Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
T. S. Eliot
Four Quartets
Briunt Norton

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The American by Henry James: The New World vs. The Old World

An American businessman has made his fortune. He goes to Europe to get some culture and find a wife. In Paris he falls in love with a beautiful woman who is from a noble family that can trace its ancestry back to the tenth century. The novel tells how he wins her hand and why their union becomes impossible. She is from a very old noble family. She and her family reek of faded glory, lost power and poverty. Of course that is the relative poverty of a family with a country estate and a palace in Paris. The French Revolution and Napoleon removed such families from power but they do their best to keep a finger in by joining in Papal politics and wars.
Newman is so very American. He had almost no formal education. He is brevetted to brigadier during the Civil War. Then he traveled around the Western US working in many businesses. He finally made a large fortune in some kind manufacturing. Once he is financially comfortable he retires from business and goes to Europe to gain culture. Though he does not know precisely what that means: probably something connected with painting and the opera.
Newman also intends to find a wife while on the continent. The wife of one of his American friends went to school in France and has an old school chum she thinks will be a perfect match for Newman. And this begins Newman’s introduction to the de Bellegarde family. The family is not growing in money or power any longer. And they would not be too harmed by an infusion of cash and new blood from the American. But they are proud. It comes across that the prospective bride’s older brother, Urbain, and mother feel insulted that someone who once was involved in the manufacture of pots and pans would enter their drawing room and treat them as his equals. The younger brother, Valentin, mainly finds it amusing. Newman and Valentin end up becoming friends and companions.
Claire de Centre is not examined too closely. We learn her history: that she is a widow who had an unhappy marriage to an old man she could not bring herself to love. But she mainly remains a lovely and charming ideal. She is beautiful, educated, a dutiful child, graceful and a little bewitching. And there is never an aspersion cast upon her moral goodness.
There are two very similar subplots that tell the stories of women subjected to the carnal reality of Paris. These two women are poor but beautiful and amiable. One of them, Noemie Nioche, schemes to use her charms to become a woman kept by rich men. The other is an Italian who has had most of her money spent by an abusive husband and has fled to Paris to escape him. Valentin has become friendly with her, And he describes to Newman how he is going to enjoy watching her spend the last of her money and then descend into selling herself to survive.
Is this meant to equate in some manner the marriage of a French noblewoman to a rich foreigner to prostitution? That is how a member of that dying French nobility would likely have seen it. There is some indication that this is the case from the way Claire’s mother and older brother treat Newman. They are superficially polite but he is always reminded that he is an outsider. Then after some time as Claire’s fiancé and the Bellegarde family giving a large reception full of the old nobility Newman is told that the wedding will not take place.
Newman is outraged by being denied the bride that he had grown more fond of over time. He comes into the possession of information that is embarrassing to Claire’s mother and brother and plans to use it to blackmail them into letting the marriage proceed. But after a while he decides to release it and go on with his life.
I found the question of why Newman would give up so easily is the greatest mystery of the novel. The narration gives a partial explanation: “nursing a vengeance was, it must be confessed, a rather fatiguing process, it took a lot out of one.” But I found this less than completely satisfying. Newman can behave no differently. He and America represent a new start for the world and new ways of doing things. He cannot behave like a European nurturing grievances year after year and century after century because that would leave him no energy or time tobuild a new world. Also there is something much more compelling in a less than completely accessible Claire. She can serve as a symbol of the beauties of art, religion and culture in general. The European incarnation of these ideals can be seen and appreciated by the American but not fully possessed. If the American does what is necessary to fully possess Claire he ceases being an American and turns into just another petty middle class European.
I would not recommend this book for others to read. But my opinion on this must be severely discounted since I think my temperament makes it inevitable that little of what James writes will appeal to me. I find no fault in it as a work of art. The characters are well drawn and unfold logically. Nothing is wrong with the plot. But someone trying to decide if it is worth their time should consult someone more sympathetic to Henry James.

Friday, December 11, 2009

St. Thomas Aquinas College Great Books List

St Thomas Aquinas is another college that uses only the great books as texts. Everything Below is directly from their site.

The Curriculum

The College's curriculum is an integrated liberal arts program based primarily on a study of the Great Books. Guided by College faculty, students analyze and discuss in tutorials, seminars, and laboratories these works of the greatest minds of our tradition. By daily practice in reading, translation, demonstration, and argument, students form habits of thought and discourse which will stay with them throughout their lives. And by means of these habits, they can better lay hold of the knowledge and wisdom recorded in the Great Books.

The textbooks that most colleges and universities use are soon outdated; they quickly go out of fashion and are discarded. New ways to think about things unceasingly replace the old. Yet a consensus exists among generations of thinkers and writers that certain works have enduring relevance. They never go out of style. Why is this?

