More On The First Step Of Syntopical Reading

If you have never read or heard of How To Read A Book:The Classic Guide To Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, you have really missed a treat in understanding what you are reading and getting the most out of the time that you have invested.

I have previously written on syntopical reading but I was hoping to get into a little more depth in discussing this with our readers. First, exactly what is syntopical reading for our newbies? Syntopical reading is understanding when you have a subject that you are attempting to explore and learn about more fully, such as public education and what is working and what is not, then more than one book and even perhaps twenty or even more will be necessary in answering this particular question and the second requirement will be to find the books that are necessary in achieving the answers to your questions. Therefore, syntopical reading is bringing together all these various books and reading them in an inspectional way in order to meet your concerns and questions.

We must remember that our primary purpose is to find the passages or paragraphs that deal with answering our questions and concerns. Reading quickly is necessary as we must remember that we are reading in order to answer the questions that we want answered.

From page 317 of the book, I feel this is important to share with our readers:

“What is important here is to recognize the difference between the first books that you read in the course of syntopical reading, and those that you come to after you have read many others on the subject.”

We must remember in syntopical reading, that the books are here to serve you and your purposes.

I have included this video for your viewing about How To Read A Book:


3 thoughts on “More On The First Step Of Syntopical Reading

  1. Doug. I learn something everytime I read one of your posts. This one struck a particular chord with me. I have been a syntopical reader since my youth and had no idea that it was what I was doing. I have just enjoyed grabbing books on a tiopic and reading all around it. I have often though of it as ‘triangulation’ in the sense that land surveyors confirm a survey point. I think it is a way of reading and understanding information that is under threat from e-books and e-everything else. I find it more difficult to pursue an interest when I am online or using archived articles unless I print them and spread them on the desk. Ideas don’t connect themselves in my brain otherwise. Maybe digital natives don’t have this problem. Anyway,I will always enjoy browsing a collection of books (especially my own) and being inspired by a title or cover to start reading and then to find other similar books and round out an afternoon with some syntopical reading over a coffee.

  2. Hello,

    We are a not-for-profit educational organization founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery—three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos—lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

    Three hours with Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, lively discussing the art of reading on one DVD. A must for all readers, libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

    I cannot exaggerate how instructive these programs are—we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

    Please go here to see a clip and learn more:

    ISBN: 978-1-61535-311-8

    Thank you,

    Max Weismann, Co-founder with Dr. Adler

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