How to Read an Academic Book
By Robert Webber
read an academic book word for word, page for page, chapter for chapter.
read a book like you would look at a
picture, study its frames, and finally examine its
- Get the big picture in sight. Read the back
cover, the contents page, the
Introduction, the Conclusion. Spend some time just thinking
about what you have read.
Where is the author coming from?
Background, schooling, current position? What may be the author’s
What is the point of the book?
Summarize it in a sentence or two.
How will the author develop the
point? Find this in the outline and the Introduction.
What does the author want you to do or
think? Find this in the Conclusion.
- Frame the book. That is, find out the author’s sources and look
for ways to connect your own
understandings and experiences with the overall picture the author is
Scan the footnotes. Who does the
author quote? Are you familiar with any of the author’s quoted? Do
these authors give you a clue to where the author of this book will take
Read the general index. As you
come across topics or names that are familiar look them up
in the text to see what the author says about the material you are
already familiar with.
Read the scripture index. How does
the author interpret passages with which you are familiar? Does this
author stretch you? Agree with you? Differ with you?
- Continue to look at the frame of the book, looking now for the
Look again at the contents page. Is there
a discernable developmental structure from beginning to end?
Now scan the introduction and conclusion
of each chapter thinking about the goal of each chapter.
Now scan the entire book reading
only the headings and subheadings stopping to read where curiosity leads
- You are now ready to analyze the book in detail.
Will this book take me beyond my present
knowledge? If the answer is “No,” then you have read enough.
Will this book contribute to my knowledge?
If the answer is “yes,” then read on.
Is this book an incredible tool that will
reshape my ministry? If the answer is “yes,” then outline the book
or the parts that contribute to your knowledge and memorize what
is of particular use.
- By outlining and memorizing the content of a book that
will reshape your
understanding and ministry, you have created a framework for building a
house of knowledge (excuse the introduction of another metaphor). The
next book you read on the same subject will bring a room together and
perhaps even furnish it. Then again, another book may force you to move
the furniture out and bring the new in, or, perhaps, rebuild the house,
and on it goes.