Lucretius was a Roman poet and philosopher who 2,000 years ago wrote a treatise called "On the Nature of Things." This title could well describe any of the Great Books. These works - whether philosophy or science, history or drama - describe things as they really are. They reveal the reality at the core of human experience, a reality that - regardless of time or place - does not change. A person hungry for wisdom can return to these books over and over again without exhausting their meaning. These are the books that have the power to shape human events and to change lives.

The following is a list of works read in whole or in part in the College's curriculum. They are not all of equal weight. Some are regarded as masterworks, while others serve as sources of opinions that either lead students to the truth, or make the truth more evident by opposition to it.
Freshman Year


Homer Iliad, Odyssey
Plato Ion, Republic, Symposium
Aeschylus Agamemnon, Choephoroe, Eumenides
Sophocles Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone
Herodotus Histories
Aristotle Poetics, Rhetoric
Plutarch Lives (Lycurgus, Pericles, Alcibiades, Aristides, Alexander)
Euripides Hippolytus
Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War
Aristophanes The Birds, The Clouds

Wheelock Latin: An Introductory Course Based on Ancient Authors
Nesfield Aids to the Study and Composition of English

Euclid Elements

Aristotle Parts of Animals
DeKoninck The Lifeless World of Biology
Fabre Souvenirs Entomologiques
Galen On the Natural Faculties
Harvey On the Motion of the Heart and Blood, On Animal Generation
Linnaeus Systema Naturae
Pascal On the Equilibrium of Liquids
Archimedes On Floating Bodies
Mendel Plant Hybridization
various authors Scientific papers of Driesch, Gould, Marler, Tinbergen, Goethe, Virchow, von Frisch, et alia
Measurements Manual

Plato Meno, Protagoras, Gorgias, Apology, Crito, Phaedo
Porphyry On the Predicaments (Isagoge)
Aristotle Categories, On Interpretation, Prior Analytics, Posterior Analytics, Topics
St. Thomas Aquinas Proem to the Posterior Analytics

The Holy Bible

Sophomore Year


Vergil Aeneid
Lucretius On the Nature of Things
Cicero Offices
Livy Ab Urbe Conditia
Plutarch Lives(Marcellus, Tiberius & Caius Gracchus, Marius, Sylla, Caesar, Cato the Younger, Brutus)
Tacitus Annals
Epictetus Manual
St. Augustine Confessions, On the Teacher
Boethius Consolation of Philosophy
Dante Divine Comedy
Chaucer Canterbury Tales
Spenser Faerie Queen
St. Thomas Aquinas On the Teacher

Wheelock Latin: An Introductory Course Based on Ancient Authors
Martin of Denmark Tractus De Modis Significandi
Horace, Cicero Selections
St. Thomas Aquinas Selections
Canon of the Mass

Plato Timaeus
Ptolemy Almagest
Copernicus Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres
Apollonius On Conic Sections
Kepler Epitome of Copernican Astronomy, Astronomia Nova
Archimedes On Conoids and Spheroids

Aristotle On Generation and Corruption
St. Thomas Aquinas On the Principles of Nature,
On the Combination of the Elements
Lavoisier Elements of Chemistry
Avogadro Masses and Proportions of Elementary Molecules
Dalton Proportion of Gases in the Atmosphere
Gay-Lussac Combination of Gaseous Substances
Pascal Treatise on the Weight of the Mass of the Air
various authors Scientific papers of Berthollet, Couper, Lavoisier, Mendeleev, Richter, Wollaston, Cannizzaro, et alia
Atomic Theory Manual

Pre-Socratic Philosophers Fragments
Aristotle Physics
On the Soul


St. Augustine On Christian Doctrine,On the Spirit and the Letter, On Nature and Grace, On the Gift of Perseverance, On the Predestination of the Saints, City of God
St. Athanasius On the Incarnation
Gaunilo On Behalf of the Fool
St. Anselm Proslogion, Reply to Gaunilo
St. John Damascene An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith
Return to top
Junior Year


Cervantes Don Quixote
St. Thomas Aquinas On Kingship, Summa Theologiae
Machiavelli The Prince, Discourses
Bacon The Great Instauration, Novum Organum
Shakespeare Julius Caesar, King Richard the Second, King Henry the Fourth: Part One, Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Macbeth, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, Sonnets
Montaigne Essays
Descartes Discourse on Method, Meditations, Rules for the Direction of the Mind
Pascal Pensées
Hobbes Leviathan
Locke Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Second Essay on Civil Government
Berkeley Treatise Concerning Human Understanding
Hume An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
Swift Gulliver's Travels
Milton Paradise Lost
Gibbon Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Corneille Le Cid
Racine Phaedre
Rousseau Social Contract, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality
Spinoza Theologico-Political Treatise
various authors Articles of Confederation
Declaration of Independence
U.S. Constitution
Hamilton, Madison, Jay Federalist Papers
Smith Wealth of Nations
Kant Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, Critique of Pure Reason, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals
Leibniz Discourse on Metaphysics

