and at varying speeds. At the “lighter” end of the scale, inspectional reading involves skimming a book, reading or pre-reading at a superficial level, and working out the main thrust or content of the material. Footnotes, bibliography, publisher’s blurbs etc. can all provide additional helps to the inspectional reader in this type of reading.

The authors emphasise throughout the importance of engaged and active reading – making a book your own. There are various ways and means of doing this, but the reader must engage with the material, take notes, underline, highlight etc. I have read books like this for a long time, and it is rare for me not to read with a highlighter in my hand.

Analytical reading involves classifying books, working out the main plot or structure of the book, its terms and its key arguments. There is an element of X-raying the book, working out its key structure and arguments. The analytical reader must also learn to critique the author, having first understood him.

The fourth level of reading, syntopical reading, is reading across books, and comparing them. This will be essential work at Doctorate level no doubt, with the need to understand and overview a wide range of authors on a particular subject or in a particular field. It is important to engage inspectional reading to this end, skimming and pre-reading across a subject and working out which books require further study and more analytical engagement.

This book has been a good reminder to me of the importance of the different types of reading. It is often tempting to read books at the same level of depth and speed. I often feel I am “cheating” or robbing myself if I skim or only read parts of a book. I won’t have that luxury at DMin level and will need to grow in the ability to read at every level, to learn how better to skim a book quickly, critique an author, quickly to understand the main concepts of a book, and to be able to gain an overview of wide-ranging and complex issues across a number of books.

My highlighter pen is ready, and I am getting my first pair of reading glasses tomorrow.

I am almost ready for this DMin course!


Geoff Lee



About the Author

Geoff Lee

8 responses to ““How to read a book” book review”

  1. Jim Sabella says:

    Great post Geoff! You make a good point on the different types of reading and also being an engaged reader. I’ve used a highlighter in the past but I’m trying the electronic version of books for the course. It’s a bit of a learning curve for me as I’m used to writing in the margins. Enjoyed reading your post.

  2. Mary Walker says:

    Yes, great post, Geoff! Your review was thorough.
    I see we share one concern about reading books – how to get through the hundreds (thousands?) of books written on a topic. Adler’s “rules” are very helpful in sorting through and getting the most information possible. I enjoyed your post very much.

  3. Chip Stapleton says:

    Thanks, Geoff a good summary post….. I, too, am jealous of your highlighter…. I mostly use ebooks, but for my M.Div and undergrad it was all physical books and the highlighter was my friend…. I still use the highlight function on the kindle but it doesn’t feel the same.

  4. Lynda Gittens says:

    I’m with you on reading through the areas that do not interest me. I know that I need to mentally prepare to focus and retain what I read.
    Highlighters are wonderful.

  5. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Great summary of the book Geoff! It is so important to understand what type of book we are reading. That will help us know how to review the text appropriately and actively. I think the highlighter will be everyone’s BFF in this program 🙂

  6. Yes, I can appreciate your need to skim in graduate school. It was refreshing to have the author encourage this. Thanks for the reminder about the value of skimming.

  7. Katy Lines says:

    I appreciate your recognition of what needs to be done as we jump into this program. Reading glasses, highlighter, acknowledgement of a shift in reading techniques. Some of these (and others) will come more easily, some we will have to work harder at. Glad we have a cohort to do this together.

  8. I felt comforted by the authors’ encouragement not to waste time diving in to a book but to skim and get to know the content so we can see what is useful and worth going deep for research. I struggled to find this balance in my thesis work and am hoping it will get better in dissertation work.
    I’m with you on the highlighters. Those and post-it tabs are my friends!

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