Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Only Real Education is a Self-Education: A List of Classics

Here’s a list of 66 classics that you should read before you die, or rather – what is more important – before you really live. I’m talking about life-changing literature. My list is geared toward the modern Westerner but I’ve made it as objective as I can by including only those authors frequently recommended by other well-known authors. There’s nothing younger than 50 years old here because if it’s less than 50 years old there haven’t been enough generations to test it out as a source of truth to live – and thrive – by.

They are roughly in the order I’d recommend reading them. Writings more fundamental to our tradition, though not necessarily easier to read, are first. Less fundamental and more philosophical works come last.

It’s okay to skip a few. I would say if you read just 50% of the books on this list (and you know, read them to understand them, taking it slow as needed) you’re well-read. I’m not pretending to have read everything on this list myself, though I have read most of it.

I would include external links to full texts but those tend to break over time. Just Google them and you’ll find free online versions of most of these writings. Project Gutenberg has quite a few and you can find free Kindle versions on Amazon, or really cheap used paperbacks.

ADDENDUM (4/16/2016):
I had taken the following list from my personal list of classics to suggest to my children as they got older. It just struck me that J.R.R. Tolkien, Aesop, and One Thousand and One Nights were all missing from this post because they were under the "Youth" section of my list. Whether you plan to homeschool (i.e. "unschool") your kids or send them to public school, these are books worth encouraging them to read, since they have proven themselves over the course of at least two generations of children. I've added them at the bottom under two additional categories, "For Children," and "For Youth," bringing the total number of classic items to 102.

To Read First:

Euclid, Elements
The Bible
Charles Darwin, Origin of Species
Cervantes, Don Quixote
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
Sun Tzu, Art of War
Galileo, Two New Sciences
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Thomas Malthus, Principle of Population, 1st Edition
Plato, Early and Middle Dialogues
Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
The Classic Slave Narratives (Life of Olaudah Equiano, History of Mary Prince, Life of Frederich Douglass, Life of a Slave Girl)
Homer, Odyssey
William Wordsworth, Collected Poems
Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind

Once You’re Warmed Up:

Declaration of Independence
The Constitution
Aristotle, Basic Works
Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South
Lucretius, De Rerum Natura
The Magna Carta
Isaac Newton, The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy
Albert Einstein, “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies”
Emily Dickinson, Complete Poems
Ptolemy, Algamest
Copernicus, On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres
Francis Bacon, Novum Organum
Dante, Divine Comedy
Friedrich Nietzsche, Basic Writings
Lou Andreas-Salome, Nietzsche (Biography)
William Shakespeare, Complete Works
Herman Melville, Moby Dick
Abraham Lincoln, Speeches and Writings

Digging Deeper:

Muhammad, Quran
Confucius, Analects
St. Augustine, Confessions and City of God
George Eliot, Middlemarch
Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Rumi, Essential Poems
Ovid, Metamorphoses
Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
Aurelius, Meditations
Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence
The Book of Chuang Tzu
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract
Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy
Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War
Sophocles, Three Theban Plays
Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Now You’re Serious:

Buddhist Sutras
Bhagavad Gita
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Collected Works
G.K. Chesterton, Everlasting Man
Cicero, De Oratore
Polybius, Histories
Plutarch, Lives
Thomas More, Utopia
Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
Leibniz, Monadology
Anne Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy
Joseph Campbell, Hero with a Thousand Faces
C.G. Jung, Man and His Symbols
Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason

For Children (ages 1-8):

Grimm’s Fairy Tales
Mother Goose
Chicken Little
The Little Engine that Could
Dr. Seuss
Margaret Wise Brown

For Youth (ages 9-16):

Nicomachus, Introduction to Arithmetic
One Thousand and One Nights
Perceval, De Troyes
Monkey, Wu Ch’Eng-En
Robinson Crusoe, De Foe
Beauty and the Beast, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve
Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift
Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
John Keats
Swiss Family Robinson, Johann David Wyss
Hans Christian Anderson
Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
American Folktales
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery
Wallace Stevens
William Carlos Williams
J.R.R. Tolkien
Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, T.S. Eliot
Johnny Tremain, Esther Forbes
King Arthur and his Knights, Roger Lancelyn Green
C.S. Lewis
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle
Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut
The Old Man and the Monkey King, Robert Durand and Leslie Morrison
The Princess Bride, William Goldman

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