Challenging books: Adler and reading for one’s mind

It is easy to get excited about the idea of a classical education, especially if one naturally loves both books and history. We are trying to offer a modified classical education to our children via homeschooling. The modern idea for a classical education via classical books comes, in part, from Mortimer J. Adler and his book How to Read a Book.
Adler was an advocate of reading books more difficult than one’s current level can easily handle, thus stretching and elevating one’s mind. The best books require one to work at understanding them. The secret is that the process (the labor) of trying to understand is actually part of the joy of reading. Only reading books as escape, as easy pickings, is like eating only cake for dinner: in the short run it seems great, but in the long run it leaves one unfulfilled and anemic.
Adler also put together his canon of what a classical reading list should look like. I love reading lists; they give me more reasons to buy more books. But I hate reading lists too because they remind me of how much I have yet to read and that I am a notoriously slow reader. My desire is the get through the list below. I doubt I will read half the list before I die. Still, it’s worth a shot, isn’t it?

From Wikipedia: The following is an example list from How to Read a Book:

  1. Homer: The Iliad, The Odyssey
  2. The Old Testament
  3. Aeschylus: Tragedies
  4. Sophocles: Tragedies
  5. Herodotus: Histories
  6. Euripides: Tragedies
  7. Thucydides: History of the Peloponnesian War
  8. Hippocrates: Medical Writings
  9. Aristophanes: Comedies
  10. Plato: Dialogues
  11. Aristotle: Works
  12. Epicurus: “Letter to Herodotus“, “Letter to Menoecus
  13. Euclid: The Elements
  14. Archimedes: Works
  15. Apollonius: The Conic Sections
  16. Cicero: Works
  17. Lucretius: On the Nature of Things
  18. Virgil: Works
  19. Horace: Works
  20. Livy: The History of Rome
  21. Ovid: Works
  22. Plutarch: Parallel Lives; Moralia
  23. Tacitus: Histories; Annals; Agricola; Germania
  24. Nicomachus of Gerasa: Introduction to Arithmetic
  25. Epictetus: Discourses; Enchiridion
  26. Ptolemy: Almagest
  27. Lucian: Works
  28. Marcus Aurelius: Meditations
  29. Galen: On the Natural Faculties
  30. The New Testament
  31. Plotinus: The Enneads
  32. St. Augustine: “On the Teacher”; Confessions; City of God; On Christian Doctrine
  33. The Song of Roland
  34. The Nibelungenlied
  35. The Saga of Burnt Njál
  36. St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica
  37. Dante Alighieri: The New Life (La Vita Nuova); “On Monarchy”; The Divine Comedy
  38. Geoffrey Chaucer: Troilus and Criseyde; The Canterbury Tales
  39. Leonardo da Vinci: Notebooks
  40. Niccolò Machiavelli: The Prince; Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy
  41. Desiderius Erasmus: The Praise of Folly
  42. Nicolaus Copernicus: On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres
  43. Thomas More: Utopia
  44. Martin Luther: Table Talk; Three Treatises
  45. François Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel
  46. John Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion
  47. Michel de Montaigne: Essays
  48. William Gilbert: On the Lodestone and Magnetic Bodies
  49. Miguel de Cervantes: Don Quixote
  50. Edmund Spenser: Prothalamion; The Faerie Queene
  51. Francis Bacon: Essays; The Advancement of Learning; Novum Organum; The New Atlantis
  52. William Shakespeare: Poetry and Plays
  53. Galileo Galilei: Starry Messenger; Two New Sciences
  54. Johannes Kepler: The Epitome of Copernican Astronomy; Harmonices Mundi
  55. William Harvey: On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals; On the Circulation of the Blood; On the Generation of Animals
  56. Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan
  57. René Descartes: Rules for the Direction of the Mind; Discourse on Method; Geometry; Meditations on First Philosophy
  58. John Milton: Works
  59. Molière: Comedies
  60. Blaise Pascal: The Provincial Letters; Pensées; Scientific Treatises
  61. Christiaan Huygens: Treatise on Light
  62. Benedict de Spinoza: Ethics
  63. John Locke: A Letter Concerning Toleration; Of Civil Government; Essay Concerning Human Understanding; Some Thoughts Concerning Education
  64. Jean Baptiste Racine: Tragedies
  65. Isaac Newton: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy; Opticks
  66. Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz: Discourse on Metaphysics; New Essays Concerning Human Understanding; “Monadology
  67. Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe
  68. Jonathan Swift: “A Tale of a Tub“; A Journal to Stella; Gulliver’s Travels; “A Modest Proposal
  69. William Congreve: The Way of the World
  70. George Berkeley: Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge
  71. Alexander Pope: “Essay on Criticism“; “The Rape of the Lock“; “Essay on Man
  72. Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu: Persian Letters, Spirit of the Laws
  73. Voltaire: Letters on the English, Candide, Philosophical Dictionary
  74. Henry Fielding: Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones
  75. Samuel Johnson: “The Vanity of Human Wishes“, Dictionary, Rasselas, Lives of the Poets
  76. David Hume: A Treatise of Human Nature, Essays Moral and Political, An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding
  77. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, On Political Economy, Emile, The Social Contract
