The Great Books

 

Remember those 71 volumes of the Harvard Classics that you felt bound to read but after many minor starts, you set aside a volume and got lost in that detective series? So many books; so little time.

Well, the dreaded Amazon has published on Kindle all 71 volumes in one mostly well-linked file for a mere $1.99. Worth the price. Only 37,451 pages. I always have five or six books I’m reading, switching from one to the other, depending on my mood.

Currently, I’m reading Harry Jaffa’s “Storm Over the Constitution,” Andrew Roberts’ 1000+ bio of Churchill, “Walking with Destiny,” JK Rowling’s 4th Cormoran Strike P.I. novel, “Lethal White,” (writing as Robert Galbraith, she’s very good), Bernard Cornwell’s “Vagabond,” Michael Walsh’s “Last Stands: Why Men Fight When All Is Lost,” and now Volume 3 of The Harvard Classics, starting with Francis Bacon.

I also have book 3 of the Malazan epic fantasy series on deck, but that series always requires such constant and sustained attention that I have to be prepared for my other books to be set aside.

Ah well. It’s good to live a life where your personal library is not even half-read.

______________

The Harvard Classics:
V. 1: Franklin, Woolman & Penn
V. 2: Plato, Epictetus & Marcus Aurelius
V. 3: Bacon, Milton, Browne
V. 4: John Milton
V. 5: R. W. Emerson
V. 6: Robert Burns
V. 7: St Augustine & Thomas á Kempis
V. 8: Nine Greek Dramas
V. 9: Cicero and Pliny
V. 10: The Wealth of Nations
V. 11: The Origin of Species
V. 12: Plutarchs
V. 13: Æneid
V. 14: Don Quixote
V. 15: Bunyan & Walton
V. 16: 1001 Nights
V. 17: Folklore & Fable
V. 18: Modern English Drama
V. 19: Goethe & Marlowe
V. 20: The Divine Comedy
V. 21: I Promessi Sposi
V. 22: The Odyssey
V. 23: Two Years Before the Mast
V. 24: Edmund Burke
V. 25: J. S. Mill & T. Carlyle
V. 26: Continental Drama
V. 27 & 28: English & American Essays
V. 29: The Voyage of the Beagle
V. 30: Scientific Papers
V. 31: The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini
V. 32: Literary and Philosophical Essays
V. 33: Voyages & Travels
V. 34: French & English Philosophers
V. 35: Chronicle and Romance
V. 36: Machiavelli, Roper, More, Luther
V. 37: Locke, Berkeley, Hume
V. 38: Harvey, Jenner, Lister, Pasteur
V. 39: Prologues
V. 40–42: English Poetry
V. 43: American Historical Documents
V. 44 & 45: Sacred Writings
V. 46 & 47: Elizabethan Drama
V. 48: Blaise Pascal
V. 49: Saga
V. 50: Reader’s Guide
V. 51: Lectures

The Shelf of Fiction:
V. 1 & 2: The History of Tom Jones
V. 3: A Sentimental Journey & Pride and Prejudice
V. 4: Guy Mannering
V. 5 & 6: Vanity Fair
V. 7 & 8: David Copperfield
V. 9: The Mill on the Floss
V. 10: Irving, Poe, Harte, Twain, Hale
V.11: The Portrait of a Lady
V. 12: Notre Dame de Paris
V. 13: Balzac, Sand, de Musset, Daudet, de Maupassant
V. 14 & 15: Goethe, Keller, Storm, Fontane
V. 16–19: Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Turgenev
V. 20: Valera, Bjørnson, Kielland

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  1. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Amen.

    • #1
  2. WillowSpring Member
    WillowSpring
    @WillowSpring

    Mark Alexander: I always have five or six books I’m reading, switching from one to the other, depending on my mood.

    I’m glad to hear that someone else has this affliction!  My wife is a “if you start it, you must finish it” type.  

    I tend to read something topical (right now, Andy Ngo’s “Unmasked”) until I get too depressed, then read a thriller or mystery.

    • #2
  3. MISTER BITCOIN Inactive
    MISTER BITCOIN
    @MISTERBITCOIN

    I recommend Savior Generals by VDH

     

    • #3
  4. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    MISTER BITCOIN (View Comment):

    I recommend Savior Generals by VDH

     

    We can pretty much recommend anything by VDH. Who Killed Homer? is also great.

