Reading the Great Books: One Year Down, Six to Go

Happy New Year!

It’s time to take a look back at 2011 and evaluate the progress on this project I keep harping on of reading the Great Books. If you’ve been following along to any extent whatsoever, you’ll be interested in a few figures I’ve compiled.

Our goal has been to read the Gateway to the Great Books (10 volumes) and Great Books of the Western World (60 volumes). Volume 1 of GGB and Volumes 1-2 of GBWW consist primarily of index material and topical essays; we read the 100-page introductory essay in Volume 1 of GGB the first week of 2011. That leaves us with 67 volumes of great works to devour.

Of those 67 volumes, we had readings from 27: all nine GGB volumes and 18 of the GBWW volumes. We read two volumes in their entirety: GGB Vol. 10 (Philosophical Essays) and GBWW Vol. 3 (Homer). As we continue the program, of course, the number of volumes we complete will increase each year as we polish off volumes of collected works we began in previous years. I suspect we’ll complete at least three more of the GGB volumes in 2012, for example.

In 2011, we read 1,654 pages classified as Imaginative Literature. This total included two epic poems, two complete novels (with a third begun), one novel excerpt, three novellas, fourteen short stories, and five critical essays. If I had to pick a favorite from this category, I’d probably go with the Iliad because it had been so long since I had read it in its entirety. I loved many of the short stories as well. Least favorite? O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones.

We also read 1,355 pages from the Man and Society category. This total included two complete histories, excerpts from four other histories, excerpts from two treatises, one memoir excerpt, six constitutional documents, six letters, six speeches, and ninety-five essays. Favorite: Herodotus’s Histories. Least favorite: Thoreau’s “Plea for Captain John Brown.”

Most challenging for me were the 1,137 pages of science and mathematics. This total included five complete treatises, one autobiography, two biography excerpts, one complete work of popular science, excerpts from ten others, eight essays and lectures, and the Hippocratic Oath. Favorite: Euclid’s Elements. Least favorite: Huxley’s “On a Piece of Chalk.”

Last but certainly not least, we read 1,426 pages of Philosophy and Theology. This total included six complete treatises (with two others begun), excerpts from three others, a spiritual autobiography, eleven short works (such as Platonic dialogues), three letters, three lectures, and about fifteen essays of varying lengths. Favorite: St. Augustine’s Confessions. Least favorite: Mill’s “On Nature.”

All in all, we read 5,572 pages from the 27 volumes. What were your favorite selections from 2011? Post them in the comment section below.

Keeping this pace of reading going week after week has certainly been a challenge, but we have proven that it is a realistic goal. That 110 pages per week adds up after a while, and the totals will only get more impressive over time.

Tomorrow I’ll make my post that normally goes up on Mondays about last week’s readings and what’s on deck. I hope you made a New Year’s Resolution to continue with this program, or to start it if you haven’t already!

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About Dr. J

I am Professor of Humanities at Faulkner University, where I chair the Department of Humanities and direct online M.A. and Ph.D. programs based on the Great Books of Western Civilization. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy and a member of the faculty at Liberty Classroom.
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