Great Books Project

A major initiative of this blog is the tracking of a seven-year project to read through the entire 10-volume Gateway to the Great Books series and 60-volume Great Books of the Western World series (now both out of print but available from the linked sellers). You can read the initial post outlining the plan here. The tables of contents for the two series are here and here.

I later amended the project slightly by adopting a schedule of readings that drew from both series simultaneously rather than finishing the Gateway set in its entirety first. Here is the post explaining the change and the reasons behind it.

This post addresses the question many have asked about the absence of the Bible from the Great Books of the Western World series.

The reading schedule for this plan is my own creation. Each Sunday I select six short works or sections of long works totaling around 110 pages for that week and post them (with links to complete texts where available) Monday morning. According to my calculations, this pace of reading will get us through all seventy volumes in seven years. (N.B. The ten-year reading plan published in the 1952 edition of Great Books of the Western World will NOT take you through the entire series. It is more of a “highlights” list. The schedule on this site is much more intensive.)

Each week’s reading list contains at least one selection from each of the four broad categories of literature included in the Great Books series: Imaginative Literature, Man and Society, Natural Sciences, and Philosophy/Theology.

I am building an index of posts I have made as part of this project. You can find it here.

Anyone who is interested in this project is invited to enter the Great Conversation by participating at whatever level is comfortable. Pick a selection from the most recent week’s list, read it, and offer your thoughts or ask a question in the comment section. Or you can mine the archives for other works that interest you and read and comment on those. If you are really ambitious, go back to the first post and start from the beginning!

Since beginning this project in January 2011, we have completed the following works:

Imaginative Literature

Epic Poems:

  1. The Odyssey of Homer
  2. The Iliad of Homer
  3. The Aeneid of Virgil
  4. Milton, John: Paradise Lost
  5. Dante Alighieri: The Divine Comedy

Plays:

  1. Aristophanes: The Clouds
  2. Chekhov, Anton: The Cherry Orchard
  3. Euripides: Alcestis
  4. Euripides: Medea
  5. Ibsen, Henrik: An Enemy of the People
  6. Molière: The Doctor in Spite of Himself
  7. O’Neill, Eugene: The Emperor Jones
  8. Pirandello, Luigi: Six Characters in Search of an Author
  9. Shakespeare, William: The Taming of the Shrew
  10. Shakespeare, William: Julius Caesar
  11. Shakespeare, William: The Tempest
  12. Shakespeare, William: The Merchant of Venice
  13. Shakespeare, William: Macbeth
  14. Shakespeare, William: Hamlet
  15. Shakespeare, William: As You Like It
  16. Shakespeare, William: Richard II
  17. Shakespeare, William: The Winter’s Tale
  18. Shaw, George Bernard: The Man of Destiny
  19. Sheridan, Robert: The School for Scandal
  20. Sophocles: Antigone
  21. Sophocles: Oedipus the King
  22. Synge, J.M.: Riders to the Sea

Short Stories:

  1. Anderson, Sherwood: “I’m a Fool”
  2. Anonymous: “Aucassin and Nicolette”
  3. Balzac, Honoré de: “Passion in the Desert”
  4. Chekhov, Anton: “The Darling”
  5. Conrad, Joseph: “Youth”
  6. Crane, Stephen: “The Open Boat”
  7. Dinesen, Isak: “Sorrow-Acre”
  8. Dostoevsky, Fyodor: “White Nights”
  9. Fitzgerald, F. Scott: “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz”
  10. Flaubert, Gustave: “The Legend of St. Julian the Hospitaller”
  11. Galsworthy, James: “The Apple Tree”
  12. Gogol, Nikolai: “The Overcoat”
  13. Hawthorne, Nathaniel: “Rappaccini’s Daughter”
  14. Hemingway, Ernest: “The Killers”
  15. James, Henry: “The Pupil”
  16. Kipling, Rudyard: “Mowgli’s Brothers”
  17. Lawrence, D.H.: “The Rocking-Horse Winner”
  18. Long, Haniel: “The Power Within Us”
  19. Maupassant, Guy de: “Two Friends”
  20. Poe, Edgar Allan: “The Tell-Tale Heart”
  21. Poe, Edgar Allan: “The Masque of the Red Death”
  22. Pushkin, Alexander: “The Queen of Spades”
  23. Scott, Walter: “Two Drovers”
  24. Tolstoy, Leo: “The Three Hermits”
  25. Twain, Mark: “The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg”
  26. Voltaire: “Micromégas”
  27. Wilde, Oscar: “The Happy Prince”