    • #4
  5. Goldgeller Member
    Goldgeller
    @Goldgeller

    I think there is something to reading the “Great Books” because it puts you in conversation with history and the development of ideas and tropes that are now used commonly in modern writing and it is good to know that. Why? I think part of it is socialization. A passing familiarity with some, though not all, of these works, distributed across the community (the US, high school grads, etc) binds people together.  The question is whether other books serve this purpose. I think so.

    But looking at the list I don’t think I know most of the books even though for most I know they are supposed to be books fancy people read or at least aspire to read. Some are definitely worth reading. Burke, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume are readable. Wealth of Nations is far too long for what it is. Generally, I’d encourage people to read something they like because reading and using one’s imagination is a helpful activity. I’m not sure, unless for professional reasons, why someone would read a book to say “oh yeah I read that.”

     

    Edit: spelling.

    • #5
  6. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Goldgeller (View Comment):

    I think there is something to reading the “Great Books” because it puts you in conversation with history and the development of ideas and troops that are now used commonly in modern writing and it is good to know that. Why? I think part of it is socialization. A passing familiarity with some, though not all, of these works, distributed across the community (the US, high school grads, etc) binds people together. The question is whether other books serve this purpose. I think so.

    But looking at the list I don’t think I know most of the books even though for most I know they are supposed to be books fancy people read or at least aspire to read. Some are definitely worth reading. Burke, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume are readable. Wealth of Nations is far too long for what it is. Generally, I’d encourage people to read something they like because reading and using one’s imagination is a helpful activity. I’m not sure, unless for professional reasons, why someone would read a book to say “oh yeah I read that.”

    I see their value also in terms of increasing attention span, managing complex ideas and the complex sentences needed to express them, increasing vocabulary, extending the ability to appreciate and express nuance, grasping the need for metaphor to artfully point to that which resides beyond words, the sublime.

    For a start. :-) 

    • #6
  7. Goldgeller Member
    Goldgeller
    @Goldgeller

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):

    Goldgeller (View Comment):

    I think there is something to reading the “Great Books” because it puts you in conversation with history and the development of ideas and troops that are now used commonly in modern writing and it is good to know that. Why? I think part of it is socialization. A passing familiarity with some, though not all, of these works, distributed across the community (the US, high school grads, etc) binds people together. The question is whether other books serve this purpose. I think so.

    But looking at the list I don’t think I know most of the books even though for most I know they are supposed to be books fancy people read or at least aspire to read. Some are definitely worth reading. Burke, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume are readable. Wealth of Nations is far too long for what it is. Generally, I’d encourage people to read something they like because reading and using one’s imagination is a helpful activity. I’m not sure, unless for professional reasons, why someone would read a book to say “oh yeah I read that.”

    I see their value also in terms of increasing attention span, managing complex ideas and the complex sentences needed to express them, increasing vocabulary, extending the ability to appreciate and express nuance, grasping the need for metaphor to artfully point to that which resides beyond words, the sublime.

    For a start. :-)

    Those are also really good reasons. But I’d like to push back on that a little, if you want to make it about the “Great Books” compared to say, an average book written for a popular 17 and up  audience. I think you’ll exercise those same muscles and gain the same habits by simply reading. But I’ll grant that perhaps I should qualify that with a “to a varying degree.” I’m just a big believer in reading, so I’d prefer someone to read an airport thriller on the couch over listening to say, War and Peace, if we are talking about exercising those mental muscles. I’d take the act of reading over the act of figuring out a way to consume the contents of a great book. Though I think great books do have a specific socialization value. 

    • #7
  8. colleenb Member
    colleenb
    @colleenb

    I usually have about 3 books going. More than that and I get confused. Currently reading Plato’s Dialogues for a class and then on to The Republic for the same class. I have some A Christie short stories for the current mystery read along with a book on French cuisine for the non-fiction. Along with the February issue of First Things. At least it’s the February 2021 issue and not 2020. I’ve been that far behind at times. Thanks for the inspiration @markalexander!

    • #8
  9. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    I used to be a read and finish, but politics made me incredibly ADD. Where finishing a book would take a week, I’m going on 6 months on one book.

    So I have found myself in the middle of several. Reformation, recommended by a fellow Ricochetti, Safely Home by Randy Alcorn, The Green Knight’s Squire by John C Wright, and if that wasn’t enough I’m reading The Secret Garden to my munchkins. I’ll finish that before I finish Safely Home… which I’ve been reading for over 6 months.

