This post reproduces my review of the book “How to read a book: the classic guide to intelligent reading“, by Mortimer J. Adler and Dr. Charles Van Doren, posted a while back on Amazon. It is the recursive book I mention on a previous post called Teachers All Around.
I once played with the idea that I would not only read the Great Books of the Western World, but memorize them all. Of course, I was indulging myself in impossible dreams, but that has led me to a whole universe of thought (literally) that I had never dreamed existed: the Art of Memory.
I have always heard about Aristotle, Plato, Dante, Spinoza and Kant, but I had never thought that “normal” people should read them. They lay in History, and whatever they had contributed to society was already embedded in our everyday lives, having already influenced whoever did whatever had to be done to create the technological era we live in and the chaotic pseudo-civilised society we live in. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t have to study Pythagoras — all I needed to know was how to calculate the hypotenuse. In fact, all we need now is to press the correct button in a calculator or to use the right command in any commonplace programming language. I have always been a practical man. I do stuff. I don’t sit at home engrossed in armchair thinking. Why should I read such complex arcane books? Moreover, I knew I wouldn’t understand much even if I tried.