Novels and Novellas:

  1. Apuleius, Lucius: The Golden Ass (excerpt)
  2. Butler, Samuel: Erewhon (excerpts)
  3. Defoe, Daniel: Robinson Crusoe
  4. Eliot, George: The Lifted Veil
  5. Hugo, Victor: Ninety-Three (excerpt)
  6. Thomas Mann: Mario and the Magician
  7. Melville, Herman: Billy Budd, Sailor
  8. Melville, Herman: Moby Dick
  9. Orwell, George: Animal Farm
  10. Stevenson, Robert L.: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  11. Swift, Jonathan: Gulliver’s Travels
  12. Twain, Mark: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Literary and Critical Essays:

  1. Arnold, Matthew: “Sweetness and Light”
  2. Arnold, Matthew: “The Study of Poetry”
  3. Eliot, T.S.: “Dante”
  4. Hazlitt, William: “Of Persons One Would Wish to Have Seen”
  5. Hazlitt, William: “On the Feeling of Immortality in Youth”
  6. Hazlitt, William: “My First Acquaintance with Poets”
  7. Hazlitt, William: “On Swift”
  8. Hume, David: “Of the Standard of Taste”
  9. Lamb, Charles: “My First Play”
  10. Lamb, Charles: “Dream Children, a Reverie”
  11. Lamb, Charles: “Sanity of True Genius”
  12. De Quincey, Thomas: “On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth
  13. De Quincey, Thomas: “Literature of Knowledge and Literature of Power”
  14. Schopenhauer, Arthur: “On Some Forms of Literature”
  15. Schopenhauer, Arthur: “On Style”
  16. Shelley, Percy: “A Defence of Poetry”
  17. Whitman, Walt: “Preface” to Leaves of Grass
  18. Woolf, Virginia: “How Should One Read a Book?”

Man and Society

Histories and Treatises:

  1. Adams, Henry: History of the United States in the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson (excerpts)
  2. Calhoun, John C.: A Disquisition on Government (excerpt)
  3. Herodotus: The Histories
  4. Jefferson, Thomas: Notes on the State of Virginia (excerpt)
  5. Machiavelli, Niccoló: The Prince
  6. Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich: Manifesto of the Communist Party
  7. Mill, John Stuart: Autobiography (excerpts)
  8. Prescott, William: History of the Conquest of Mexico (excerpt)
  9. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques: The Social Contract
  10. Tacitus: Life of Julius Gnaeus Agricola
  11. Tacitus: Annals
  12. Thucydides: History of the Peloponnesian War
  13. de Tocqueville, Alexis: Democracy in America
  14. Twain, Mark: Life on the Mississippi (excerpt)
  15. Veblen, Thorstein: Theory of the Leisure Class
  16. von Clausewitz, Karl: On War (excerpt)
  17. Xenophon: Anabasis (excerpt)
  18. Xenophon: Marginalia (excerpt)

Constitutional Documents:

  1. The English Bill of Rights
  2. The Virginia Declaration of Rights
  3. The American Declaration of Independence
  4. The Articles of Confederation
  5. The Constitution of the United States of America
  6. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen
  7. The Charter of the United Nations
  8. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Letters:

  1. Burke, Edmund: “Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol”
  2. Franklin, Benjamin: “A Proposal for Promoting Useful Knowledge among the British Plantations in America”
  3. Franklin, Benjamin: “Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania”
  4. Jefferson, Thomas: “Biographical Sketches of Washington and Franklin”
  5. Lincoln, Abraham: “To Horace Greeley”
  6. Pliny the Younger: “The Eruption of Vesuvius”
  7. Voltaire: Philosophical Letters on the English (excerpts)
  8. Washington, George: “Circular Letter to the Governors upon the Disbanding of the Army”
  9. Washington, George: “Farewell Address”