    Sitting in waiting is The Jewish Roots of Mary by Fr Brant Pitre.

    • #9
  10. MisterSirius Member
    MisterSirius
    @MisterSirius

    Just for clarity, while there are five different Kindle editions priced today at $1.99, this is the image of the one linked to in the opening post.

    • #10
  11. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    I’m working my way through the complete Kipling.  Now on Plain Tales from the Hills.

    • #11
  12. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Soon to be the Grate Books.

    • #12
  13. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Introductions on my YouTube channel to some Great Books of philosophy:

    History of Philosophy Cartoons

    Great Texts in Philosophy

    The Philosophers in Their Own Words

    • #13
  14. Goldgeller Member
    Goldgeller
    @Goldgeller

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Introductions on my YouTube channel to some Great Books of philosophy:

    History of Philosophy Cartoons

    Great Texts in Philosophy

    The Philosophers in Their Own Words

    Very neat! I watched The Republic: Just the Basics and it was very nicely done and interesting. It’s been ages since I read or really had to think about much of that. 

    • #14
  15. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Goldgeller (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Introductions on my YouTube channel to some Great Books of philosophy:

    History of Philosophy Cartoons

    Great Texts in Philosophy

    The Philosophers in Their Own Words

    Very neat! I watched The Republic: Just the Basics and it was very nicely done and interesting. It’s been ages since I read or really had to think about much of that.

    I am honored.

    (I think I do better in the cartoon intros to Republic.)

    • #15
  16. Goldgeller Member
    Goldgeller
    @Goldgeller

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Goldgeller (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Introductions on my YouTube channel to some Great Books of philosophy:

    History of Philosophy Cartoons

    Great Texts in Philosophy

    The Philosophers in Their Own Words

    Very neat! I watched The Republic: Just the Basics and it was very nicely done and interesting. It’s been ages since I read or really had to think about much of that.

    I am honored.

    (I think I do better in the cartoon intros to Republic.)

    I’ll take a look at some later. I like to watch things near bedtime. I think it is a good way to put people in contact with ideas that have spanned culture and history. Thanks for posting!

    • #16
  17. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Goldgeller (View Comment):

    I’ll take a look at some later. I like to watch things near bedtime. I think it is a good way to put people in contact with ideas that have spanned culture and history. Thanks for posting!

    In late Republic, as I recall, Socrates suggests thinking about philosophy at bedtime. It tames the beast within and supports virtuous dreaming.

    • #17
  18. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Democracy) Thatcher
    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Democracy)
    @GumbyMark

    Guess I better get rid of my set of the originals which are mostly in storage now.  Take up a lot of room.

    • #18
  19. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    Thanks for the tip, Mark. I had to sell most of my library for lack of space when I moved to a retirement community. These will fit nicely into my Kindle.

    • #19
  20. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):

    MISTER BITCOIN (View Comment):

    I recommend Savior Generals by VDH

     

    We can pretty much recommend anything by VDH. Who Killed Homer? is also great.

    VDH was a one trick pony.  He made his name based on a fantastic theory about privately owned farms and how that influenced Athenian and Greek politics and got Donald Kagan’s attention (“The Other Greeks; The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization.”)  I’ve not read anything else by him that was any good.  I tried to read his novel, “The End of Sparta,” but it was arguably the WORST collection of words ever purported to be written in English that I have ever encountered.

    In short, VDH is severely over rated.  His modern political commentary is rarely interesting or novel; you can almost always predict what tedious point he is going to support.  I’m sure he’s a nice man, but I don’t agree that he is as awesome as some like to suggest.

    • #20
  21. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Call me a bigot, but I hate Harvard’s protected position as the font of all power in our nation so much that I would get the hives just thinking of using their list.  I’m sure there are good books therein, but kow towing to to the Ivy League is repellant. 

    • #21
  22. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):

    MISTER BITCOIN (View Comment):

    I recommend Savior Generals by VDH

     

    We can pretty much recommend anything by VDH. Who Killed Homer? is also great.

    VDH was a one trick pony. He made his name based on a fantastic theory about privately owned farms and how that influenced Athenian and Greek politics and got Donald Kagan’s attention (“The Other Greeks; The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization.”) I’ve not read anything else by him that was any good. I tried to read his novel, “The End of Sparta,” but it was arguably the WORST collection of words ever purported to be written in English that I have ever encountered.

