You are a book lover and you love reading books, which is very good. Did you know that kids who grow up in houses which have books are far more likely to do well than houses which do not have books? Books are amazing creatures, they are windows to the world, both real and imaginary. While I was growing up, we were quite poor and food was a bit tight but Dadu and Didu made sure that we never stinted on books. Which is why when you go to Bhopal, you will see books in every room including the loo piled up and stacked up. That's a big clue, when you go to somebody 's home, see what books they have, what are they reading. That's a great clue to where and what is happening in that family and home. That's how I became what is described below as a "promiscuous bibliophile".
But I digress. This is a very good article. What a great idea, eh? somebody has taken the liberty to put together a group of books which, after reading, provide you with a great foundation for a great life. The books are listed below, son. I think I have read about 75% of these, there are still so many that I havent read yet. We also have about 30-40% of these books at home and well, quite a lot of them are free so you can download and read them on your ipad.
So what do you do? Well, perhaps you can aim to finish reading all of these by say you are 25, in 9 years, assuming you finish 12-15 books per year, I think you should be able to read all of these. There are other books which I would recommend from the Indian/Hindu/Muslim civilisation perspective, but lets wait for that, i will send you a separate email.
Happy Reading son, I am proud that you are also becoming a bibliophile :)
Simoleon Sense » Blog Archive » The Great Books Curriculum: The Best Way To Become A Well Rounded Life Long Thinker!
The Best Way To Become A Well Rounded Life Long Thinker!
June 30, 2011
A couple of days ago my friend Farnam St posted about the great books curriculum, “a group of books that tradition, and various institutions and authorities, have regarded as constituting or best expressing the foundations of Western culture”(via wikipedia). I’m a big fan of the great books tradition and so is Charlie Munger (as well as other thinkers i.e. Nassim Taleb). So why am I a fan? Simple, because this curriculum is one of the best ways to build a latticework of mental models and become a renaissance thinker (which after all is the goal of this blog).
Goal: I will expand on this concept of the “Great Books Curriculum” and offer you a history of the great books, a list outlining the curriculum, as well as resources & colleges that teach according to the curriculum. Enjoy!
How Did SimoleonSense Learn About The Great Books?
I too was a promiscuous bibliophile unaware of the opportunity cost of lacking a proper (mental) foundation. Luckily, in 2000 I came across a book that nudged me towards the Great Books curriculum. The book was titled, Latticework, The New Investing by Robert Hagstrom. In Latticework, Hagstrom profiled Charlie Munger’s approach to investing and St. John’s College (one of the few colleges that teach according to the great books curriculum more on this later). The concept of Latticework thinking & the Great Books curriculum made sense to me and I comitted to reading 1 Great Book every year for the rest of my life (It has changed my life).
I’d like to mention that along the journey I stumbled upon another book, written in the spirit of renaissance thinking and titled, Seeking Wisdom from Darwin to Munger, by Peter Bevelin (a “Great Book” of its own”).
What Is A Great Book?
According to Mortimier Adler (one of the founding fathers of the great books curriculum) a great book can be identified when:
1. The book has contemporary significance; that is, it has relevance to the problems and issues of our times;
2. The book is inexhaustible; it can be read again and again with benefit; “This is an exacting criterion, an ideal that is fully attained by only a small number of the 511 works that we selected. It is approximated in varying degrees by the rest.
3. The book is relevant to a large number of the great ideas and great issues that have occupied the minds of thinking individuals for the last 25 centuries.
What Is The Great Book Curriculum?
“It came about as the result of a discussion among American academics and educators, starting in the 1920s and 1930s and begun by Prof. John Erskine of Columbia University, about how to improve the higher education system by returning it to the western liberal arts tradition of broad cross-disciplinary learning. These academics and educators included Robert Hutchins, Mortimer Adler, Stringfellow Barr, Scott Buchanan, and Alexander Meiklejohn. The view among them was that the emphasis on narrow specialization in American colleges had harmed the quality of higher education by failing to expose students to the important products of Western civilization and thought.”
How Should I start Reading The Great Books Curriculum?
I think the best way to start is by learning how to read a book. I know what you’re thinking, I know how to read a book, I learned when I was 5 years old. I’m here to tell you, that you probably don’t have a clue. There is much more to reading a book than opening the cover and running your eyes across the words. My advice is simple start with Mortimier Adler’s book, How to Read A Book, and then proceed to the Great Books Curriculum (starting from the beginning). And remember slow and steady wins the race (you don’t need to read 10 great books per year, just commit to reading them over your life).
