Reading the Greats

— 3 minute read

What are the great books? permalink

The foundational texts of Western civilization, in which great thinkers contemplate the self, society, and God.

A commonly used base reading list is the St. John's curriculum.

Why do I want to read them? permalink

I had a fantastic European history teacher in high school. One of those teachers you'd film movies like the Dead Poets Society about. Her class was my first exposure to some of the "Great Books"; we read texts like The Prince, Book of the Courtier, Two Treatises of Government, etc. Although I've forgotten the minutiae of my European history studies, her lectures were vivid and left me with an indelible admiration of the Renaissance humanists. I was enamored with the whole ethos and worldview: examining what it means to be human, the love of humanity, the love of learning, striving to achieve mastery of mind, body, and soul.

I studied engineering in college and floundered. I don't regret much about my college experience, but one thing I do deeply regret is not using my collegiate years to study things that I loved.

Now, I work in technology. I like my work, but there's still a part of me longing for a classics education. Just because I'm no longer in school doesn't mean I can't get that education now. Perhaps because I'm no longer in school, I can finally truly learn.

What do I want to learn? permalink

Yes, I want to read a bunch of books written by ancient white men (and a few women). In certain circles, some would burn the Western canon because it's not diverse.

I grew up in the United States. I want to start (this is just the beginning!) my education with how the West was built. I want to hear the stories that formed our culture over the centuries. What thoughts prevail today that can be traced back to Homer, Dante, and Shelley? What could Chaucer and Shakespeare teach us about how to live a good life? Most of all, what wisdom might they have about what comes next?

If, in the end, I decide to reject the Great Books, at least I will understand what I am rejecting.

The Plan permalink

I'm going to be reading a selection of the books with the Interintellect, as part of their Reading the Greats series. We'll have a month to read one book and a selection of secondary works for context, then come together and discuss.

The List permalink

  • Homer - The Iliad
  • Sophocles - Antigone
  • The Last Days of Socrates (Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo)
  • Beowulf
  • Chaucer - The Canterbury Tales
  • Inferno - Dante
  • Niccolo Machiavelli - The Prince
  • Descartes - Meditations on First Philosophy
  • Shakespeare - Macbeth
  • Shelley - Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus
  • Burke - Reflections on the French Revolution
  • Austen - Pride and Prejudice
  • Brecht, Steffin - Mother Courage and Her Children
  • Woolf - Mrs. Dalloway
  • Huxley - Brave New World
  • Orwell - 1984

I'll be updating this list with my thoughts on each book as we progress. Join us!