Plato Timaeus
Boethius On Music
Mozart Sonatas
Gustin Tonality

Viete Standard Enumeration of Geometric Results, Introduction to the Analytic Art
Descartes Geometry
Archimedes Quadrature of the Parabola
Griffin Mathematical Analysis
various authors Mathematical works of Hippocrates, Archimedes, Cavalieri, Pascal, Leibniz, Bernoulli, Newton, Berkeley, Bolzano, et alia

Descartes Principles of Philosophy
Galileo Two New Sciences
Newton Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy
Aristotle Nicom. Ethics

St. Thomas Aquinas
Summa Theologiae:

On Sacred Doctrine
On God
On Law

Return to top
Senior Year


Tolstoy War and Peace
Goethe Faust
Hegel Phenomenology of Mind, Philosophy of History
Flaubert Three Tales
Feuerbach Essence of Christianity
J. S. Mill Utilitarianism
Marx Capital, Communist Manifesto, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, German Ideology
Melville Billy Budd
Willa Cather My Antonia
Engels Quantity and Quality, Negation of the Negation
Darwin Origin of Species
Nietzsche Beyond Good and Evil, Use and Abuse of History
Twain Huckleberry Finn
Austen Emma
Freud General Introduction to Psychoanalysis
Jung Analytical Psychology
Newman Development of Christian Doctrine
Kierkegaard Fear and Trembling, Philosophical Fragments
Ibsen A Doll's House
Dostoyevski Brothers Karamazov
Eliot Ash Wednesday, Journey of the Magi, The Waste Land
St. Pius X Pascendi Dominici Gregis
Leo XIII Aeterni Patris, Rerum Novarum
Pius XI Quadragesimo Anno
Pius XII Humani Generis
Vatican II Lumen Gentium
Plato Phaedrus
Vico The New Science
Tocqueville Democracy in America, The Old Regime and the French Revolution
Husserl The Idea of Phenomenology
Lincoln and Douglas Debates
Flannery O'Connor A Good Man is Hard to Find, The Enduring Chill
St. Thomas Aquinas The Division and Method of the Sciences

Pascal Generation of Conic Sections
Taylor Integral Calculus
Dedekind Essay on the Theory of Numbers
Lobachevski Geometrical Researches on the Theory of Parallels

Einstein Relativity: The Special and General Theory
Huygens Treatise on Light
Newton Optiks
Maxwell A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism
Gilbert De Magnete
Ampere Papers
various authors Mechanics, Waves, and Optics Manual
Electricity and Magnetism Manual

Aristotle Physics, Metaphysics
St. Thomas Aquinas On Being and Essence

St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae: On the Trinity, On the Sacraments, On the Passion of Christ

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

St. Johns College Great Books Reading List

St. Johns College uses the great books instead of traditional text books. This link will take you to a Quick Time video of students and teachers from this unusual school discussing their experiences.

