Tag: Classics

12 Types of Amazon Reviewers We’ve All Met


If you’ve browsed the confusing world of Amazon book reviews for any length of time, you’ll find that patterns emerge. Understanding these reviewer profiles can help you begin to filter through the noise so you can actually get a sense of the book’s quality.

The Technician – His review boils down to: Great book, except for a couple of finer points that ruined the author’s credibility for me.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest cohosts Jay Greene and Mark Bauerlein interview renowned U.K. Oxford and ASU Shakespeare scholar Prof. Sir Jonathan Bate, discussing the timeless play Julius Caesar on the Ides of March. Sir Jonathan explains the Roman lessons for American constitutionalism, including warnings against the dangers of dictatorship and civil war. He explores the influence on Elizabethan England and Shakespeare of the classics, including the works of Cicero, Seneca, and Plutarch. Sir Jonathan explains the differing rhetorical styles Shakespeare uses in the funeral orations of Marcus Brutus and Mark Antony, as well as Brutus’ noble though ultimately failed effort to preserve the Roman Republic.  Sir Jonathan concludes with a reading from his book How the Classics Made Shakespeare, focusing on Cicero’s idea of “the peculiarly heinous nature of civil war.”

Stories of the Week

“The narrative that old books are worthless is designed to keep you from discovering that they are not.” Spencer Klavan, author of How to Save the West: Ancient Wisdom for Five Modern Crises discusses the West: why it’s so important to preserve it, how its greatest ideas can still help us today, and the limits of science in addressing modern problems.
Spencer Klavan received his PhD in Classics from Oxford and is Associate Editor of the Claremont Review of Books and Features Editor at the American Mind.
His book, How to Save the West: Ancient Wisdom for Five Modern Crises, https://www.regnery.com/9781684513451/how-to-save-the-west/
Dr. Klavan’s podcast, “Young Heretics,” https://youngheretics.com/
“Hey hey ho ho Western Civ has got to go,” https://intellectualtakeout.org/2019/06/hey-hey-ho-ho-western-civ-has-got-to-go/
Spencer on C.S. Lewis’s science fiction novel That Hideous Strength,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KdutZEHonLc
More on Plato’s Timaeus, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato-timaeus/#:~:text=In%20the%20Timaeus%20Plato%20presents,%2C%20purposive%2C%20and%20beneficent%20agency.
More on Lucretius, a prominent Epicurean philosopher: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/lucretius/
More on Stoicism, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/stoicism/
C.S. Lewis’s The Discarded Image, https://portalconservador.com/livros/C-S-Lewis-The-Discarded-Image.pdf
Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45536/ode-intimations-of-immortality-from-recollections-of-early-childhood

How did Britain become a global superpower? Historian and classicist Ian Morris thinks geography has a lot to do with it. Prof. Morris discusses his latest book, Geography is Destiny: Britain and the World: A 10,000 Year History, which traces the long history of Britain’s complex relationship with the European continent. He draws surprising parallels between characters ranging from the Roman Britons and Nigel Farage, to the Papacy and the European Union.

Prof. Ian Morris is the Jean and Rebecca Willard Professor of Classics and Professor in History at Stanford University, as well as the author of the critically acclaimed Why the West Rules—for Now. His latest book, Geography is Destiny, may be purchased here.

Classics and the Public Sphere


From a WSJ op-ed: “As Tennessee expands possibilities for new charter schools, critics are assailing classical education. Some of these schools teach students about the sages and scoundrels of ancient Greece and Rome.” In The New Republic, a public school teacher from New York seems concerned that classics-focused schools promote “retreat from the public sphere” along with sundry bad things such as “nationalistic exaltation of Western civilization.”

Now, a little thought and historical reading will demonstrate that study of the classics is entirely consistent with participation in the public sphere, including participation at very high levels–in the US and in other countries as well. But the issue is more fundamental than this.  Is participation in the public sphere–which I read in this context to largely mean political activism–really the only thing that matters in life?

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara talk with Professor Bettany Hughes, award-winning historian, BBC broadcaster, and author of the best-selling books Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore; The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens, and the Search for the Good Life; and Venus and Aphrodite: History of a Goddess.

Prof. Hughes shares insights from her most recent book about the ancient deity known as Venus to Romans and Aphrodite to the Greeks, and her impact on our understanding of the mythology and history of beauty, romance, and passion. She discusses Aphrodite’s mythical role in sparking the Trojan War, portrayals of her across Western culture, and enduring lessons. They then turn to the ancient Greeks’ contributions to the foundations of Western philosophy, poetry, and government, and why studying classics, including figures like Socrates, is vital for education in the 21st century. And they explore the timeless wisdom and cautionary lessons all of us can draw from studying ancient Athenian democracy, Sparta, and the civic life of Greek city-states, the West’s earliest models of self-government. She concludes with a reading from her book, Venus and Aphrodite.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Gerard and Cara talk with Dr. Kathryn Tempest, a Reader in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Roehampton in London, UK, and author of Cicero: Politics and Persuasion in Ancient Rome and Brutus: The Noble Conspirator. They discuss the historical, civic, and moral lessons political leaders, educators, and schoolchildren today can learn by studying the Roman Republic and the lives of key figures from that era such as Cicero and Brutus.

