Great Books

A defense and the (inevitable) list.

In high school, the classical student actively engages with the ideas of the past and present — not just reading about them, but evaluating them, tracing their development, and comparing them to other philosophies and opinions.  This sounds abstract, but fortunately there’s a very practical way to engage in this conversation of ideas: Read, talk about, and write about the Great Books.
To some extent, the division between history and literature has always been artificial; we know about history from archaeology and anthropology, but our primary source of historical knowledge is the testimony of those who lived in the past.  Without the books written by Aristotle, Homer, Plato, Virgil, and Caesar, we would know very little about the politics, religion, culture, and ideals of Greece and Rome.
The study of Great Books allows the past to speak for itself, combining history, creative writing, philosophy, politics, and ethics into a seamless whole.  The goal of the rhetoric stage is a greater understanding of our own civilization, country, and place in time, stemming from an understanding of what has come before us.  “The old books,” writes classical schoolmaster David Hicks, “lay a foundation for all later learning and life.”  The student who has read Aristotle and Plato on human freedom, Thomas Jefferson on liberty, Frederick Douglass on slavery, and Martin Luther King on civil rights will read Toni Morrison’s Beloved with an understanding denied to the student who comes to the book without any knowledge of its roots.
Remember again that the goal of the classical education is not an exhaustive exploration of great literature.  The student with a well-trained mind continues to read, think, and analyze long after classes have ended.
We have supplied lists of Great Books for each year of study; the ninth grade list is the shortest, the twelfth-grade list the most complex.  A few words about list-making:
1) The lists are flexible.  Depending on speed of reading and comprehension, the student might read eight titles, or fifteen, or thirty.  No one will read all the books listed.
2) If the student finds a title impossible to understand after he’s had a good try at it, let him move on.
3) The lists are primarily made up of books that date to each period under study in History; the dates of composition or publication follow in parentheses.  We’ve also included several excellent works of history covering the times under study.  These have no dates following them.
4) Read the titles in chronological order, as they appear on the lists.
5)  List making is a dangerous occupation.  We’ve left important books off this list.  We’ve put titles on it that you may find trivial.  You will encounter many, many lists of important books as you home school, made up by people of all different ideologies; and those lists inevitably reflect ideology.  You can always add or drop titles from our list.

Ninth grade, BC 5000-400 AD

The Bible: Genesis, Job
Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 2500 BC)
The Iliad and The Odyssey, Homer (c. 850 BC)
A Day in Old Athens by William S. Davis
History of the Persian Wars by Herodotus (485-424 BC)
The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides
(Livingston abridged edition) (460-395 BC)
Sophocles, Oedipus Rex (c. 440 BC)
Medea, Euripides (c. 431 BC)
The Frogs, Aristophanes (405 BC)
Republic, Symposium, Plato (c. 387 BC)
On Poetics, Ethics, Aristotle (384-322 BC)
A Day in Old Rome by William S. Davis
The Bible: The Book of Daniel (c. 165 BC)
On the Nature of Things, Lucretius (c. 60 BC)
De republic, Cicero (54 BC)
The Aeneid by Virgil (c. 30 BC)
Metamorphoses by Ovid (c. 5)
The Bible: Paul, 1 & 2 Letters to the Corinthians (c. 58 AD)
The Wars of the Jews by Josephus (c. 68)
The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Roman, Plutarch (c.100)
The Annals of Tacitus (c. 117)
On the Incarnation by Athanasius (c. 300)

Tenth grade, 400-1600

Augustine, Confessions and City of God, Book 8 (c. 411)
The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius (524)
The Koran (selections) (c. 650)
Beowulf (c. 1000)
The Mabinogion (c. 1050)
1066: The Year of Conquest, Howartz Dand
Cur Deus Homo by Anselm (c. 1090)
Life in a Medieval Barony, William Stearns Davis
The Magna Carta, James Daugherty
Aquinas: Selected Writings (ed. Robert Goodwin) (c. 1273)
The Inferno, Dante (1320)
Gawain and the Green Knight (c. 1400)
Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales (selections)(c. 1400)
Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur (selections)(c. 1470)
Education of a Christian Prince (selections)(1510)
The Prince by Machiavelli (1513)
Utopia by Thomas More (1516)
Commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther (c. 1520)
Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin (selections)   (1536)
Aztecs and Spaniards, Albert Marrin
Empires Lost and Won: The Spanish Heritage in the Southwest, Albert Marrin
Faustus, Marlowe (1588)
The Faerie Queene, Spenser (1590)
Julius Caesar (1599), Hamlet (1600), or other plays,  Shakespeare
Life in Elizabethan Days, William Stearns Davis

Eleventh grade, 1600-1850

Cervantes, Don Quixote (abridged)(1605)
Novum Organum, Francis Bacon (1620)
Divine Meditations, John Donne (c. 1635)
Principles of philosophy, Rene Descartes (1644)
Paradise Lost (selections), Milton (1664)
Pensees, Pascal (1670)
Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (1678)
“An Essay Concerning Human Understanding,” John Locke (1690)
Gulliver’s Travels, Swift (1726)
“On American Taxation,” Burke (1774)
The War for Independence, Albert Marrin
“The Social Contract,” Rousseau (1762)
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (1771)
The Declaration of Independence (1776)
“Critique of Pure Reason,” Kant (1781)
The Federalist Papers, Hamilton
The Constitution of the United States (ratified 1788)
Songs of Innocence and Experience, Blake (1789)
“The Rights of Man,” Paine (1792)
Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth and Coleridge (1798)
Pride and Prejudice, Austen (1813)
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (1818)
“Ode to a Nightingale” and other poems of Keats (1820s)
The Last of the Mohicans, Cooper (1826)
“The Lady of Shalott” and other poems of Tennyson (1832)
“The Fall of the House of Usher” and other stories of Poe   (1839)
“Self-Reliance,” Emerson (1844)
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte (1847)
Moby Dick, Melville (1851)

Twelfth grade, 1850-present day

Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engles (1848)
de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1805-1860)
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe (1852)
Walden, Thoreau (1854)
Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman (1855)
Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky (1856)
On the Origin of Species, Darwin (1859)
Great Expectations, Dickens (1861)
Unconditional Surrender: U.S. Grant and the Civil War,
Albert Marrin
Virginia’s General: Robert E. Lee, Albert Marrin
“Gettysburg Address,” Lincoln (1863)
Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, Sandburg (Pulitzer
biography, 1940)
War and Peace, Tolstoy (1864)
The Return of the Native, Hardy (1878)
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche (1883)
Huckleberry Finn, Twain (1884)
Selected Poems, W. B. Yeats (1895)
The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud (1900)
“The Innocence of Father Brown,” Chesterton (1911)
Selected Poems, Wilfrid Owen (1918)
“A Poem with Notes and Grace Notes,” Frost (Pulitzer, 1924)
“The Trial,” Kafka (1925)
“Murder in the Cathedral,” T. S. Eliot (1935)
“Our Town,” Thornton Wilder (1938)
The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck (1939)
Mein Kampf, Hitler (1939)
Animal Farm, Orwell (1945)
The Diary of Anne Frank, Anne Frank (1947)
Invisible Man, Ellison (1952)
Mere Christianity, Lewis (1952)
“The Crucible,” Miller (1953)
“A Man for All Seasons, Bolt (1962)
“Why We Can’t Wait,” Martin Luther King Jr. (1964)
“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,” Stoppard (1967)
“The Gulag Archipelago,” Solezhenitsyn (1974)
Night, Elie Wiesel (1982)

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