Sunday, July 26, 2009

great books of western civilization

Say, Plato, read any good books lately.
We've been overwhelmed by teaching, work and the usual contrivances, and no doubt you've given up hope for us like some 17th century sailor lost at sea. I am here to proclaim we are here, and we have been keeping up with our friends on the web when we have been able to. It is difficult for me to keep the Shelf dusted, let alone post anything, while in the middle of teaching. And yet it was an experience with a student and a list I've seen going around on Facebook that has inspired today's post.

Why no, Mrs. Johnson, I don't think those romance novels with Fabio on the cover should be considered literature.Now I know what you are thinking: "JC - since when have you succumbed to the subtle wiles of Facebook. Well that's neither here nor there, but should you be a regular pal of the Shelf and are on Facebook as well- send me a line in my email and we can arrange to "friend" one another. That and puppies should warm the cackles of your heart. Well, at least the puppies will.

Back to my tale- I happen to be teaching a World Mythologies course at the moment, and after one such class a student and I had a discussion on the Greeks and their influence on the development of the West. Having only been recently introduced to "classical" education, the student wondered about how far the influence went, and what really composed a "classical education." Being no slouch in that department, we talked about what, up until the 1960s and 70s, constituted study in the classics and why they are important to understanding our own history and culture. She then asked about what one may have had to read, which lead to talking about books in general.

Shortly after that I ran across a "Have you read these Great Books" list on Facebook. You've seen all of the "great books" lists here and there, including a BBC list going around Facebook. And there are many of them published by Time Magazine, Newsweek, CNN and every other purveyor of information on the interwebs. Be honest...have you looked at these lists and thought to yourself, "That's a classic?" or "I've never heard of that." or "That book just came out last year, and was terrible!"

I've thought much the same, and I might add, thought I and my friends could come up with a more comprehensive list. Since so many of you out there (and my Facebook friends) are avid readers, I thought it would be cool to poll everyone and gather the information to compile our own "Great Books" list and later publish it here and you would be welcome to send it far and wide. Like other lists, I expect to have debate and many who agree and disagree with it. The twist, obviously, is that everyone here will have had a chance to have their say and contribute.

The idea is simply thus: I have decided to make two lists, a Nonfiction (History, philosophy, biography, science, nature, etc) and a Fiction list of 100 books each. What I need from you is a series of suggestions. I will make a set of beginning suggestions below to get the ball rolling (and get some of the more obvious picks out of the way). Please comment on this note below with some of your own suggestions and maybe, even briefly, your reasoning as to why it should be on the list. You can suggest 1 or 10 or 20! I ask only for certain criteria, just to make it easier to compile the list and keep it to 100 each:
Ah, yes, a book, a pipe, a jug of wine and long as you are quiet so I can read.
1. The lists will focus on books of Western Civilization- or of great influence on Western Civilization. While I have read several works by Asian authors and on Asian Civilization, I think that might be a rare thing- and truly deserving of it's own list. This way, our list will be more readily identifiable to everyone.

2. Please include the title, the author and which list it should be included on; while many may recognize the book, I just want to be sure.

3. I would ask that perhaps we avoid books from the last 10 years or so- unless you can make an emphatic case to me and others that it deserves to be there. Books, like many other things, reveal their quality with age. What may be hot now, because of a movie or Book club, may really not stand the test of time 10 years from now.

4. Consider books from all age levels- and if an author, like for example Shakespeare or even Dr. Seuss has multiple works that should be included, I think maybe "The works of..." would suffice in order to include a wider range of authors and material on the list. However, I believe that should be the case only in more obvious or exceptional cases.

5. I think it will be easier to define entry by author- so if there are two essential books by that author- they can be included for that one entry (what do you think?)Or we can list "The Works" as mentioned above.

This is an uncomfortable way to read a Choose Your Own Adventure book.You can offer your suggestion in one of several ways: the most obvious is for you to add your suggestions in the comment thread for this post. The other is for you to email me at with your suggestions. This post will stay up for a last a week to garner as many suggestions as possible. The other method is perhaps a little unconventional. DO you have a friend who you know could suggest some great books? You are welcome to email or link to this post of course, but consider a post of your own that links back to this one, to gather more suggestions from your circle of readers. Then you can forward a list of those suggestions to me, link back to them or email them.

That's pretty much it! I will then compile the lists from all of the suggestions after a certain period of time and if they number over 100 each I will present the complete list and ask everyone to maybe vote on what to take out to pare it down to 100- just for a manageable list. If it the list ends up being 110- or something close like that- maybe I will have everyone vote on which of the 10 or so should be honorable mentions. I will also add suggestions garnered from Facebook as this will be link to, or posted there as well.

Once both of the lists are complete, I will present a separate post for each list, Great Books: NonFiction & Great Books: Fiction and publish them here for you to check off, sound off on, or share. Contributors, and those who posted for the cause as well, will be welcome to publish the list (with at least a link to the original) on their own sites for further discussion.