Ok, Great, What Books Are In The Great Books Curriculum?
Are There Other Resources To Learn A-La Great Books?
- Homer: The Iliad, The Odyssey
- The Old Testament
- Aeschylus: Tragedies
- Sophocles: Tragedies
- Herodotus: Histories
- Euripides: Tragedies
- Thucydides: History of the Peloponnesian War
- Hippocrates: Medical Writings
- Aristophanes: Comedies
- Plato: Dialogues
- Aristotle: Works
- Epicurus: “Letter to Herodotus“, “Letter to Menoecus“
- Euclid: The Elements
- Archimedes: Works
- Apollonius: The Conic Sections
- Cicero: Works (esp. Orations, On Friendship, On Old Age, Republic, Laws, Tusculan Disputations, Offices)
- Lucretius: On the Nature of Things
- Virgil: Works (esp. Aeneid)
- Horace: Works (esp. Odes and Epodes, The Art of Poetry)
- Livy: The History of Rome
- Ovid: Works (esp. Metamorphoses)
- Quintilian: Institutes of Oratory
- Plutarch: Parallel Lives; Moralia
- Tacitus: Histories; Annals; Agricola; Germania; Dialogus de oratoribus (Dialogue on Oratory)
- Nicomachus of Gerasa: Introduction to Arithmetic
- Epictetus: Discourses; Enchiridion
- Ptolemy: Almagest
- Lucian: Works (esp. The Way to Write History, The True History, The Sale of Creeds, Alexander the Oracle Monger, Charon, The Sale of Lives, The Fisherman, Dialogue of the Gods, Dialogues of the Sea-Gods, Dialogues of the Dead)
- Marcus Aurelius: Meditations
- Galen: On the Natural Faculties
- The New Testament
- Plotinus: The Enneads
- St. Augustine: “On the Teacher”; Confessions; City of God; On Christian Doctrine
- The Volsungs Saga or Nibelungenlied
- The Song of Roland
- The Saga of Burnt Njál
- Maimonides: Guide for the Perplexed
- St. Thomas Aquinas: Of Being and Essence, Summa Contra Gentiles, Of the Governance of Rulers, Summa Theologica
- Dante Alighieri: The New Life (La Vita Nuova); “On Monarchy”; The Divine Comedy
- Geoffrey Chaucer: Troilus and Criseyde; The Canterbury Tales
- Thomas a Kempis: Imitation of Christ
- Leonardo da Vinci: Notebooks
- Niccolò Machiavelli: The Prince; Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy
- Desiderius Erasmus: The Praise of Folly, Colloquies‘
- Nicolaus Copernicus: On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres
- Thomas More: Utopia
- Martin Luther: Table Talk; Three Treatises
- François Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel
- John Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion
- Michel de Montaigne: Essays
- William Gilbert: On the Lodestone and Magnetic Bodies
- Miguel de Cervantes: Don Quixote
- Edmund Spenser: Prothalamion; The Faerie Queene
- Francis Bacon: Essays; The Advancement of Learning; Novum Organum; The New Atlantis
- William Shakespeare: Poetry and Plays
- Galileo Galilei: Starry Messenger; Two New Sciences
- Johannes Kepler: The Epitome of Copernican Astronomy; Harmonices Mundi
- William Harvey: On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals; On the Circulation of the Blood; On the Generation of Animals
- Grotius: The Law of War and Peace
- Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan, Elements of Philsophy
- René Descartes: Rules for the Direction of the Mind; Discourse on Method; Geometry; Meditations on First Philosophy, Principles of Philosophy, The Passions of the Soul
- Corneille: Tragedies (esp. The Cid, Cinna)
- John Milton: Works (esp. the minor poems; Areopagitica; Paradise Lost; Samson Agonistes)
- Molière: Comedies (esp. The Miser; The School for Wives; The Misanthrope; The Doctor in Spite of Himself; Tartuffe; The Tradesman Turned Gentleman; The Imaginary Invalid; The Affected Ladies)
- Blaise Pascal: The Provincial Letters; Pensées; Scientific Treatises
- Boyle: The Skeptical Chemist
- Christiaan Huygens: Treatise on Light
- Benedict de Spinoza: Political Treatises; Ethics
- John Locke: A Letter Concerning Toleration; Of Civil Government; Essay Concerning Human Understanding; Some Thoughts Concerning Education
- Jean Baptiste Racine: Tragedies (esp. Andromache; Phaedra; Athaliah)
- Isaac Newton: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy; Opticks
- Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz: Discourse on Metaphysics; New Essays Concerning Human Understanding; “Monadology“
- Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe; Moll Flanders
- Jonathan Swift: “Battle of the Books“; “A Tale of a Tub“; A Journal to Stella; Gulliver’s Travels; “A Modest Proposal“
- William Congreve: The Way of the World
