Chapter Summary – The Three Stages of Analytical Reading


We have now completed, in a general way, the enumeration and discussion of the rules of analytical reading. We can now set forth all the rules in thir proper order and under appropriate headings.

  • THE FIRST STAGE OF ANALYTICAL READING: Rules for Finding What a Book is About
  1. Classify the book according to kind and subject matter
  2. State what the whole book is about with the utmost brevity
  3. Enumerate its major parts in their order and relation, and outline these parts as you have outlined the whole
  4. Define the problem or problems the author has tried to solve
  • THE SECOND STAGE OF ANALYTICAL READING: Rules for Interpreting a Book’s Contents
  1. Come to terms with the author by interpreting his key words
  2. Grasp the author’s leading propositions by dealing with his most important sentences
  3. Know the author’s arguments, by finding them in, or constructing them out of, sequences of sentences
  4. Determine which of his problems the author has solved, and which he has not’ and of the latter, decide which the author knew he had failed to solve
  • THE THIRD STAGE OF ANALYTICAL READING: Rules for Criticizing a Book as a Communication of Knowledge
  • A. General Maxims of Intellectual Etiquette
  1. Do not begin criticism until you have completed your outline and your interpretation of the book. (Do not say you agree, disagree, or suspend judgment, until you can say “I understand”)
  2. Do not disagree disputatiously or contentiously
  3. Demonstrate that you recognize the difference between knowledge and mere personal opinion by presenting good reasons for any critical judgement you make
  • B. Special Criteria for Points of Criticism
  1. Show wherein the author is uninformed
  2. Show wherein the author is misinformed
  3. Show wherein the author is illogical
  4. Show wherein the author’s analysis or account is incomplete

Note: Of these last four, the first three are criteria for disagreement. Failing in all of these, you must agree, at least in part, although you may suspend judgement on the whole, in the light of the last point.

Applying the first four rules of analytical reading helps you to answer What is the book about as a whole? … Applying the four rules for interpretation helps you to answer What is being said in detail, and how? … The last seven rules of reading – the maxims of intellectual etiquette and the criteria for points of criticism – help you to answer Is it true? and What of it?

Unless what you have read is true in some sense, you need go no further. But if it is, you must face the last question. You cannot read for information intelligently without determining what significance is, or should be, attached to the facts presented. Facts seldom come to us without some interpretation, explicit or implied. This is especially true if you are reading digests of information that necessarily select the facts according to some evaluation of their significance, some principle of interpretation. And if you are reading for enlightenment, there is really no end to the inquiry that, at every stage of learning, is renewed by the question, What of it?

Before proceeding to Part Three, perhaps we should stress, once again, that these rules of analytical reading describe an ideal performance. Frew people have ever read any book in this ideal manner, and those who have, probably read very few books this way. The ideal remains, however, the measure of achievement. You are a good reader to the degree in which you approximate it.

When we speak of someone as “well-read,” we should have this ideal in mind. Too often, we use that phrase to mean the quantity rather than the quality of reading. A person who has read widely but not well deserves to be pitied rather than praised. As Thomas Hobbes said, “If I read as many books as most men do, I would be as dull-witted as they are.”

One approaches the ideal of good reading by applying the rules we have described in the reading of a single book, and not by trying to become superficially acquainted with a larger number. There are, of course, many books worth reading well. There is a much larger number that should be only inspected. To become well-read, in every sense of the word, one must know how to use whatever skill one possesses with discrimination – by reading every book according to its merits