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

“How to Read a Book”

Written by: on September 7, 2016

So, why do doctoral level students need to read a book called, “How to Read a Book”? I found out why in this engaging and enjoyable book. As an old dog at the age of 65, I still learned some new tricks.


The authors, Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren explain that we can reach the goal of going from “understanding less to understanding more” (p. 8) when we follow the steps of intelligent reading. As children we learned how to read at an elementary level. To be competent readers we move on to three more levels – inspectional, analytical, and syntopical. In each of these stages, Adler and Van Doren give a helpful set of rules to follow. There are questions we ask in order to analyze a book. The summary at the end of each section is a great review. Overall, their method teaches us to be active readers. The more we read, the better readers we become. It is important to read books that stretch our minds.


The main reason this book was so enjoyable for me was that I found out that I do about 90% of what the authors recommend including syntopical reading. It was an encouraging confirmation for me. In addition to the items in their “inspectional” list, I also read the bibliography and footnotes at the back before I begin a book. I like to know what sources an author is using.

The one important new skill I need is “how to read some books faster than others” (p. 306,307). I am very “type A” and tend to feel the need to read a book cover to cover. After all, if the professor assigned it, it must be important and I should get every word. If I learn how to use the method in Adler’s book more effectively, I should be able to figure out which books I can read less slowly. This doesn’t mean skipping any sections; it means learning to get to the meat of the book more quickly. Looking at the Nohria/Khurana book coming up, I think I’m really going to need this!!!

About the Author

Mary Walker

9 responses to ““How to Read a Book””

  1. Geoff Lee says:

    Well done for being first out of the blocks Mary!

  2. Jim Sabella says:

    I too want to add my “well done” for being the first to post Mary. Excellent post!

  3. Chip Stapleton says:

    Good job, Mary….. I share your struggle with not reading something cover to cover…. I have employed many of these techniques in my studies, but I always procrastinate thinking I will magically have enough time to read all of the reading cover to cover…. I am hoping I take this book as ‘permission’ to skim when appropriate!

  4. Lynda Gittens says:

    Okay the term “enjoyable” would not be mind but I found it to be what the author said, “term” or “word” you must know the meaning of it. I am glad you found the book enjoyable. I guess I can say I enjoined the section written on the elementary level because it is relevant in my current situation.
    Way to go Mary.

    • Mary Walker says:

      Ok, so maybe “enjoyable” was a bit much. I guess I just meant that since Adler is a renowned expert, and I found that he teaches many of the reading habits I already have, it was so encouraging to me. It’s like “phew, I got some of that done!” Now I can build on that.

  5. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Great post Mary! I am also a Type A person. As an author, I feel as though I must honor the author by reading their book in its entirety including the Preface and the Epilogue. I have learned the hard way that active skimming is a necessary skill that must be applied in certain situations especially in academia 🙂

  6. So true Mary-learning to get to the “meat” of the book requires some skill and expertise. I can appreciate your dilemma in realizing which books to skim and which to read thoroughly. Tough to know sometimes. Also, I look forward learning from your experienced life perspective. 65 years young:)

  7. Katy Lines says:

    As someone who loves to read, like you I enjoy “savoring” a book. For many years, though, most of those books are ones I’ve chosen, not ones assigned to me. Adjusting to that shift will be challenging.

  8. I’m completely with you on the desire/need to read the entire book, Mary. For me it’s about the fear of missing some wonderful pearl of wisdom or the perfect insight that will inform my research. I think the authors’ tools will help us sort out where those pearls may be so we don’t have to slog through the things that won’t benefit our work.
    I’m looking forward to doing this process with you!

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