Everyone who has been to school has been told to read something because it is one of the “Great Books.” We have this idea that there are some things that everyone should read.
Years ago, I was given a set of Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.’s Great Books of the Western World, which puts this idea into practice. While I have read several of the works from the set in other books as part of classes or on my own, I have never read my way through the set. In the first volume of the set (part of which is pictured above), the compilers of the set created a recommended ten-year reading list.
After years of moving these around, it seems like its time to take a systematic approach to the set and see what it’s worth. The plan is to find out whether these books are worth reading and get into the “Great Conversation” with the authors of these books. My goal is to read these books and write about how they relate to modern life. The reason for this blog is to broaden the conversation from just me and the authors to include you.
Over the past few years, I have been a writing tutor for the Illinois Humanities Council’s Odyssey Project (more on that in a future post). One of the professors, Charles Thomas Elder, summed it up by saying “The only reason to read Plato is if you want to have a conversation with Plato.”
So, join me for a conversation with these authors and please chime in through the comments. I’ll post my thoughts on the readings and how they relate to modern life as I read them and include some readings not in the set, including some modern books. Since I studied Ancient Greek and Latin, I’ll also probably have an entry or two on my translation projects.
One note before we go any further, Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. has nothing to do with the project and knows nothing about it. In fact, the set I am using is from 1952. Britannica has added to the set since then, so the readings and reactions are limited to the set I have.
Without further ado, here is the first year reading list, so you know what is coming up.
The Britannica Great Book Reading List (1952)
- Republic (Books I – II)
- Ethics (Book I)
- Politics (Book I)
6. Plutarch: The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans
- Numa Pompilius
- Lycurgus and Numa Compared
7. New Testament:
- The Gospel According to St. Mathew
- The Acts of the Apostles
8. St. Augustine:
- Confessions (Book I-VIII)
- The Prince
- Gargantua and Pantagruel (Book I – II)
11. Montaigne: Essays
- Of Custom, and that We Should Not Easily Change a Law Received
- Of Pedantry
- Of Education of Children
- That It Is Folly to Measure Truth and Error by Our Own Capacity
- Of Cannibals
- That Relish of Good and Evil Depends in a Great Measure Upon the Opinion We Have of Them
- Upon Some Versus of Virgil
- Concerning Civil Government (Second Essay)
- The Social Contract (Book I – II)
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Chapter 15 – 16)
16. American State Papers:
- The Declaration of Independence
- The Constitution of the United States
- The Federalist (Numbers 1-10, 15, 31, 41, 51, 68-71)
- The Wealth of Nations (Introduction – Book I, Chapter 9)
- Manifesto of the Communist Party