Visual book notes: How to Read a Book


(Click on the image for a larger version of the notes.)

Whenever I want to pick up more tips on how to read better, I turn to How to Read a Book. This is not some speed-reading manual that overpromises and underdelivers. It’s a thoughtful, practical guide to getting the most out of your reading: picking the right speed for a book, taking better notes, building a topical index of books and their relationships with each other… (Still working on that!) The book has plenty of tips for reading specific subjects, and even includes exercises to help you improve your skills.

If you already enjoy reading books, this is probably going to be a fantastic book for you. If you’re working on getting more books into your life, this might have some tips that will help you read more strategically.

How to Read a Book
Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren
New York: Simon & Schuster 1972 Rev. ed.
ISBN: 0-671-21209-5

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  • Sacha,

    This drawing is wonderful! I own this book and plan to read it again sometime soon.
    Your drawing has inspired me to read it sooner!


  • The drawing is amazing.

    People have different ways and techniques reading, and different ways of reading with different kinds of books and niche.

    I love books and something it pisses me off when I need to go return to previous pages coz I haven’t paid attention to what I am reading.

  • Mark

    You might have a typo. Shouldn’t it be “synoptical reading”, and not “syntopical”? Great visuals!

  • Mark

    According to this website (, the term “syntopic” was used in the 1940 edition, and the term “synoptic” was used in the 1972/Touchstone edition.

  • Charles: Yup, there’s a book that’s worth rereading… =)

    elmot: Glad you like it! Are there nonfiction books you’d like me to try summarizing like this?

    Mark: Adler and van Doren coined syntopical based on the Syntopicon, according to Wiktionary. Looking for examples of such a cross-book subject index, I tried reading Adler’s guide to the great books of Western canon, but I found it difficult to wrap my head around the concepts. Something to return to!

  • This is great – thank you! I just finished reading the book not too long ago after having it sit on my table for nearly two years. Boy, why did I wait!

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  • I used this visual book review in a Toastmasters talk I gave today called “Are you Kindle Material?” — it made a great summing-up slide, since I’d spent a good part of the talk talking about different ways to read a book and their applicability to a Kindle (or other e-reader). Thanks!

    — David Singer

    • How wonderful! =) Thanks for using it in such a creative way!

  • Wow.

    1. Great material

    2. Awesome presentation format

    This image is something I want to save, review and share. Thank you.

  • I’m glad you like it. It seems I’m on to something here with visual presentation summaries and book reviews, and I’m looking forward to sharing more. =) Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Your welcome.

    It reminds me of David Allen’s GTD Workflow Processing and Organizing. I’ve done it all individually but it is another thing to see it all come together on one page with pictures.

    As for dialectical notes, have you heard of IBIS (Issue-based Information System) It’s concept map method that can be used on paper or software like Compendium where it was funded by NASA and used for eScience as scientists met virtually to discuss Mars desert reserach.

    Besides “wicked problems” and large organizations, it can be used for dialog mapping in meetings and I use it for personal problem solving. My wife and used it to decide to move to Japan with only a three-hour deadline before losing out on Plan A.

    My favorite introduction is this example of a father negotiating with his son about bedtime.

    I am totally going to do this with my kids when they are older.

  • Jay

    Thank you.

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  • Hi Sacha – this is great information and an valuable example. I like the way you use the cover of the book as well, to tie in the visual information with the clear symbol of the book.

  • Alex

    Sacha Chua:
    Where are the four stages of analytical reading located in the book? What page? I have the book and I see in your notes you put the four stages of analytical reading.

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