The Reading List
The reading list that serves as the core of the St. John's College curriculum had its beginnings at Columbia College, at the University of Chicago, and at the University of Virginia. Since 1937, the list of books has been under continued review at St. John's College. The distribution of the books over the four years is significant. Something over 2,000 years of intellectual history form the background of the first two years; about 300 years of history form the background for almost twice as many authors in the last two years.
The first year is devoted to Greek authors and their pioneering understanding of the liberal arts; the second year contains books from the Roman, medieval, and Renaissance periods; the third year has books of the 17th and 18th centuries, most of which were written in modern languages; the fourth year brings the reading into the 19th and 20th centuries.
The chronological order in which the books are read is primarily a matter of convenience and intelligibility; it does not imply a historical approach to the subject matter. The St. John's curriculum seeks to convey to students an understanding of the fundamental problems that human beings have to face today and at all times. It invites them to reflect both on their continuities and their discontinuities.
HOMER: Iliad, Odyssey
AESCHYLUS: Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, Eumenides, Prometheus Bound
SOPHOCLES: Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone, Philoctetes, Ajax
THUCYDIDES: Peloponnesian War
EURIPIDES: Hippolytus, Bacchae
HERODOTUS: Histories
PLATO: Meno, Gorgias, Republic, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Symposium, Parmenides, Theaetetus, Sophist, Timaeus, Phaedrus
ARISTOTLE: Poetics, Physics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, On Generation and Corruption, Politics, Parts of Animals, Generation of Animals
EUCLID: Elements
LUCRETIUS: On the Nature of Things
PLUTARCH: Lycurgus, Solon
NICOMACHUS: Arithmetic
LAVOISIER: Elements of Chemistry
HARVEY: Motion of the Heart and Blood
Essays by: Archimedes, Fahrenheit, Avogadro, Dalton, Cannizzaro, Virchow, Mariotte, Driesch, Gay-Lussac, Spemann, Stears, J.J. Thompson, Mendeleyev, Berthollet, J.L. Proust
THE BIBLE: New Testament
ARISTOTLE: De Anima, On Interpretation, Prior Analytics, Categories
VIRGIL: Aeneid
PLUTARCH: "Caesar," "Cato the Younger," "Antony," "Brutus"
EPICTETUS: Discourses, Manual
PTOLEMY: Almagest
PLOTINUS: The Enneads
AUGUSTINE: Confessions
MAIMONIDES: Guide for the Perplexed
ST. ANSELM: Proslogium
AQUINAS: Summa Theologica
DANTE: Divine Comedy
CHAUCER: Canterbury Tales
MACHIAVELLI: The Prince, Discourses
KEPLER: Epitome IV
RABELAIS: Gargantua and Pantagruel
PALESTRINA: Missa Papae Marcelli
VIETE: Introduction to the Analytical Art
BACON: Novum Organum
SHAKESPEARE: Richard II, Henry IV, The Tempest, As You Like It, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, and Sonnets
POEMS BY: Marvell, Donne, and other 16th- and 17th-century poets
DESCARTES: Geometry, Discourse on Method
PASCAL: Generation of Conic Sections
BACH: St. Matthew Passion, Inventions
HAYDN: Quartets
MOZART: Operas
BEETHOVEN: Third Symphony
STRAVINSKY: Symphony of Psalms
CERVANTES: Don Quixote
GALILEO: Two New Sciences
HOBBES: Leviathan
DESCARTES: Meditations, Rules for the Direction of the Mind
MILTON: Paradise Lost
PASCAL: Pensees
HUYGENS: Treatise on Light, On the Movement of Bodies by Impact
ELIOT: Middlemarch
SPINOZA: Theological-Political Treatise
LOCKE: Second Treatise of Government
RACINE: Phaedre
NEWTON: Principia Mathematica
KEPLER: Epitome IV
LEIBNIZ: Monadology, Discourse on Metaphysics, Essay On Dynamics, Philosophical Essays, Principles of Nature and Grace
SWIFT: Gulliver's Travels
HUME: Treatise of Human Nature
ROUSSEAU: Social Contract, The Origin of Inequality
MOLIERE: Le Misanthrope
ADAM SMITH: Wealth of Nations
KANT: Critique of Pure Reason, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals
MOZART: Don Giovanni
JANE AUSTEN: Pride and Prejudice
DEDEKIND: "Essay on the Theory of Numbers"
"Articles of Confederation," "Declaration of Independence," "Constitution of the United States of America"
TWAIN: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
WORDSWORTH: The Two Part Prelude of 1799
Essays by: Young, Taylor, Euler, D. Bernoulli, Orsted, Ampere, Faraday, Maxwell
Supreme Court opinions
DARWIN: Origin of Species
HEGEL: Phenomenology of Mind, "Logic" (from the Encyclopedia)
LOBACHEVSKY: Theory of Parallels
TOCQUEVILLE: Democracy in America
LINCOLN: Selected Speeches
KIERKEGAARD: Philosophical Fragments, Fear and Trembling
WAGNER: Tristan and Isolde
MARX: Capital, Political and Economic Manuscripts of 1844, The German Ideology
DOSTOEVSKI: Brothers Karamazov
TOLSTOY: War and Peace
MELVILLE: Benito Cereno
O'CONNOR: Selected Stories
WILLIAM JAMES; Psychology, Briefer Course
NIETZSCHE: Beyond Good and Evil
FREUD: Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis
BOOKER T. WASHINGTON: Selected Writings
DUBOIS: The Souls of Black Folk
HUSSERL: Crisis of the European Sciences
HEIDEGGER: Basic Writings
EINSTEIN: Selected papers
CONRAD: Heart of Darkness
FAULKNER: Go Down Moses
FLAUBERT: Un Coeur Simple
WOOLF: Mrs. Dalloway
Poems by: Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Valery, Rimbaud
Essays by: Faraday, J.J. Thomson, Millikan, Minkowski, Rutherford, Davisson, Schrodinger, Bohr, Maxwell, de Broglie, Heisenberg, Mendel, Boveri, Sutton, Morgan, Beadle & Tatum, Sussman, Watson & Crick, Jacob & Monod, Hardy