Speeches:

  1. Bury, J.B.: “Herodotus”
  2. Carlyle, Thomas: “The Hero as King”
  3. Faraday, Michael: “Observations on Mental Education”
  4. Guizot, Francois: “Civilization”
  5. Jefferson, Thomas: “First Inaugural Address”
  6. Lincoln, Abraham: “The Gettysburg Address”
  7. Lincoln, Abraham: “Second Inaugural Address”
  8. Lincoln, Abraham: “Last Public Address”
  9. Lincoln, Abraham: “Address at Cooper Institute”
  10. Lincoln, Abraham: “First Inaugural Address”

Essays:

  1. St. Jean de Crèvecoeur: “The Making of Americans” from Letters From an American Farmer
  2. Emerson, Ralph Waldo: “Thoreau”
  3. Hamilton, Madison, and Jay: The Federalist
  4. Hawthorne, Nathaniel: “Sketch of Abraham Lincoln” from “Chiefly About War Matters”
  5. Hume, David: “Of the Study of History”
  6. Hume, David: “Of Refinement in the Arts”
  7. Hume, David: “Of the Balance of Trade”
  8. Hume, David: “Of Money”
  9. James, William: “The Energies of Men”
  10. James, William: “On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings”
  11. La Bruyère, Jean de: Characters (excerpts)
  12. Lincoln, Abraham: “Meditation on the Divine Will”
  13. Lucian: “The Way to Write History”
  14. Macaulay, Thomas Babington: “Machiavelli”
  15. Malthus, Thomas: Essay on the Principle of Population (excerpts)
  16. Milton, John: Areopagitica
  17. Paine, Thomas: “A Call to Patriots” from The Crisis
  18. Plutarch: Of Bashfulness
  19. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques: “A Lasting Peace through the Federation of Europe”
  20. Ruskin, John: “An Idealist’s Arraignment of the Age”
  21. Schopenhauer, Arthur:”On Education”
  22. Swift, Jonathan: “Resolutions When I Come to Be Old”
  23. Swift, Jonathan: “A Meditation Upon a Broomstick”
  24. Swift, Jonathan: “A Modest Proposal”
  25. Swift, Jonathan: “An Essay on Modern Education”
  26. Thoreau, Henry David: “A Plea for Captain John Brown”
  27. Thoreau, Henry David: “Civil Disobedience”
  28. Whitman, Walt: “The Death of Abraham Lincoln”
  29. Woolf, Virginia: “The Art of Biography”

Natural Sciences

Physical Sciences:

  1. Archimedes: “The Sand-Reckoner”
  2. Archimedes: “On Floating Bodies”
  3. Bacon, Francis: “The Sphinx”
  4. Bernard, Claude: “Experimental Considerations Common to Living Things and Inorganic Bodies”
  5. Boeke, Kees: Cosmic View
  6. Campanella, Tomasso: A Defense of Galileo (excerpt)
  7. Carson, Rachel: The Sea Around Us (excerpt)
  8. Curie, Eve: Madame Curie (excerpt)
  9. Darwin, Charles: Autobiography
  10. Darwin, Charles: On the Origin of Species
  11. Eddington, Sir Arthur: The Nature of the Physical World (excerpt)
  12. Einstein, Albert and Infeld, Leopold: The Evolution of Physics (excerpts)
  13. Eiseley, Loren: The Immense Journey (excerpt)
  14. Fabre, Jean-Henri: The Sacred Beetle and Others (excerpts)
  15. Faraday, Michael: “The Chemical History of a Candle”
  16. Galen: On the Natural  Faculties
  17. Galilei, Galileo: “The Starry Messenger”
  18. Galilei, Galileo: Dialogues Concerning the Two New Sciences
  19. Galton, Sir Francis: Hereditary Genius (excerpt)
  20. Gilbert, William: On the Loadstone and Magnetic Bodies
  21. Haldane, J.B.S.: “On Being the Right Size”
  22. Harvey, William: Anatomical Disquisition on the Circulation of the Heart and Blood in Animals
  23. Hippocrates: The Hippocratic Oath
  24. Hippocrates: “On Ancient Medicine”
  25. Hippocrates: “On Airs, Waters, and Places”
  26. Hippocrates: “The Book of Prognostics”
  27. Hippocrates: “On the Sacred Disease”
  28. Huxley, Thomas: “On a Piece of Chalk”
  29. Huxlet, Thomas: “The Relation of Man to the Lower Animals”
  30. Jeans, Sir James: The  Universe Around Us (excerpt)
  31. Lyell, Sir Charles: Principles of Geology (excerpt)
  32. Mendeleev, Dmitri: The
  33. Pavlov, Ivan Petrovich: Lectures on Conditioned Reflexes (excerpt)
  34. Schrödinger, Erwin: What Is Life?
  35. Tyndall, John: Faraday as a Discoverer (excerpts)
  36. Wöhler, Friedrich: “On the Artificial Production of Urea”