So send me your suggestions!

Here are a few of mine to get things started (I have many more- but I want to hear from you!):

Plutarch: Lives
Herodotus: The History (father of history)
Thucydides: The History of the Peloponnesian War
Stephan Ambrose: Citizen Soldiers, Undaunted Courage
Alexis de Tocqueville: Democracy in America
David Hackett Fischer: Paul Revere's Ride
Plato: The Republic
Rousseau: The Social Contract
John Locke: Of Civil Government and other works
Machiavelli: The Prince and Other Writings
Thomas Paine: Common Sense and Other Writings
Jay, Madison & Hamilton: The Federalist Papers
F. A. Hayek: The Road to Serfdom
Adam Smith: The Wealth of Nations
Benjamin Franklin: Autobiography
Frederick Douglass: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Fiction: Seriously, you don't have to take his word for it. He said so. I heard him.
Homer: The Iliad and The Odyssey
Dr. Seuss: The works
Shakespeare: The works
John Milton: Paradise Lost
Jonathon Swift: Gulliver's Travels and A Modest Proposal
Edgar Allan Poe: The Works
Herman Melville: Moby Dick
Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales
George Orwell: Animal Farm

Stumped for suggestions or is that title on the tip of your tongue? Or are you merely looking for ideas?
Here are a few websites you might find interesting, and as a bonus, several of them have the text of some of the books reprinted online (if you like reading that way- I prefer the actual book in my hands):
Access The Great Books Online (lots of text online)
The Great Books and Classics (lots of text online)
How Now, Great Books
The Great Books of Western Civilization

When making a sugggestion or thinking of one, consider this: what would you want your children to read, what influenced you, and what deserves to be on everyone's bookshelf. Now is the time to make your voice heard and no longer have the haughty "know it alls" tell you what constitutes a great book or not.

Now don't delay! Comment below and give me your suggestions today!

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

Of course, you don't have to take my word for it.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

repost: happy independence day

Given the events of the past 6 months, does the average person even realize what freedoms are at stake, or even understand our Founding Fathers - who studied the many governments throughout history to find the best way to secure and protect those freedoms- and their legacy? The following is a repost from a past July 4th. While we grill out, hit the beach or lake, or shoot off fireworks - let us remember what, and who, made this possible.

Back in July of 1776, the war for independence was far from over and seemed all but lost. George Washington and the continental army were in New York licking their wounds from a previous loss and unknown to them, they were preparing for another defeat. Some citizens supported their cause. Some did not. Some fed them. Some did not. Things were not looking good for the Americans. Even patriotic citizens doubted the ability of their military to defeat the British and sometimes wavered in their support. America as a society was a "fair weather friend" to these soldiers fighting for freedom and the fledgling government whose vision of independence brought on their call to arms. Yet, during this same time in Pennsylvania the Continental Congress was in session and in the process of making world history. When all seemed lost and it appeared that the popularity of the continental polititions and their ideas was all but nil, they girded their loins and by the inspiration of God Himself drafted a bold document for the world to see and envy for centuries to come.On July 9th 1776 in New York, George Washington ordered that this document ,which was called at this time the "Dunlap Broadside", be read aloud to his assembled army and whatever citizens who may wish to hear. When the reading of the Declaration of Independence was complete the words had inspired the soldiers and citizens so much that they began to celebrate uncontrollably. The words of that document resonated in the souls of those who heard it so much that even in a phase of war where many pondered accepting amnesty from the British in exchange for surrender, citizens and soldiers alike gathered around a statue of King George in New York and removed it's head. The head was taken to their leader George Washington as a symbol of their desire for freedom and their approval of the words read to them earlier in the day.In today's America, we are similar to the fickle citizenry of 1776. Some support our government and some don't. Even some who call themselves patriotic doubt our country's ability to win our military engagements over seas. Worse yet, we have citizens in this country who believe that we are always wrong. There is no mystery as to why our country has been askew as of late. It's the fault of the people.There are good citizens in this country and I hope I am one of them, but the confused far outweigh the understanding people of this nation. Somewhat like the America of 1776, we have been experiencing political upheaval with folks pointing fingers and choosing sides. The resolve and unity of September 12th 2001 have all but disappeared from us. We need something to bring us together to be a nation of one. Once again we need nothing less than devine words inspired by God to touch our souls and remind us what we stand for and what we are made of. For the remainder of today's post I give you those words; the words of the Declaration of Independence. These words at one time were strong enough to cause ordinary citizens to march out and bring back the head of a king and I believe they are still that strong today. Read and ponder and don't forget: today is not just July's Independence Day.

IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united states of America

"When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred. to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

Feel free to comment if the need strikes you.

The time is near at hand which must determine whether Americans are to be free men or slaves. George Washington


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