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Education Is the Sense That Certain Questions Must Be Answered by Hegel Not Oprah

Martin Seymour-Smith's List of the 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written

At the time of his death in 1998 the New York Times described Martin Seymour-Smith as, "a British literary critic, biographer, editor and poet whose more than 40 books ranged from an annotated compilation of Shakespeare's ''Sonnets'' in the original spelling to stylish, opinionated biographies of Rudyard Kipling, Robert Graves and Thomas Hardy."
His list is at this link.It is a good guide. The inclusion of Beauvoir and Mao demonstrate that such lists inevitably suffer from the temporal provincialism that no human can escape. Except for the inclusion of the Koran the Muslim world is mostly left out. That world is given much attention by Aquinas and Gibbon and maybe that world is too exclusive and monomaniacal to create much of value in science, history or political philosophy. But I suspect that there are many hidden treasures of poetry and fiction there. I would recommend Naguib Mafouz's Cairo Trilogy to anyone desiring a peek into the world of Islam. Mafouz knows the Western tradition but is always Egyptian to the core and is not ashamed of his Muslim roots.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Conservative Novels?

The site Hey Miller is in the process of compiling a list of conservative novels. The comments would be of interest to book lovers. I am going to reproduce my comment here in hopes of spurring some discussion.

"I am intrigued by the category being considered at all. Why do we read novels? To experience beauty? To learn more about the human condition? For entertainment and to pass the time? I think that it tends to be a mixture of all of these. If I am reading mainly for entertainment, sure, I don't want a bunch of leftie foolishness invading my free time. But some of those lefties write very well and can be entertaining, e. g., Norman Mailer can deliver on occasion and Ken Kesey can be good. And I am secure enough in my world view that I think Sholokhov is not going to turn me into a commie.
"If I am reading to experience beauty I don't think conservative values are in jeopardy. Since truth is an element of beauty conservatism will tend to win out. Or the mind automatically makes adjustments to neutralize the lies. My favorite example would be James Joyce. He was an atheist and a socialist but still a great artist who wrote beautiful and entertaining books. His characters are interesting and and frighteningly real. And he does us the favor of not pushing his politics on us (though I think that there tends to be a bleakness, emptiness and depression near the core of his works that has been brought on by his atheism). And Joyce's work reinforces conservative values because it is so self-aware of its place in the Western tradition that the reading of his works forces the reader to think about and investigate further so many ideas and books that most nonconservatives ignore or attempt to sabotage.
"But if we are looking for overtly conservative novels I think The Devils by Dostoevsky has to be near the top of the list. It is an all out attack on socialism and progressivism. It shows that these ideologies are all merely fronts for atheism and displays where they inevitably lead.
"I'm surprised no one mentioned The Screwtape letters or Orwell's 1984.
"Waugh is always worth reading. The works of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn are beautiful and an entertaining journey into another world.
"Heinlein's Starship Troopers and The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress bring up issues that conservatives will always think and write about. But if you look at Heinlein's whole body of work the over all judgement would have to fall in the area of weidorama.
"I don't imagine that Faulkner was self-consciously a conservative. But many of his novels delve deeply into the issue of race in America that we have not begun to see the end of. And he looks at the questions from many perspectives and never falls into the useless left wing class consciousness formulas."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

List of Important Nonfiction from the 20th Century

I ran across this list at And So It Goes in Shreveport. It is part of a fascinating post about what books she has on hand to read next and some of the ways she relates to books. For book lovers it is well worth following the link for a peek into the mind of a serious book lover.

************THE LIST**********************

1. The Second World War, Winston S. Churchill
Brookhiser: "The big story of the century, told by its major hero."
Vol. 1, The Gathering Storm
Vol. 2, Their Finest Hour
Vol. 3, The Grand Alliance
Vol. 4, The Hinge of Fate
Vol. 5, Closing the Ring
Vol. 6, Triumph and Tragedy

2. The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn
Neuhaus: "Marked the absolute final turning point beyond which nobody could deny the evil of the Evil Empire."

3. Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell
Herman: "Orwell's masterpiece-far superior to Animal Farm and 1984. No education in the meaning of the 20th century is complete without it."

4. The Road to Serfdom, F. A. von Hayek
Helprin: "Shatters the myth that the totalitarianisms 'of the Left' and 'of the Right' stem from differing impulses."

5. Collected Essays, George Orwell
King: "Every conservative's favorite liberal and every liberal's favorite conservative. This book has no enemies."

