Reading the Great Books: Three Years Down, Four to Go

It’s that time at the beginning of the new year to take a look back and evaluate the progress on this project I keep harping on of reading the Great Books. If you’ve been following along to any extent whatsoever, you’ll be interested in a few figures I’ve compiled.

Our goal has been to read the Gateway to the Great Books (10 volumes) and Great Books of the Western World (60 volumes). Volume 1 of GGB and Volumes 1-2 of GBWW consist primarily of index material and topical essays; we read the 100-page introductory essay in Volume 1 of GGB the first week of 2011. That left us with 67 volumes of great works to devour.

Of those 67 volumes, we have had readings from 52 so far: all nine GGB volumes and 43 of the GBWW volumes. We have read 13 volumes in their entirety: GGB Volumes 2-4 (Imaginative Literature), 6-7 (Man and Society), 8 (Natural Sciences) and 10 (Philosophical Essays); and GBWW Volumes 3 (Homer), 5 (Herodotus/Thucydides), 33 (Locke/Berkeley/Hume), 36 (Adam Smith), 44 (Tocqueville), and 48 (Melville/Twain). At this point last year we had completed five volumes. As we continue the program, of course, the number of volumes we complete will increase each year as we polish off volumes of collected works we began in previous years. As of now the remaining two volumes in the GGB series and two volumes in the GBWW series are within one or two readings of completion.

In 2011-2013, we read 4,998 pages classified as Imaginative Literature. This total included five epic poems, five short poems, six complete novels (with a sixth and seventh begun), excerpts from three other novels, five novellas, 31 short stories (plus the Canterbury Tales), 32 plays, and 22 critical essays. If I had to pick a favorite from the 2013 readings in this category, I’d choose the Divine Comedy. My least favorite was probably Bunin’s “Gentleman from San Francisco.”

We have also read a total of 4,123 pages from the Man and Society category. This total included four complete histories, excerpts from four other histories, seven complete treatises, excerpts from three other treatises, excerpts from two memoirs, eight constitutional documents, nine letters, 12 speeches, and 157 essays. Favorite from 2013: Wealth of Nations. Least favorite: Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class.

Most challenging for me have been the 3,441 pages of science and mathematics. This total included 20 treatises (with another in progress), one autobiography, two biography excerpts, one complete work of popular science, excerpts from 17 others, two series of lectures, 14 other essays and lectures, and the Hippocratic Oath. I have a narrow field from which to choose here because we mostly spent the year working through a few extremely long works, but I suppose my favorite from 2013 was Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams (really!). Least favorite: Ptolemy’s Almagest (an impressive work, but so taxing).

Last but certainly not least, we have read 4,331 pages of Philosophy and Theology in 2011-2013. This total included 24 complete treatises (with three others begun), excerpts from three others, a spiritual autobiography, 21 short works (such as Platonic dialogues), three letters, three lectures, and about 15 essays of varying lengths. Favorite from 2013: Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. Least favorite: Hegel’s dense Philosophy of Right.

All in all, we have read 16,928 pages from the 52 volumes. What were your favorite selections from 2013? Post them in the comment section below.

The relentless pace of these readings finally caught up to me in 2013. I probably traveled more in 2013 than in the previous three years combined, and we added a sixth child to the family as well. As a result, I failed to make the weekly post five different times. I’ve added pages to the weekly schedule to catch up, and hopefully we’ll be back on the original pace in a month or two.


About Dr. J

I am Professor of Humanities at Faulkner University, where I chair the Department of Humanities and direct online M.A. and Ph.D. programs based on the Great Books of Western Civilization. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy and a member of the faculty at Liberty Classroom.
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2 Responses to Reading the Great Books: Three Years Down, Four to Go

  1. Barbara says:

    Thanks for the update. I just started a month ago on doing these readings. I know you are busy, but I am using as my main entry point. The list of posts haven’t been updated since early 2013. It would be great if those could be brought up to the end of 2013.


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