June 2022

The Great Books

— The foundational texts of Western civilization
The Great Books

We'd all like to read more. If reading older books is more advantageous for gaining knowledge than reading current works, then reading the great books is a smart place to start.

These texts lay the groundwork for future learning. St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, is an excellent site to locate a list of great literature.

I found out that with 150 well-chosen books a man possesses a complete analysis of all human knowledge, or at least all that is either useful or desirable to be acquainted with. Abbé Faria, The Count of Monte Cristo.

Year One

Aeschylus

Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, Eumenides, Prometheus Bound

Archimedes

“On the Equilibrium of Planes,” “On Floating Bodies”

Aristophanes

Clouds

Aristotle

Poetics, Physics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, On Generation and Corruption, Politics, Parts of Animals, Generation of Animals

Amedeo Avogadro

“Essay on a Manner of Determining the Relative Masses of the Elementary Molecules of Bodies”

Claude Berthollet

“Excerpt from Essai de Statique Chimique”

Joseph Black

“Extracts from Lectures on the Elements of Chemistry”

Stanislao Cannizzaro

“Letter to Professor S. De Luca”

John Dalton

“Extracts from A New System of Chemical Philosophy”

Hans Driesch

“The Science and Philosophy of the Organism”

Euclid

Elements

Euripides

Hippolytus, Bacchae

Daniel Fahrenheit

“The Fahrenheit Scale”

Joseph-Louis Gay-Lussac

“On the Expansion of Gases by Heat,” “Memoir on the Combination of Gaseous Substances with Each Other”

William Harvey

On The Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals

Herodotus

Histories

Homer

Iliad, Odyssey

Antoine Lavoisier

Elements of Chemistry

Lucretius

On the Nature of Things

Edme Mariotte

Essays

Dmitri Mendeleev

“The Periodic Law of the Chemical Elements”

Nicomachus

Arithmetic

Blaise Pascal

Treatise on the Equilibrium of Liquids

Plato

Meno, Gorgias, Republic, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Symposium, Parmenides, Theaetetus, Sophist, Timaeus, Phaedrus

Plutarch

“Lycurgus,” “Solon”

J.L. Proust

“Excerpt from Sur Les Oxidations Metalliques”

Ptolemy

Almagest

Sappho

Poems 1 and 31

Sophocles

Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone, Philoctetes, Ajax

Hans Spemann

“The Organizer-Effect in Embryonic Development” (Nobel Lecture 1935), “Embryonic Development and Induction”

J.J. Thomson

“Extracts from System of Chemistry”

Thucydides

The History of the Peloponnesian War

Rudolf Virchow

“Cellular Pathology Lectures”

Virginia Woolf

On Not Knowing Greek

Year Two

Hebrew Bible

New Testament

Dante Alighieri

Divine Comedy

Anselm

Proslogium

Apollonius

Conics

Thomas Aquinas

Summa Theologiae

Aristotle

De Anima, On Interpretation, Prior Analytics, Categories

Augustine

Confessions

Johann Sebastian Bach

St. Matthew Passion, Inventions

Francis Bacon

Novum Organum

Aphra Behn

“The Disappointment”

Anne Bradstreet

Poems

Geoffrey Chaucer

Canterbury Tales

Nicolaus Copernicus

On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

Missa Papae Marcelli

Michel de Montaigne

Essays

René Descartes

Geometry, Discourse on Method

John Donne

Poems

Princess Elisabeth

The Correspondence Between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes

Epictetus

Discourses, Manual

Joseph Haydn

Quartets

Johannes Kepler

Astronomia Nova

Livy

Early History of Rome

Anne Locke

Poems

Niccolò Machiavelli

The Prince, Discourses

Maimonides

Guide for the Perplexed

Andrew Marvell

Poems

Claudio Monteverdi

L’Orfeo

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Operas

Albert Murray

Stomping the Blues

Blaise Pascal

Generation of Conic Sections

Plotinus

The Enneads

Plutarch

“Caesar,” “Cato the Younger,” “Antony,” “Brutus”

Ptolemy

Almagest

Sappho

Poems

Franz Schubert

Songs

William Shakespeare

Richard II, Henry IV, The Tempest, As You Like It, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, and Sonnets

Igor Stravinsky

Symphony of Psalms

Tacitus

Annals

Ludwig van Beethoven

Third Symphony

François Viète

Introduction to the Analytical Art

Virgil

Aeneid

Lady Mary Wroth

“A Crown of Sonnets Dedicated to Love”

Year Three

United States Historical Documents

Articles of Confederation, Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States of America

André-Marie Ampère

Essays

Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice, Emma

Daniel Bernoulli

“On the Vibrating String”

