The primary goal of “How to Read a Book” is to instruct readers on how to read for information and understanding. The authors assert that learning is the process of understanding more (not remembering more); we read to understand more and to be enlightened. When reading, we engage in discovery, which is learning something by research, investigation, or reflection, without direct instruction. A teacher can supply direct answers to direct questions, but if you ask a book a question, you must answer it by your own effort.

The authors believe that unlimited educational opportunity is the most valuable service that a democratic society can provide, and that we must be not merely a society of functional literates but one of truly competent readers. This means understanding a written work’s arguments, the terms on which they are made, and whether they are true in whole or part. These principles also apply when engaging in dialogue with another person or group of people—you cannot come to a mutual understanding in dialogue without these principles.

This guide includes discussion questions and two sets of activities—one for “How to Read a Book” and one for engaging in dialogue based on the principles of “How to Read a Book”—to practice applying these principles when reading and when dialoguing.