6. The Open Society and Its Enemies, Karl Popper
Herman: "The best work on political philosophy in the 20th century. Exposes totalitarianism's roots in Plato, Hegel, and Marx."

7. The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis
Brookhiser: "How modern philosophies drain meaning and the sacred from our lives."

8. Revolt of the Masses, José Ortega y Gasset
Gilder: "Prophesied the 20th century's debauchery of democracy and science, the barbarism of the specialist, and the inevitable fatuity of public opinion. Explained the genius of capitalist elites."

9. The Constitution of Liberty, F. A. von Hayek
O'Sullivan: "A great re-statement for this century of classical liberalism by its greatest modern exponent."

10. Capitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman

11. Modern Times, Paul Johnson
Herman: "Huge impact outside the academy, dreaded and ignored inside it."

12. Rationalism in Politics, Michael Oakeshott
Herman: "Oakeshott is the 20th century's Edmund Burke."

13. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, Joseph A. Schumpeter
Caldwell: "Locus classicus for the observation that democratic capitalism undermines itself through its very success."

14. Economy and Society, Max Weber
Lind: "Weber made permanent contributions to the understanding of society with his discussions of comparative religion, bureaucracy, charisma, and the distinctions among status, class, and party."

15. The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt
Caldwell: "Through Nazism and Stalinism, looks at almost every pernicious trend in the last century's politics with stunning subtlety."

16. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Rebecca West
Kelly: "For its writing, not for its historical accuracy."

17. Sociobiology, Edward O. Wilson
Lind: "Darwin put humanity in its proper place in the animal kingdom. Wilson put human society there, too."

18. Centissimus Annus, Pope John Paul II

19. The Pursuit of the Millennium, Norman Cohn
Neuhaus: "The authoritative refutation of utopianism of the left, right, and points undetermined."

20. The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
Helprin: "An innocent's account of the greatest evil imaginable. The most powerful book of the century. Others may not agree. No matter, I cast my lot with this child."
Caldwell: "If one didn't know her fate, one might read it as the reflections of any girl. That one does know her fate makes this as close to a holy book as the century produced."

21. The Great Terror, Robert Conquest
Herman: "Documented for the first time the real record of Stalinism in the Soviet Union. A genuine monument of historical research and reconstruction, a true epic of evil."

22. Chronicles of Wasted Time, Malcolm Muggeridge
Gilder: "The best autobiography, Christian confession, and historic meditation of the century."

23. Relativity, Albert Einstein
Lind: "The most important physicist since Newton."

24. Witness, Whittaker Chambers
Caldwell: "Confession, history, potboiler-by a man who writes like the literary giant we would know him as, had not Communism got him first."

25. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas S. Kuhn

26. Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis
Neuhaus: "The most influential book of the most influential Christian apologist of the century."

27. The Quest for Community, Robert Nisbet

28. Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed.
Helprin: "The infinite riches of the world, presented with elegance, confidence, and economy."

29. Up in the Old Hotel, Joseph Mitchell

30. The Everlasting Man, G. K. Chesterton
Lukacs: "A great carillonade of Christian verities."

31. Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton
O'Sullivan: "How to look at the Christian tradition with fresh eyes."

32. The Liberal Imagination, Lionel Trilling
Hart: "The popular form of liberalism tends to simplify and caricature when it attempts moral aspiration-that is, it tends to 'Stalinism.'"

33. The Double Helix, James D. Watson
Herman: "Deeply hated by feminists because Watson dares to suggest that the male-female distinction originated in nature, in the DNA code itself."

34. The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Richard Phillips Feynman
Gelernter: "Outside of art (or maybe not), physics is mankind's most beautiful achievement; these three volumes are probably the most beautiful ever written about physics."

35. Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, Tom Wolfe
O'Sullivan: "Wolfe is our Juvenal."

36. The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, Albert Camus

37. The Unheavenly City, Edward C. Banfield
Neuhaus: "The volume that began the debunking of New Deal socialism and its public-policy consequences."

38. The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud

39. The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs

40. The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama

41. Joy of Cooking, Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker

42. The Age of Reform, Richard Hofstadter
Herman: "The single best book on American history in this century, bar none."

43. The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, John Maynard Keynes
Hart: "Influential in suggesting that the business cycle can be modified by government investment and manipulation of tax rates."

44. God & Man at Yale, William F. Buckley Jr.
Gilder: "Still correct and prophetic. It defines the conservative revolt against socialism and atheism on campus and in the culture, and reconciles the alleged conflict between capitalist and religious conservatives."