Miguel de Cervantes

Don Quixote

Charles-Augustin de Coulomb

“Excerpts from Coulomb’s Mémoires sur l’électricité et le magnétisme”

Madame de La Fayette

Princess of Clèves

Jean de La Fontaine

Fables

François de La Rochefoucauld

Maxims

Richard Dedekind

Essays on the Theory of Numbers

René Descartes

Meditations, Rules for the Direction of the Mind

George Eliot

Middlemarch

Leonhard Euler

“Remarks on the Preceding Papers by Mr. Bernoulli”

Michael Faraday

“Experimental Researches in Electricity”

Benjamin Franklin

“Excerpt from several letters to Peter Collinson on the nature of electricity”

Galileo Galilei

Two New Sciences

William Gilbert

“De Magnete”

Hamilton, Jay, and Madison

The Federalist

Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter

Thomas Hobbes

Leviathan

David Hume

Treatise of Human Nature

Christiaan Huygens

Treatise on Light, On the Movement of Bodies by Impact

Immanuel Kant

Critique of Pure Reason, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

Monadology, Discourse on Metaphysics, Essay on Dynamics, Philosophical Essays, Principles of Nature and Grace

John Locke

Second Treatise of Government

James Clerk Maxwell

“On Faraday’s Lines of Force,” “On Physical Lines of Force,” “A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field”

John Milton

Paradise Lost

Molière

Le Misanthrope

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Don Giovanni

Isaac Newton

Principia Mathematica

Jean-Antoine Nollet

“Observations on Several New Electrical Phenomena”

Hans Christian Ørsted

“Experiments concerning the efficacy of electric conflict on the magnetic needle”

Blaise Pascal

Pensées

Jean Racine

Phèdre

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Social Contract, The Origin of Inequality

Adam Smith

Wealth of Nations

Baruch Spinoza

Theologico-Political Treatise, Ethics

Jonathan Swift

Gulliver’s Travels

Brook Taylor

“On the motion of the stretched string”

Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Alessandro Volta

“On the Electricity excited by the mere contact of conducting substances of different kinds”

William Wordsworth

The Two-Part Prelude of 1799

Richard Wagner

Tristan and Isolde

Thomas Young

“On the Nature of Light and Colors”

Hannah Arendt

The Human Condition

Samuel Beckett

Waiting for Godot

The Bhagavad Gita

Albert Camus

The Stranger

Daode jing

Letters

Madame de Sévigne

The Devils

Marcel Duchamp

Essays

Ralph Ellison

Invisible Man

Euripides

Alcestis; Medea; Hecuba; The Trojan Women

Richard Feynman

QED

Gustave Flaubert

Madame Bovary

Michel Foucault

Discipline and Punish; Security, Territory, and Population

Gabriel García Márquez

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Edward Gibbon

History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

G. H. Hardy

A Course of Pure Mathematics

Georg Hegel

Philosophy of Nature, Elements of Philosophy of Right

Martin Heidegger

What is Metaphysics?

Alfred Hitchcock

Selected movies

Henry James

The Portrait of a Lady

James Joyce

Ulysses

Soren Kierkegaard

Either/Or

Laozi

Dao De Jing

Halldór Laxness

Independent People

Emmanuel Levinas

Totality and Infinity

Konrad Lorenz

Studies in Animal and Human Behavior

Jorge Luis Borges

Ficciones

Ibn Mājah

The Sunan

Édouard Manet

Art

Herman Melville

Moby Dick

Arthur Miller

Death of a Salesman

Toni Morrison

Beloved

Friedrich Nietzsche

Gay Science

Flannery O’Connor

Wise Blood

Thomas Piketty

Capital

Marcel Proust

Swann’s Way, Remembrance of Things Past

Ranier Maria Rilke

The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

The Rise and Decline of the Roman Republic

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Emile

Bertrand Russell

An Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy

William Shakespeare

Measure for Measure

Oswald Spengler

The Decline of the West

Igor Stravinsky

Music

Voltaire

Candide

Eudora Welty

Short stories

Tennesee Williams

A Streetcar Named Desire

Zhuangzi

The Works of Zhuangzi

Virginia Woolf

The Waves

James Joyce

Finnegans Wake

Kate Chopin

The Awakening

Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God

V.S. Naipaul

A House for Mr. Biswas

William Gaddis

The Recognitions

Neuroscience

Year Four

United States Supreme Court Decisions

James Baldwin

Stranger in the Village, The Fire Next Time

Charles Baudelaire

Les Fleurs du Mal

George Beadle & Edward Tatum

Essays

Elizabeth Bishop

Poems

Niels Bohr

“On the Spectrum of Hydrogen”