    In short, VDH is severely over rated. His modern political commentary is rarely interesting or novel; you can almost always predict what tedious point he is going to support. I’m sure he’s a nice man, but I don’t agree that he is as awesome as some like to suggest.

    So, you never read Who Killed Homer?

    • #22
  23. Marjorie Reynolds Coolidge
    Marjorie Reynolds
    @MarjorieReynolds

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Call me a bigot, but I hate Harvard’s protected position as the font of all power in our nation so much that I would get the hives just thinking of using their list. I’m sure there are good books therein, but kow towing to to the Ivy League is repellant.

    Are their own students reading them or are the critical theories taking up most up the curriculum😀

    Unlike a lot of you here I can only read one book at a time. I’m currently crawling through The Portrait of a Lady. I like it, but his sentences take time to absorb.

    • #23
  24. davenr321 Coolidge
    davenr321
    @davenr321

    Moderator Note:

    If you disagree with a comment, respond to the content, as subsequent commenters have done. No personal attacks.

    Skyler (View Comment):
    In short, VDH is severely over rated. His modern political commentary is rarely interesting or novel; you can almost always predict what tedious point he is going to support. I’m sure he’s a nice man, but I don’t agree that he is as awesome as some like to suggest.

    [redacted]

    • #24
  25. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    I have a set of the original Five Foot Shelf of Books.  They were my grandfather’s and either he bought them as they came out (starting at age 19), or his father bought them:

    I think the set is first edition:

    • #25
  26. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    davenr321 (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):In short, VDH is severely over rated. His modern political commentary is rarely interesting or novel; you can almost always predict what tedious point he is going to support. I’m sure he’s a nice man, but I don’t agree that he is as awesome as some like to suggest.

    [redacred]

     

    Flagged.

    • #26
  27. Dennis A. Garcia (formerly Gai… Inactive
    Dennis A. Garcia (formerly Gai…
    @Gaius

    Skyler (View Comment):
    In short, VDH is severely over rated. His modern political commentary is rarely interesting or novel; you can almost always predict what tedious point he is going to support. I’m sure he’s a nice man, but I don’t agree that he is as awesome as some like to suggest.

    I’ll do you one better; he’s a sputtering, resentful hack.  Combine a snobbish disdain for anyone without his elite education with a thoughtless reverse snobbery that rages against cultural and geographic elites, and you’ve got 99% of his current shtick. Anyone who’s not Victor Davis Hansen, in other words, can be dismissed via ad hominem–no need to address their pesky arguments.

    • #27
  28. EHerring Coolidge
    EHerring
    @EHerring

    At first, I thought it would duplicate my own The Great Books library from Britannica.I did a comparison, annotating the volumes in my collection beside the same titles in your classics list. I was surprised at the differences. Mine included more scientific and philosophy and less fiction. I guess I need both.

    • #28
  29. MiMac Thatcher
    MiMac
    @MiMac

    I was fortunate to be going thru a used bookstore about 20 years ago and they had a salesman’s demonstration set of the Britannica Great Books collection on sale ( the original 54 volume series) and all but the index volumes were still shrink wrapped in plastic-naturally I scarfed it up. IIRC it was about $300- always thought it was a great buy. Now with the woke cancel culture I feel I might have set up a future Cantilce for Lieibowitz situation. I wanted the set for a long while but was too frugal to pony up over $1000 for the set. My better half always wants me to downsize the library but she never mentions this set :).

    • #29
  30. MiMac Thatcher
    MiMac
    @MiMac

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):

    MISTER BITCOIN (View Comment):

    I recommend Savior Generals by VDH

     

    We can pretty much recommend anything by VDH. Who Killed Homer? is also great.

    VDH was a one trick pony. He made his name based on a fantastic theory about privately owned farms and how that influenced Athenian and Greek politics and got Donald Kagan’s attention (“The Other Greeks; The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization.”) I’ve not read anything else by him that was any good. I tried to read his novel, “The End of Sparta,” but it was arguably the WORST collection of words ever purported to be written in English that I have ever encountered.

    In short, VDH is severely over rated. His modern political commentary is rarely interesting or novel; you can almost always predict what tedious point he is going to support. I’m sure he’s a nice man, but I don’t agree that he is as awesome as some like to suggest.

    You need to look into some of his more recent books-like his Second World Wars or A War like No Other. They are both very good.

    • #30