Dr. Tempest reviews the legacy of Cicero, the distinguished statesman and orator, whose timeless works, influenced by Greek philosophy, have endeared him to extraordinary leaders through the ages, from St. Augustine to Churchill. She contrasts Cicero’s adherence to limited constitutionalism with the worldview of his nemesis, the colossal dictator Julius Caesar. She also delves into the complex relationship between Caesar and the enigmatic Brutus, whom Shakespeare called “the noblest Roman of them all” for his role in Caesar’s assassination on the “Ides of March.” Dr. Tempest traces the influence of these events on Enlightenment thinkers such as Locke and Montesquieu, and concepts such as the mixed constitution and separation of powers that are so fundamental to the American founding. She concludes with a reading from her biography of Brutus.

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.

Quote of the Day: Rumor Has It


“Ad calamitatem quilibet rumor valet.” (Every rumor is believed against the unfortunate.)Syrus, Maxims.

“Extemplo Libyæ magnas it Fama per urbes:
Fama malum quo non velocius ullum;
Mobilitate viget, viresque acquirit eundo;
Parva metu primo; mox sese attollit in auras,
Ingrediturque solo, et caput inter nubilia condit.
* * *
Monstrum, horrendum ingens; cui quot sunt corpore plumæ
Tot vigiles oculi subter, mirabile dictu,
Tot linguæ, totidem ora sonant, tot subrigit aures.”

“Call Me Ishmael”


I love to read. Always have. I’ve probably read hundreds of books. Starting with our family’s World Book encyclopedias and aging Tom Swift melodramas through a forest of sci-fi and non-fiction. Plus, whenever I drive, I love to listen to books. I’ve used Audible to listen to the latest offerings and LibriVox for older in-the-public-domain works.

Recently turning 58, I started to think it was high time I tackled some of the classics that I’ve shunned my entire life. Why have I shunned these tomes? I’m ashamed to say they looked too heavy, in literary depth as well as weight. But, chastising myself for being such a lazy lout, I’ve started to take on these “serious” titles. For instance, I’m a few pages into the infamous War and Peace after having read a scholarly volume about the Napoleonic wars from a Russian viewpoint.

But, getting back to the title of my post, I’ve just completed listening to Melville’s Moby Dick, or the Whale as read by a wonderful reciter by the name of Stewart Wills. If it had not been for the precise and melodious elocution of Mr. Wills, I don’t think I could have gotten through those 135 chapters and epilogue.

My Belated Book Report on The Brothers Karamazov


The Brothers Karamazov is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s final masterpiece. It offers superb characterization, psychological depth and insight; intrigue, murder, and suspense; great daubs of humor, both madcap broadsides and satirical with a capital slice; that never-ending, cyclonical struggle between faith and reason; a sublimely Slavic melange of love, lust, deception, betrayal, violence, flight, revenge, apostasy, and redemption—capped off by a court trial scene that overrules Perry Mason and, in the renowned chapter The Grand Inquisitor, a full-court press by an impassioned Hierarch against Jesus’ abandonment of mankind to a terrifying freedom and overwhelming spiritual responsibility it neither wanted nor could manage that alone is worth the price of the book.

All right, I didn’t write the paragraph above (stole it from here), but it’s similar to what I would have cribbed from my CliffsNotes had I spent high school reading classics instead of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the D&D Monster Manual. A few years back I decided to make up for my literature deficit by reading at least one classic a year. Liked Moby Dick, loved The Kalevala, and 2016 was the year I’d finally read the book that smart people have told me to read for decades, The Brothers Karamazov. So what did I think of this, the greatest Russian novel ever written?

Choosing Books for a Young Conservative


ReaderSilhouetteThis is my son’s last free summer. Next year, he’ll be 16, when driving and working will distend the umbilicus connecting him to home. So, acting on a long-held, half-baked impulse, I’m going to spend this summer discussing books with him.

Since he never reads on his own the books I hand him, I’m reading the assignments right along with him. Here’s my (insanely) ambitious list:

  • From Bauhaus to Our House (Tom Wolfe) completed
  • The Abolition of Man (C.S. Lewis) current
  • The Conservative Mind (Russell Kirk)
  • Architecture: Form, Space and Order (Francis D. K. Ching)
  • Poems: Wadsworth Handbook & Anthology (Main & Seng)
  • Anatomy of Thatcherism (Shirley Robin Letwin)
  • Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson)
  • From Dawn to Decadence (Jacques Barzun)
  • Emotional Intelligence (Daniel Goleman)
  • City Comforts (David Sucher)
  • How the Irish Saved Civilization (Thomas Cahill)
  • The Timeless Way of Building (Christopher Alexander)
  • Introduction (W. H. Auden) to The Protestant Mystics (A. Fremantle)
  • The Painted Word (Tom Wolfe)
  • The Weight of Glory (C.S. Lewis)
  • The Great Divorce (C.S. Lewis)
  • Leadership & Self-Deception (The Arbinger Institute)

I don’t expect to read every word of every book. Certainly, in the case of Kirk, Letwin, and Barzun (at least), I’ll select a few representative chapters.