45. Selected Essays, T. S. Eliot
Hart: "Shaped the literary taste of the mid-century."

46. Ideas Have Consequences, Richard M. Weaver

47. The Economy of Cities, Jane Jacobs

48. The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom

49. Ethnic America, Thomas Sowell

50. An American Dilemma, Gunnar Myrdal
An American Dilemma, Vol. 1
An American Dilemma, Vol. 2

51. Three Case Histories, Sigmund Freud
Gelernter: "Beyond question Freud is history's most important philosopher of the mind, and he ranks alongside Eliot as the century's greatest literary critic. Modern intellectual life (left, right, and in-between) would be unthinkable without him."

52. The Struggle for Europe, Chester Wilmot

53. Main Currents in American Thought, Vernon Louis Parrington
King: "An immensely readable history of ideas and men. (Skip the fragmentary third volume-he died before finishing it.)"

54. The Waning of the Middle Ages, Johann Huzinga
Lukacs: "Probably the finest historian who lived in this century. "

55. Systematic Theology, Wolfhart Pannenberg
Neuhaus: "The best summary and reflection on Christianity's encounter with the Enlightenment project."
Systematic Theology, Vol. 1
Systematic Theology, Vol. 2
Systematic Theology, Vol. 3

56. The Campaign of the Marne, Sewell Tyng
Keegan: "A forgotten American's masterly account of the First World War in the West."

57. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Ludwig Wittgenstein
Hart: "A terse summation of the analytic method of the analytic school in philosophy, and a heroic leap beyond it."

58. Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, Bernard Lonergan
Glendon: "The Thomas Aquinas of the 20th century."

59. Being and Time, Martin Heidegger
Hart: "A seminal thinker, notwithstanding his disgraceful error of equating National Socialism with the experience of 'Being.'"

60. Disraeli, Robert Blake
Keegan: "Political biography as it should be written."

61. Democracy and Leadership, Irving Babbitt
King: "A conservative literary critic describes what happens when humanitarianism over takes humanism."

62. The Elements of Style, William Strunk & E. B. White
A. Thernstrom: "If only every writer would remember just one of Strunk & White's wonderful injunctions: 'Omit needless words.' Omit needless words."

63. The Machiavellians, James Burnham
O'Sullivan: "Burnham is the greatest political analyst of our century and this is his best book."

64. Reflections of a Russian Statesman, Konstantin P. Pobedonostsev
King: "The 'culture war' as seen by the tutor to the last two czars. A Russian Pat Buchanan."

65. The Hedgehog and the Fox, Isaiah Berlin

66. Roll, Jordan, Roll, Eugene D. Genovese
Neuhaus: "The best account of American slavery and the moral and cultural forces that undid it."

67. The ABC of Reading, Ezra Pound
Brookhiser: "An epitome of the aging aesthetic movement that will be forever known as modernism."

68. The Second World War, John Keegan
Hart: "A masterly history in a single volume."

69. The Making of Homeric Verse, Milman Parry
Lind: "Genuine discoveries in literary study are rare. Parry's discovery of the oral formulaic basis of the Homeric epics, the founding texts of Western literature, was one of them."

70. The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling, Angus Wilson
Keegan: "A life of a great author told through the transmutation of his experience into fictional form."

71. Scrutiny, F. R. Leavis
Hart: "Enormously important in education, especially in England. Leavis understood what one kind of 'living English' is."

72. The Edge of the Sword, Charles de Gaulle
Brookhiser: "A lesser figure than Churchill, but more philosophical (and hence, more problematic)."

73. R. E. Lee, Douglas Southall Freeman
Conquest: "The finest work on the Civil War."

74. Bureaucracy, Ludwig von Mises

75. The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton
Neuhaus: "A classic conversion story of a modern urban sophisticate."

76. Balzac, Stefan Zweig
King: "On the joys of working one's self to death. The chapter 'Black Coffee' is a masterpiece of imaginative reconstruction."

77. The Good Society, Walter Lippmann
Gilder: "Written during the Great Depression. A corruscating defense of the morality of capitalism."

78. Silent Spring, Rachel Carson
Lind: "For all the excesses of the environmental movement, the realization that human technology can permanently damage the earth's environment marked a great advance in civilization. Carson's book, more than any other, publicized this message."

79. The Christian Tradition, Jaroslav Pelikan
Neuhaus: "The century's most comprehensive account of Christian teaching from the second century on."

80. Strange Defeat, Marc Bloch
Herman: "A great historian's personal account of the fall of France in 1940."

81. Looking Back, Norman Douglas
Conquest: "Fascinating memoirs of a remarkable writer."

82. Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres, Henry Adams

83. Poetry and the Age, Randall Jarrell
Caldwell: "The book for showing how 20th- century poets think, what their poetry does, and why it matters."