Mathematics:

  1. Campbell, Norman Robert: What Is Science? (excerpts)
  2. Clifford, W.K.: “Postulates of the Science of Space”
  3. Dantzig, Tobias: Number–The Language of Science (excerpts)
  4. Descartes, René: The Geometry
  5. Euclid: Elements
  6. Euler, Leonhard: “The Seven Bridges of Königsberg”
  7. Forsyth, Andrew Russell: “Mathematics in Life and Thought”
  8. Hogben, Lancelot: Mathematics for the Million (excerpt)
  9. Kasner and Newman: Mathematics and the Imagination (excerpts)
  10. de Laplace, Pierre Simon: A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (excerpt)
  11. Peirce, Charles Sanders: “The Red and the Black”
  12. Poincaré, Henri: Science and Method (excerpts)
  13. Ptolemy: The Almagest
  14. Russell, Bertrand: Mysticism and Logic (excerpts)
  15. Russell, Bertrand: Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy (excerpt)
  16. Whitehead, Alfred N.: An Introduction to Mathematics (excerpt)

Philosophy and Theology:

Treatises and Longer Works:

  1. Adams, Henry: Mont St. Michel and Chartres (excerpt)
  2. Aristotle: Politics
  3. Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics
  4. Aristotle: Poetics
  5. Aristotle: Posterior Analytics
  6. Aristotle: Physics
  7. Aristotle: Metaphysics
  8. Aristotle: On Sense and the Sensible
  9. Aristotle: Categories
  10. St. Augustine of Hippo: Confessions
  11. St. Augustine of Hippo: The City of God
  12. Bacon, Francis: The New Atlantis
  13. Bacon, Francis: The Advancement of Learning
  14. Bacon, Francis: Novum Organum
  15. Berkeley, George: The Principles of Human Knowledge
  16. Descartes, René: Discourse on Method
  17. Descartes, René: Rules for the Direction of the Mind
  18. Dewey, John: How We Think (excerpts)
  19. Hegel, G.W.F.: The Philosophy of Right
  20. Hume, David: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
  21. Kant, Immanuel: The Critique of Pure Reason
  22. Locke, John: Second Treatise on Civil Government
  23. Lucretius: The Way Things Are (AKA On the Nature of Things)
  24. Plato: Republic
  25. Voltaire: Philosophical Dictionary (excerpt)

Dialogues and Other Shorter Works:

  1. Cicero: On Friendship
  2. Cicero: On Old Age
  3. Epictetus: Enchiridion
  4. Plato: Meno
  5. Plato: The Apology
  6. Plato: Crito
  7. Plato: Phaedo
  8. Plato: Symposium
  9. Plato: Protagoras
  10. Plato: Charmides
  11. Plato: Gorgias
  12. Plato: Euthydemus
  13. Plato: Cratylus
  14. Plato: Phaedrus
  15. Plutarch: On Contentment
  16. Plutarch: On Bashfulness

