How to read a non-fiction book

Peter Bregman shares how to read a nonfiction book a week:

1. Start with the author. Who wrote the book? Read his or her bio. If you can find a brief interview or article online about the author, read that quickly. It will give you a sense of the person’s bias and perspective.

2. Read the title, the subtitle, the front flap, and the table of contents. What’s the big-picture argument of the book? How is that argument laid out? By now, you could probably describe the main idea of the book to someone who hasn’t read it.
3. Read the introduction and the conclusion. The author makes their case in the opening and closing argument of the book. Read these two sections word for word but quickly. You already have a general sense of where the author is going, and these sections will tell you how they plan to get there (introduction) and what they hope you got out of it (conclusion).
4. Read/skim each chapter. Read the title and anywhere from the first few paragraphs to the first few pages of the chapter to figure out how the author is using this chapter and where it fits into the argument of the book. Then skim through the headings and subheadings (if there are any) to get a feel for the flow. Read the first sentence of each paragraph and the last. If you get the meaning, move on. Otherwise, you may want to read the whole paragraph. Once you’ve gotten an understanding of the chapter, you may be able to skim over whole pages, as the argument may be clear to you and also may repeat itself.
5. End with the table of contents again. Once you’ve finished the book, return to the table of contents and summarize it in your head. Take a few moments to relive the flow of the book, the arguments you considered, the stories you remember, the journey you went on with the author.

Throughout my reading, I take notes in preparation for my conversation with the author. Where do I agree? Where do I disagree? What questions are still simmering? What might I want to discuss with others or think more about in the coming days? These notes are a good idea for every reader to take.

Here’s the interesting thing about reading a book like this: while it’s much faster than a traditional reading (it takes me 1–2 hours to read a book, instead of the usual 6–8), you will retain far more.

That’s because you’re not simply reading the material; you’re actively engaging with it. Your mind is alert the whole time and you’re able to see the book more holistically. You’re not just taking it in; you’re figuring it out.

 

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