Theodor Boveri

Essays

Gwendolyn Brooks

Sonnets from Children of the Poor

Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness

Charles Darwin

Origin of Species

Clinton Davisson

Essays

Simone de Beauvoir

The Second Sex

Louis de Broglie

“Matter Waves”

Alexis de Tocqueville

Democracy in America

Emily Dickinson

Poems

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Brothers Karamazov

Frederick Douglass

Selected speeches

W. E. B. Du Bois

The Souls of Black Folk

Albert Einstein

“Relativity,” “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies,” “On the Influence of Gravitation on the Propagation of Light,” “The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity,” “Does the Inertia of a Body Depend upon its Energy Content?”

T. S. Eliot

Poems

Michael Faraday

“On the Absolute Quantity of Electricity Associated with the Particles or Atoms of Matter”

William Faulkner

Go Down, Moses

Gustave Flaubert

Un Coeur Simple

Sigmund Freud

Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, Mourning and Melancholia, Beyond the Pleasure Principle

Hamilton, Jay, and Madison

The Federalist Papers

G. H. Hardy

“Mendelian Proportions in a Mixed Population”

Georg Hegel

Phenomenology of Mind

Martin Heidegger

Basic Writings, The Word of Nietzsche: God is Dead, Introduction to Metaphysics

Werner Karl Heisenberg

“Critique of the Physical Concepts of the Particle Picture”

Edmund Husserl

The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology

François Jacob & Jacques Monod

Essays

Søren Kierkegaard

Philosophical Fragments, Fear and Trembling

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck

“Zoological Philosophy”

Abraham Lincoln

Selected speeches

Nikolai Lobachevsky

Theory of Parallels

Karl Marx

Capital, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, The German Ideology

Herman Melville

Benito Cereno

Gregor Mendel

“Experiments with Plant Hybridization”

Hermann Minkowski

“Space and Time”

Robert Andrews Millikan

“The Electron”

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Don Giovanni

Thomas Morgan

Evolution and Genetics, “The Chromosomes and Mendel’s Two Laws,” “The Linkage Groups and the Chromosomes,” “Sex-Linked Inheritance,” “Crossing-Over”

Toni Morrison

Song of Solomon

Friedrich Nietzsche

Beyond Good and Evil

Flannery O’Connor

Good Country People, Revelation, The Displaced Person

Sylvia Plath

Poems

Max Planck

“The Quantum Hypothesis”

Plato

Phaedrus

Arthur Rimbaud

Poems

Ernest Rutherford

“The Scattering of α & β Particles by Matter and the Structure of the Atom”

Erwin Schrödinger

“Four Lectures of Wave Mechanics—First Lecture”

Wallace Stevens

Poems

Joel Sussman

Essays

Walter Sutton

Essays

J. J. Thomson

“Cathode Rays”

Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace

Paul Valéry

Poems

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Faust

Richard Wagner

Tristan and Isolde

Booker T. Washington

“Atlanta Exposition Address,” “Our New Citizen,” “Democracy and Education”

Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, A Room of One’s Own

James Watson & Francis Crick

Essays

William Wordsworth

The Two-Part Prelude of 1799

William Butler Yeats

Poems

Hannah Arendt

The Human Condition, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Albert Camus

The Stranger

Madame de Sévigné

Letters

Marcel Duchamp

Essays

Richard Feynman

QED

Gabriel García Márquez

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Edward Gibbon

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

G. H. Hardy

A Course of Pure Mathematics

Henry James

The Portrait of a Lady

Laozi

Dao De Jing

Halldór Laxness

Independent People

Konrad Lorenz

Studies in Animal and Human Behavior

Jorge Luis Borges

Ficciones

Ibn Mājah

The Sunan

Édouard Manet

Art

Thomas Piketty

Capital

Marcel Proust

Remembrance of Things Past

Ranier Maria Rilke

The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

Bertrand Russell

An Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy

William Shakespeare

Measure for Measure

Oswald Spengler

The Decline of the West

Igor Stravinsky

Music

Voltaire

Candide

Zhuangzi

The Works of Zhuangzi

Virginia Woolf

The Waves

James Joyce

Finnegans Wake

Kate Chopin

The Awakening

Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God

V.S. Naipaul

A House for Mr. Biswas

William Gaddis

The Recognitions

Neuroscience

My favourite quote from The Iliad

…There is the heat of Love, the pulsing rush of Longing, the lover’s whisper, irresistible—magic to make the sanest man go mad.
To learn is to live. I see no other option. Once the learning curve flattens out, I get bored.