Education, Intellectual Virtues

Four Questions to Instantly Improve Your Reading

Mortimer Adler says that the core of good reading can be expressed in these four questions the reader asks a piece of writing:

1. WHAT IS THE BOOK ABOUT AS A WHOLE? You must try to discover the leading theme of the book, and how the author develops this theme in an orderly way by subdividing it into its essential subordinate themes or topics.

2. WHAT IS BEING SAID IN DETAIL, AND HOW? You must try to discover the main ideas, assertions, and arguments that constitute the author’s particular message.

3. Is THE BOOK TRUE, IN WHOLE OR PART? You cannot answer this question until you have answered the first two. You have to know what is being said before you can decide whether it is true or not. When you understand a book, however, you are obligated, if you are reading seriously, to make up your own mind. Knowing the author’s mind is not enough.

4. WHAT OF IT? If the book has given you information, you must ask about its significance. Why does the author think it is important to know these things? Is it important to you to know them? And if the book has not only informed you, but also enlightened you, it is necessary to seek further enlightenment by asking what else follows, what is further implied or suggested.

How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler

Most people never even ask the first or second questions and especially not the third. We live in an age of ever increasing memery and propaganda. May you and yours always read carefully.

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