- George Berkeley: A New Theory of Vision; Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge
- Alexander Pope: “Essay on Criticism“; “The Rape of the Lock“; “Essay on Man“
- Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu: Persian Letters, Spirit of the Laws
- Voltaire: Letters on the English, Candide, Philosophical Dictionary; Toleration
- Henry Fielding: Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones
- Samuel Johnson: “The Vanity of Human Wishes“, Dictionary, Rasselas, Lives of the Poets
- David Hume: A Treatise of Human Nature, Essays Moral and Political, An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding; History of England
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, On Political Economy, Emile, The Social Contract; Confessions
- Laurence Sterne: Tristram Shandy, A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy
- Adam Smith: The Theory of Moral Sentiments, The Wealth of Nations
- Blackstone: Commentaries on the Laws of England
- Immanuel Kant: Critique of Pure Reason, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Critique of Practical Reason; Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics; The Science of Right; Critique of Judgment; Perpetual Peace
- Edward Gibbon: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Autobiography
- James Boswell: Journal; The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.
- Antoine Laurent Lavoisier: Traité Élémentaire de Chimie (Elements of Chemistry)
- Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison: The Federalist Papers(together with the Articles of Confederation; The Constitution of the United States; The Declaration of Independence)
- Jeremy Bentham: Comment on the Commentaries; Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation; Theory of Fictions
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Faust; Poetry and Truth
- Malthus: An Essay on the Principle of Population
- Dalton: A New System of Chemical Philosophy
- Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier: Analytical Theory of Heat
- Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: The Phenomenology of Spirit; Science of Logic; The Philosophy of Right; Lectures on the Philosophy of History
- William Wordsworth: Poems (esp. Lyrical Ballads; Lucy poems; sonnets; The Prelude)
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Poems (esp. Kubla Khan; The Rime of the Ancient Mariner ); Biographia Literaria
- Ricardo: The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation
- Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice; Emma
- Carl von Clausewitz: On War
- Stendhal: The Red and the Black; The Charterhouse of Parma; On Love
- Guizot: History of Civilization in France
- Lord Byron: Don Juan
- Arthur Schopenhauer: Studies in Pessimism
- Michael Faraday: The Chemical History of a Candle; Experimental Researches in Electricity
- Lobachevski: Geometrical Researches on the Theory of Parallels
- Charles Lyell: Principles of Geology
- Auguste Comte: The Positive Philosophy
- Honoré de Balzac: Works (esp.Le Père Goriot; Cousin Pons; Eugénie Grandet; Cousin Betty; Cesar Birotteau)
- Ralph Waldo Emerson: Representative Men, Essays, Journal
- Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter
- Alexis de Tocqueville: Democracy in America
- John Stuart Mill: A System of Logic; Principles of Political Economy; On Liberty; Considerations on Representative Government; Utilitarianism; The Subjection of Women; Autobiography
- Charles Darwin: The Origin of Species; The Descent of Man; Autobiography
- Thackeray: Works (esp.Vanity Fair; Henry Esmond; The Virginians; Pendennis)
- Charles Dickens: Works (esp.Pickwick Papers; Our Mutual Friend; David Copperfield; Dombey and Son; Oliver Twist; A Tale of Two Cities; Hard Times)
- Claude Bernard: Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine
- Boole: Laws of Thought
- Henry David Thoreau: “Civil Disobedience“; Walden
- Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: Capital; The Communist Manifesto
- George Eliot: Adam Bede; Middlemarch
- Herman Melville: Typee; Moby-Dick; Billy Budd
- Fyodor Dostoevsky: Crime and Punishment; The Idiot; The Brothers Karamazov
- Gustave Flaubert: Madame Bovary; Three Stories
- Henry Thomas Buckle: A History of Civilization in England
- Galton: Inquiries into Human Faculties and Its Development
- Riemann: The Hypotheses of Geometry
- Henrik Ibsen: Plays (esp.Peer Gynt; Brand; Hedda Gabler; Emperor and Galilean; A Doll’s House; The Wild Duck; The Master Builder)
- Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace; Anna Karenina; What is Art?; Twenty-Three Tales
- Richard Dedekind: Theory of Numbers
- Wundt: Physiological Psychology; Outline of Psychology
- Mark Twain: Innocents Abroad; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court; The Mysterious Stranger
- Henry Adams: History of the United States; Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres; The Education of Henry Adams; Degradation of Democratic Dogma
- Charles Peirce: Chance, Love, and Logic; Collected Papers
- William Sumner: Folkways
- Oliver Wendell Holmes: The Common Law; Collected Legal Papers
- William James: The Principles of Psychology; The Varieties of Religious Experience; Pragmatism; A Pluralistic Universe; Essays in Radical Empiricism
- Henry James: The American; The Ambassadors
- Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche: Thus Spoke Zarathustra; Beyond Good and Evil; The Genealogy of Morals; The Will to Power; Twilight of the Idols; The Antichrist
- Georg Cantor: Transfinite Numbers
- Jules Henri Poincaré: Science and Hypothesis; Science and Method; The Foundations of Science
- Sigmund Freud: The Interpretation of Dreams; Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex; Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis; Beyond the Pleasure Principle; Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego; The Ego and the Id; Civilization and Its Discontents; New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis
- George Bernard Shaw: Plays and Prefaces
- Max Planck: Origin and Development of the Quantum Theory; Where Is Science Going?; Scientific Autobiography
- Henri Bergson: Time and Free Will; Matter and Memory; Creative Evolution; The Two Sources of Morality and Religion
- John Dewey: How We Think; Democracy and Education; Experience and Nature; The Quest for Certainty; Logic: The Theory of Inquiry
- Alfred North Whitehead: A Treatise on Universal Algebra; An Introduction to Mathematics; Science and the Modern World; Process and Reality; The Aims of Education and Other Essays; Adventures of Ideas
- George Santayana: The Life of Reason; Skepticism and Animal Faith; Realm of Essence; Realm of Matter; Realm of Truth; Persons and Places
- Lenin: Imperialism; The State and Revolution
- Marcel Proust: Remembrance of Things Past (the revised translation is In Search of Lost Time)
- Bertrand Russell: Principles of Mathematics; The Problems of Philosophy; Principia Mathematica; The Analysis of Mind; An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth; Human Knowledge, Its Scope and Limits
- Thomas Mann: The Magic Mountain; Joseph and His Brothers
- Albert Einstein: The Theory of Relativity; Sidelights on Relativity; The Meaning of Relativity; On the Method of Theoretical Physics; The Evolution of Physics
- James Joyce: “The Dead” in Dubliners; A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; Ulysses
- Jacques Maritain: Art and Scholasticism; The Degrees of Knowledge; Freedom and the Modern World; A Preface to Metaphysics; The Rights of Man and Natural Law; True Humanism
- Franz Kafka: The Trial; The Castle
- Arnold J. Toynbee: A Study of History; Civilization on Trial
- Jean-Paul Sartre: Nausea; No Exit; Being and Nothingness
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The First Circle; Cancer Ward
Yes there are…
First: There are schools that adhere to the Great Books Curriculum. Below is a brief list.
Second: Harvard has a list of Classics (that overlaps and in some areas competes with the “Great Books Curriculum”)
Third: OpenCulture has an extensive list of Free Audio downloads of the Great Books *So no excuses if you hate reading
Additional Suggestions & Cautions:
I’d like to close with 3 suggestions.
1. Just because a book is not on the Great Books Curriculum does not mean it isn’t a great book. If it satisfies the first 3 criteria (mentioned above) and your personal criteria add it to the list.
2. The Great Books Curriculum is heavily weighted towards Western thinking -it’s naive to assume that western thought is the pinnacle of human achievement. So find the Great Eastern Books and read them (asap).
3. If you seek to learn from the Great Books reading them is not enough you must live through them. The best way to learn about the Great Books is via active dialogue (this is what makes St.Johns College unique).
Founder of SimoleonSense