How To Read And Understand Complex Books

Reading and understanding complex books can be hard. This is why you need to develop skills to read even the most complex book that most people won’t even attempt to open.

In this article you’ll learn exactly how to do this.

Here are some of the things you’ll learn

  • How to find important words in a book
  • How to find important sentences in a book
  • How to find propositions and arguments in a book
  • Etc.

Understand the book structure

Every book is divided into different parts that make up the whole.

Just as each chapter is meant to enlighten you on a specific theme composed of various elements.

The first thing you need to in order to read complex books well is to identify the various parts of the book and get a good idea of the general topic that the author is writing about.

This is easily done by taking stock of the table of contents.

Some authors explicitly state what the book is about in their introductions or titles, as is the case for Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations”.

The table of contents will usually give you a genuinely good idea of the topic and its subject according to the author.

The chapters in a book are the individual parts that make up the whole and are to be treated as such. Keep this in mind at all times.

Find and understand the important words

Once you take some time to look through the book, figure out what it’s about and take stock of its contents.

You can begin your first reading in which your sole focus should be finding the important words.

The important words in a book are words that carry meaning and act as the cornerstone for the expression of thought.

For example in a book about international trade the most important words would be exchange, trade, labor etc. because these words are essential to the topic and subject.

Finding the important words will be useful when it’s time to find the leading statements.

You should also find and note down the words you do not understand.

Because not knowing certain words can make it hard for you to comprehend what is being said by the author.

After finding the important words the next part is to understand them.

For this I advise using the context around the words to try and understand their meaning by seeing how these words are being used by the author.

Of course there are many other ways to read a book when you don’t understand the words but using context is the best way.

Once you know the meaning of the words you can easily understand what is being said.

Find and understand the important sentences

Finding and understanding important sentences is a crucial part of reading complex books because it narrows your focus on the leading information.

Important sentences are not difficult to spot because they usually carry vital information crucial to your understanding plus they embody important words too.

At this stage of reading you have to treat paragraphs with care and view them as building blocks that make up the chapter ideas.

Therefore you have to keep in mind that each important sentence should be a significant to the paragraph. This should be your guideline when reading.

Paragraphs are the tools that authors use to share complete thoughts that are a pre-requisite to understanding the bigger picture.

With that said, you should view this process of finding important sentences as one of arming yourself with the tools for understanding.

Since you already have a clear idea of what the important words are then it’s time for you to use them to find the important sentences.

Find the important paragraphs

Once you understand the important sentences and important words. You now need to zoom out a little bit and find the most important paragraphs.

This takes some doing as it requires you to read a full chapter and then come back to re-read and see which of the paragraphs provide the most essential information to the problem the author is attempting to solve.

At this time you need to be very alert because important paragraphs are the keys you need to unlock the knowledge the authors wishes to share in a chapter.

Important paragraphs are ones that express arguments and carry leading statements.

Leading statements in their nature are attention grabbing statements that direct your attention to something especially important.

For example; in the 33 strategies of war, Robert provides a leading statement in chapter one by stating that: “War, or any kind of conflict, is waged and won through strategy.”

That statement is important because it is leading and the author is making an assertion.

Understanding the solved problems

Reading a book is essentially having a conversation with an author.

Their goal as the author is try to provide you with knowledge and information they deem worthy of sharing.

Essentially books are a solution to a problem.

And this is even truer for complex books because they attempt to enlighten the reader with information.

As a result, authors try to solve a problem or problems in their own way; by providing logical arguments as to why they think the solution they have is the best way to solve the problem.

Therefore, your goal as a reader is to see these solutions and the arguments that the author proposes to justify them.

In essence what you’re trying to do is understand what the author is trying to communicate to you and the reasons why they think their information is significant.

It’s also your job as the reader to rely on your logic to see the possibility/impossibility of the author’s solutions to the problems he/she wishes to solve.

This is a skill that must be developed after spending much time dissecting writing.

However as you read at this stage, you must be alert enough to sometimes spot the gray area problems that the author has some difficulty solving.

For complex books this is easier done because with complex topics logic can only serve the author to a certain extent and they’ll most likely admit it in the writing.


As we’ve discussed so far; in order to read complex books you need to find first find the important words and sentences, understand the problems the authors solves and fails to solve.

The next step after carrying out these processes out is to find the authors propositions.

Propositions, simply put, are an author’s assertions or declarations of ideas and thoughts.

You can view propositions as what the author proposes as their assertion based on their knowledge.

You need to take note of the propositions because they give you a glimpse into the authors thought process and what they value as worthy information.

This is important because it puts you at a vantage point where you can make logical connections and see the entire basis of the book.

So it’s important that you pay close attention and listen to what the author is trying to say in their writing.

As an example lets go back to the proposition that Robert Greene makes in the first chapter of The 33 Strategies of War: “War, or any kind of conflict, is waged and won through strategy.”

That one sentence is an important sentence, a proposition and an argument.

We can tell it’s an important sentence because it is composed of important words in the context of the books message.

Secondly, we can say the statement is a proposition because it is expressed as an assertion.

Lastly, we can say the statement is an argument because the author expresses it and then goes on to justify it with the following statement: “Think of
strategy as a series of lines and arrows aimed at a goal: at getting you to a certain point in the world, at helping you to attack a problem in your path, at figuring out how to encircle and destroy your enemy.

Reading complex books does take some getting used to but you should remember that it can be very rewarding when it is done well.

Tips for reading complex books

Below are some important tips that you need to adopt to read complex books with less difficulty.

Take your time

Books with complex messages are hard to read because mainly complex knowledge is generally hard to convey.

With such books it’s fair to assume that the author took a considerable amount of time in writing and developing ideas and converting them to written language.

This is something you as a reader need to think of because it’s only fair that books that take a long time to be written take longer and demand more effort to be read.

Therefore don’t rush to read, take your time to read and re-read as much as possible until you get to a point where you can say, you’ve understood.

Stay active and think

Reading well is done in such a manner that the reader treats any book as communication between him/her and the author.

When reading is done this way, it becomes effortless because you’ll be more actively engaged in the book.

This active engagement will make it easy for you to understand the book as compared to the casual reader who does not pay enough attention.

Therefore, you should stay actively engaged and use your powers of logic any time you approach a complex book.

Don’t give up quickly

You shouldn’t give up too quickly…

..Listen… I know how frustrating some books can be to read, but you should always keep in mind that perseverance is rewarding.

Some of this reward can be in the form of knowledge, enlightenment, motivation or inspiration etc. which can be beneficial to you.

Additionally, staying the course and reading a complex book will make you a better reader.


Reading a book more than once; via repetition is essential when dealing with complex books.

One of the many reasons why it’s important to read books over and over again is to help your memory consolidate it to aid understanding.

This is why you should not neglect the need to go back to re-read books you don’t understand.