We haven't forgotten about our ongoing series Read a Great Book Lately? In fact, the next installment is just around the corner. The staff at The Shelf has been professionally and personally weighed down with things lately, so time has been it's usually fleeting self. We do not apologize for it, as those things involve livelihood, family, etc. and deserve our first priority. However, expect us to be more consistent with the usual Shelf antics very soon.
In the meantime, consider this post a supplement to our Book series. Recently Hugh Hewitt interviewed David Allen White, professor at the United States Naval Academy, and John Mark Reynolds, professor of philosophy at Biola University on his radio show. Hewitt asked discussed with them a sort of lifetime reading list of 30 books; a "top 30 you should read to understanding Western Civilization", if you will. Hewitt refers to it as "Hugh Hewitt's lifetime book reading list, or what you want every college freshman and sophomore to read".
I have mixed feelings about lists of this kind. I have been asked for my own list for burgeoning history students, and actually have been asked to post it here (I will in the future). On one hand, I am somewhat wary of them, as they tend to be slanted to the individual and their tastes. But I also find them fascinating for that very same reason; and I always come away with a new book to add to my ever growing "to read" pile. Therefore, I am always intrigued by them. This particular interview was very informative and I believe that everyone would benefit from reading most of the titles mentioned. I am afraid, as we have discussed here before, that too many students and even ex-students (you know, those people who have decided since they are no longer in school, they don't need to learn anymore) will be utterly unfamiliar with these books and so many more.
I am particularly intrigued by a comment (an echo of some of what we've written in the past) made by David Allen White towards the end of the conversation:
"...modern universities and colleges are the biggest fraud on the planet. And they continue to get away from it. They loathe Western civilization. They hate Western civilization, and they will do anything to destroy it, which means destroying the canon. If you don’t teach the young where they came from, and the greatness of the past, you can do away with the whole thing. And sadly, I think that’s what’s happening. Hugh, when I started teaching 37 years ago, I could count on my students having read certain books. We had a body of shared knowledge we could begin with. Now, no two students have ever read the same book, they barely read books at all. It is chaos in the classroom, and the price of these phony educations keep going up and up and up."
For the record, I have personally have read about 1/2 to 2/3rds of the titles mentioned. Pretty sad, but, with the exception of one book, I am at least familiar with them. Again, I disagree with a few of the titles on the list. These things are, to some degree, personal by nature. But it's fun to see what others think and perhaps broaden your own horizons. In regards to trying to read some of these books or others outside of the classroom setting, all I can say is that your own education should not be defined or confined by a classroom. My great grandmother rejoiced at finding new books to read and new subjects to learn until her very last year. It made her mentally agile, one of the smartest people I'd ever met, and wicked at crossword puzzles. She wasn't university educated, but she was educated (perhaps all the more to her favor). She also inspired me and other grands and great grands to educational pursuits. John Mark Reynolds states in the interview:
"Adults can do this as well, but you need to find a good guide, you need to find someone who can help you get through things, and you need to understand that being bored is not a sin. Some things are hard to learn, but they’re worth learning. You need to press on and trying to get what you can. Repetitive reading of books is a great idea. If a book’s worth reading once, it’s generally worth reading multiple times. "
Read the interview, then go try out a title or two. That's what library cards are for anyway.
Reading is a means of thinking with another person's mind; it forces you to stretch your own.