Why the Great Books?
If you could take only ten books to a deserted island on which you were to be marooned for the rest of your life, what would they be? As Mortimer Adler says, this is no game–we are all in precisely that position. We are unable to read all the books there are; in fact, the number of books we’ll be able to read in our lifetime is shockingly limited. Therefore, we had better choose well. Some books exercise our minds by their rigor and move our spirits by their beauty with every reading, some books help us communicate with and understand our culture because they have been a common element in education for centuries, some books aid our understanding of the physical world by a clear exposition of careful observations by powerful minds, but only a very few books do any of these things well. And as C. S. Lewis says, old books give us a radically different perspective on life and our assumptions, and no modern books can do this at all, no matter how good they are.
As Christians, we understand that ours is an historical faith, one that originated, developed, and grew in certain times at certain places. To study and understand the long stream of history and thought, and to comprehend our place in that stream, is to increase our appreciation of our cultural inheritance, our ability to use wisely and build faithfully upon that inheritance, and our ability to understand and respond to God’s work in history. Another way to put this is that this gives us perspective, and from perspective comes wisdom: the ability to understand our place in time, to judge the important of elements of our lives, and to pursuit our chief end, which is life in God.
The conclusion we may draw from all of this is that the old books are best, and the best of the old books are the best of all. That is why we read the Great Books.
Great Books 1
The Greeks (about 800 – 300 B.C.). Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, etc.
Uses Old Western Culture curriculum from Roman Roads Media. See the “note” below!
Great Books 2
The Romans (about 100 B.C. – A.D. 500). Vergil, Livy, Caesar, Tacticus, Athanasius, Augustine, etc.
Great Books 3
Christendom (the “Middle Ages”, about A.D. 500-1500). Benedict, Bede, Anselm, Monmouth, Aquinas, Dante, etc.
Great Books 4
Early Moderns (about 1500-1900). Donne, Milton, Locke, Pope, Burke, Austen, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, etc.
Uses Old Western Culture curriculum from Roman Roads Media.