Essays, Lectures, and Letters:

  1. Bacon, Francis: Essays (excerpts)
  2. Bergson, Henri: An Introduction to Metaphysics
  3. Browne, Sir Thomas: Urn-Burial (excerpt)
  4. Clifford, William: “The Ethics of Belief”
  5. Emerson, Ralph Waldo: “Self-Reliance”
  6. Emerson, Ralph Waldo: “Montaigne”
  7. Emerson, Ralph Waldo: “Nature”
  8. Epicurus: “Letter to Menoeceus”
  9. Epicurus: “Letter to Herodotus”
  10. Erskine, John: “The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent”
  11. Hazlitt, William: “On the Feeling of Immortality in Youth”
  12. James, William: “The Will to Believe”
  13. James, William: “The Sentiment of Rationality”
  14. Locke, John: “A Letter Concerning Toleration”
  15. Mill, John Stuart: “On Nature”
  16. Pater, Walter: “The Art of Life”
  17. Santayana, George: “Lucretius” (from Three Philosophical Poets)
  18. Santayana, George: “Goethe’s Faust” (from Three Philosophical Poets)

Works in Progress

    1. Michel de Montaigne: Essays
    2. Plutarch: Lives of the Ancient Greeks and Romans
    3. Epictetus: Discourses
    4. St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica
    5. Freud, Sigmund: The Interpretation of Dreams

19 Responses to Great Books Project

  1. golddog says:

    I’ve subscribed to your blog (just today), and I need to ask: is there an online version of the Great Books? I would love to own them, but I prefer them as e-books. I’m a librarian, so I can easily check them out of my library, but owning them would, of course, be my preference.

    • Dr. J says:

      The only electronic version of the Great Books of the Western World series (that I know of) is available by subscription to the MyILibrary database. Your library may have access, although access is a bit clunky. Of course, electronic versions of individual works are usually easy to find, and I link to many of them in my weekly posts.

  2. I’m also a subscriber to your blog, and needed to ask: I am looking for a credible source to purchase this set for myself, and my efforts thus far have proven unsuccessful; Could you point me in the right direction?

    • Dr. J says:

      Stephen, I’ve linked to Amazon.com sellers on this page. That’s how I acquired my at-home sets (both the Gateway to the Great Books and the Great Books of the Western World series), and everything went very smoothly on both orders, so I’d recommend that. If you purchase through my link, you’ll help me defray the costs of the site a bit; that would be much appreciated.

  3. chris says:

    First of all, I find it a great idea to do this. Having said that, I can’t imagine taking the list at face value without changing a good part of it ! I don’t have time or the experitse to do this myself, but just off the top of my head I can add the following suggestions:
    - List is missing a collection of poems (not epic ones) by various authors (Eliot, Pound, Frost, etc. etc.)
    - Dostoevsky with one short story is definitely too little; and Tolstoy too
    - under natural sciences, Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything” is plenty good; “Six Easy Pieces” by Richard Feynman
    - “Economics in one Lesson” from Hazlit is missing
    - Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy” should also be on this list
    - St. Exupery “Terre des Hommes,” “Vol de Nuit,” etc.
    - there should also be more comedy on the list ! (PG Wodehouse, PJ ORourke, …)
    - George Bernard Shaw’s “Joan of Arc”
    - No biographies; Chesterton’s biography of Dickens (a classic in the art of biography); Thomas DiLorenzo’s Lincoln Unmasked, …

    Rather than being a list of unconnected peaks, there should be a better attempt at some cohesion so that the list forms a comprehensive understanding of the western culture. Some sort of structures from other cultures should also be here Dante, and more Irish literature seems to be missing.
    I’d definitely take out Marx and some Lincoln speeches and add instead some liberitarian speeches (Basitat, Webster on the Draft).
    Definitly a good start but list needs editing in my opinion

    • Dr. J says:

      Chris, I have good news for you: many of the titles you list above are actually part of this project. We simply haven’t gotten to them yet. At the time of your comment above, we’ve made it through less than 30% of the page count of the two series, and only pieces already completed or in progress are listed on this page.