  78. Laurence Sterne: Tristram Shandy, A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy
  79. Adam Smith: The Theory of Moral Sentiments, The Wealth of Nations
  80. Immanuel Kant: Critique of Pure Reason, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Critique of Practical Reason; The Science of Right; Critique of Judgment; Perpetual Peace
  81. Edward Gibbon: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Autobiography
  82. James Boswell: Journal; The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.
  83. Antoine Laurent Lavoisier: Traité Élémentaire de Chimie (Elements of Chemistry)
  84. Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison: The Federalist Papers
  85. Jeremy Bentham: Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation; Theory of Fictions
  86. Edmund Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France
  87. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Faust; Poetry and Truth
  88. Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier: Analytical Theory of Heat
  89. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: The Phenomenology of Spirit; The Philosophy of Right; Lectures on the Philosophy of History
  90. William Wordsworth: Poems
  91. Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Poems; Biographia Literaria
  92. Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice; Emma
  93. Carl von Clausewitz: On War
  94. Stendhal: The Red and the Black; The Charterhouse of Parma; On Love
  95. Lord Byron: Don Juan
  96. Arthur Schopenhauer: Studies in Pessimism
  97. Michael Faraday: The Chemical History of a Candle; Experimental Researches in Electricity
  98. Charles Lyell: Principles of Geology
  99. Auguste Comte: The Positive Philosophy
  100. Honoré de Balzac: Le Père Goriot; Eugénie Grandet
  101. Ralph Waldo Emerson: Representative Men, Essays, Journal
  102. Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter
  103. Alexis de Tocqueville: Democracy in America
  104. John Stuart Mill: A System of Logic; On Liberty; Representative Government; Utilitarianism; The Subjection of Women; Autobiography
  105. Charles Darwin: The Origin of Species; The Descent of Man; Autobiography
  106. Charles Dickens: Pickwick Papers; David Copperfield; Hard Times
  107. Claude Bernard: Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine
  108. Henry David Thoreau: “Civil Disobedience“; Walden
  109. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: Capital; The Communist Manifesto
  110. George Eliot: Adam Bede; Middlemarch
  111. Herman Melville: Moby-Dick; Billy Budd
  112. Fyodor Dostoevsky: Crime and Punishment; The Idiot; The Brothers Karamazov
  113. Gustave Flaubert: Madame Bovary; Three Stories
  114. Henrik Ibsen: Plays
  115. Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace; Anna Karenina; What is Art?; Twenty-Three Tales
  116. Mark Twain: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; The Mysterious Stranger
  117. William James: The Principles of Psychology; The Varieties of Religious Experience; Pragmatism; Essays in Radical Empiricism
  118. Henry James: The American; The Ambassadors
  119. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche: Thus Spoke Zarathustra; Beyond Good and Evil; The Genealogy of Morals; The Will to Power; Twilight of the Idols; The Antichrist
  120. Jules Henri Poincaré: Science and Hypothesis; Science and Method
  121. Sigmund Freud: The Interpretation of Dreams; Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis; Civilization and Its Discontents; New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis
  122. George Bernard Shaw: Plays and Prefaces
  123. Max Planck: Origin and Development of the Quantum Theory; Where Is Science Going?; Scientific Autobiography
  124. Henri Bergson: Time and Free Will; Matter and Memory; Creative Evolution; The Two Sources of Morality and Religion
  125. John Dewey: How We Think; Democracy and Education; Experience and Nature; Logic: The Theory of Inquiry
  126. F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby
  127. Alfred North Whitehead: An Introduction to Mathematics; Science and the Modern World; The Aims of Education and Other Essays; Adventures of Ideas
  128. George Santayana: The Life of Reason; Skepticism and Animal Faith; Persons and Places
  129. Lenin: The State and Revolution
  130. Marcel Proust: Remembrance of Things Past (the revised translation is In Search of Lost Time)
  131. Bertrand Russell: The Problems of Philosophy; Principia Mathematica; The Analysis of Mind; An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth; Human Knowledge, Its Scope and Limits
  132. Thomas Mann: The Magic Mountain; Joseph and His Brothers
  133. Albert Einstein: The Meaning of Relativity; On the Method of Theoretical Physics; The Evolution of Physics
  134. James Joyce: “The Dead” in Dubliners; A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; Ulysses
  135. Jacques Maritain: Art and Scholasticism; The Degrees of Knowledge; The Rights of Man and Natural Law; True Humanism
  136. Franz Kafka: The Trial; The Castle
  137. Arnold J. Toynbee: A Study of History; Civilization on Trial
  138. Jean-Paul Sartre: Nausea; No Exit; Being and Nothingness
  139. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The First Circle; Cancer Ward
  140. Ludwig Wittgenstein: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus; Philosophical Investigations
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