      I’d suggest taking a look at “The Great Conversation” or Volume One of the Gateway to the Great Books to learn about the rationale behind the pieces selected for the two series.

  4. Gary Stoddart says:

    I subscribed to your blog today and would like to know if I can receive weekly posts from the first the first week so that I can start from the beginning? I can’t seem to figure it out.

  5. James Walter says:

    I just discovered your blog and am looking forward to following along on your project. I’m curious as to how fast you read. How long does it take you to read the 110 pages you schedule each week? I’m sure it varies based on the complexity or difficulty of the specific work, but what would be your time spent reading? Thank you.

    • Dr. J says:

      I usually spend between 5 and 10 hours per week on the readings. I recommend that anyone who finds that too grueling simply proceed at a slower pace (e.g., taking two weeks to do each set of readings) or choosing just one or two genres to read from instead of all four.

      I’m glad to have you along for the ride!

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  7. Jake E. Stief says:

    I find what you are doing to be quit amazing (and inspirational). About 2 years ago I found a first edition of this set in an antique book store for only 70$. I had never heard of the set before, but upon seeing the vast amount of works it included – namely the rarer philisophical and scientific works catching my eye such as Archimedes and odd ball works by Aristotle – and the lack of any redactions or abridgments within the works, I snatched the set immediately. It wasn’t till yesterday that I read the first volume however, the great conversation. I was first under the assumption that I would read straight through the set of books, but later decided it would be a bit redundant, as I probably wouldn’t retain as much information than if I were to split up a few of the collections and essays and do a little jumping around. So, I then came across the ten year reading plan in the back of the great conversation which seemed quit intriguing at first, but when closely inspected I realized it omitted quit a few works and on top of that there was just too much zigzagging, even mid novel in some cases. So, I have come to the inevitable conclusion that I will need to do research on these works and create a reading plan in the order which shall best suit me, as well as ordering them in a way which will lead up to the harder works. I very much like the plan you have and want to say that I will probably refer to it as a foundation for mine. With that said I have a few questions I’d like to ask before embarking on my journey.

    1. Who was the translator for the works of Homer in the second editon? In the first they are done by Samuel Butler, and to be honest, I don’t really care for them. Rather than using the Greek names of the gods the Roman ones are used which I find quit odd and a bit confusing at times. If this is the case I might consider either trading my set out… Or just finding a decently priced second edition to accompany the first… One can never have too many books laying around!

    2. Once you complete the Great Books series, do you intend to read the yearly installments that go along with the set and include further readings which have contributed conversation. Likewise, do you intend to read any of the works listed in the syntopicon after your endeavor?

    3. Finally, how was it that you chose the order of your reading list. Even if you do it week by week, I’m sure there must some logic behind it.

    Cheers,

    Jake E. Stief

    • Dr. J says:

      Hi, Jake, and thanks for your kind words and your interest in this project. To answer your questions briefly:
      1. Richard Lattimore is the Homer translator for the 1990 edition.
      2. I am considering going through the Great Ideas Today series and/or works from the Syntopicon and the Gateway to the Great Books bibliographies after this seven-year plan is completed. I don’t have the Great Ideas Today series right now and would have to track down a set.
      3. I started selecting works from the graded reading plan in Volume 1 of the Gateway to the Great Books series, beginning with the easier works and gradually working up to more difficult ones. I also have a spreadsheet that tracks the page count I’ve completed in each genre so I can keep the reading selections balanced from week to week.

    • John Chronopoulos says:

      What would be really great is an audio version as I am sure that many spend hours driving every day….

  8. Fr. Olsen says:

    Wonderful project! I’d like to jump in and start reading wherever you’re at, so I can join the ongoing conversation. I cannot find your current reading list. Am I looking in the wrong place?

    • Dr. J says:

      The index of posts is not up to date at the moment. If you go to the blog home page, the most recent Great Books post was on 12/23/2013. I try to post every Monday.

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