84. Love in the Western World, Denis de Rougemont
Brookhiser: "What has become of eros over the last seven centuries."

85. The Conservative Mind, Russell Kirk

86. Wealth and Poverty, George Gilder

87. Battle Cry of Freedom, James M. McPherson

88. Henry James, Leon Edel
King: "All the James you want without having to read him."

89. Essays of E. B. White, E. B. White
Gelernter: "White is the apotheosis of the American liberal now spurned and detested by the Left (and the cultural mainstream). His mesmerized devotion to the objects of his affection-his family, the female sex, his farm, the English language, Manhattan, the sea, America, Maine, and freedom, in descending order-is movingly absolute."

90. Speak, Memory, Vladimir Nabokov

91. The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe

92. Darwin's Black Box, Michael J. Behe
Gilder: "Overthrows Darwin at the end of the 20th century in the same way that quantum theory overthrew Newton at the beginning."

93. The Civil War, Shelby Foote

94. The Way the World Works, Jude Wanniski
Gilder: "The best book on economics. Shows fatuity of still-dominant demand-side model, with its silly preoccupation with accounting trivia, like the federal budget and trade balance and savings rates, in an economy with $40 trillion or so in assets that rise and fall weekly by trillions."

95. To the Finland Station, Edmund Wilson
Herman: "The best single book on Karl Marx and Marx's place in modern history."

96. Civilisation, Kenneth Clark

97. The Russian Revolution, Richard Pipes

98. The Idea of History, R. G. Collingwood

99. The Last Lion, William Manchester
Last Lion: William Spencer Churchill: Vol. 1 Visions of Glory, 1874-1932
Last Lion: William Spencer Churchill: Vol. 2 Alone, 1932-1940

100. The Starr Report, Kenneth W. Starr
Hart: "A study in human depravity."

This list comes from this link where the names of the editors that made this selection can be found.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Great Books List from Wikipedia

Wiki's choices are not too bad. I suspect a Christian would want to supplement, i.e., many on this list will not age as well as C. S. Lewis.
Homer: The Iliad, The Odyssey
The Old Testament
Aeschylus: Tragedies
Sophocles: Tragedies
Herodotus: Histories
Euripides: Tragedies
Thucydides: History of the Peloponnesian War
Hippocrates: Medical Writings
Aristophanes: Comedies
Plato: Dialogues
Aristotle: Works
Epicurus: "Letter to Herodotus", "Letter to Menoecus"
Euclid: The Elements
Archimedes: Works
Apollonius: The Conic Sections
Cicero: Works
Lucretius: On the Nature of Things
Virgil: Works
Horace: Works
Livy: The History of Rome
Ovid: Works
Plutarch: Parallel Lives; Moralia
Tacitus: Histories; Annals; Agricola; Germania
Nicomachus of Gerasa: Introduction to Arithmetic
Epictetus: Discourses; Enchiridion
Ptolemy: Almagest
Lucian: Works
Marcus Aurelius: Meditations
Galen: On the Natural Faculties
The New Testament
Plotinus: The Enneads
St. Augustine: "On the Teacher"; Confessions; City of God; On Christian Doctrine
The Song of Roland
The Nibelungenlied
The Saga of Burnt Njál
St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica
Dante Alighieri: The New Life (La Vita Nuova); "On Monarchy"; The Divine Comedy
Geoffrey Chaucer: Troilus and Criseyde; The Canterbury Tales
Leonardo da Vinci: Notebooks
Niccolò Machiavelli: The Prince; Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy
Desiderius Erasmus: The Praise of Folly
Nicolaus Copernicus: On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres
Thomas More: Utopia
Martin Luther: Table Talk; Three Treatises
Francois Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel
John Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion
Michel de Montaigne: Essays
William Gilbert: On the Lodestone and Magnetic Bodies
Miguel de Cervantes: Don Quixote
Edmund Spenser: Prothalamion; The Faerie Queene
Francis Bacon: Essays; The Advancement of Learning; Novum Organum; The New Atlantis
William Shakespeare: Poetry and Plays
Galileo Galilei: Starry Messenger; Two New Sciences
Johannes Kepler: The Epitome of Copernican Astronomy; Harmonices Mundi
William Harvey: On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals; On the Circulation of the Blood; On the Generation of Animals
Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan
René Descartes: Rules for the Direction of the Mind; Discourse on Method; Geometry; Meditations on First Philosophy
John Milton: Works
Molière: Comedies
Blaise Pascal: The Provincial Letters; Pensées; Scientific Treatises
Christiaan Huygens: Treatise on Light
Benedict de Spinoza: Ethics
John Locke: A Letter Concerning Toleration; Of Civil Government; Essay Concerning Human Understanding; Some Thoughts Concerning Education
Jean Baptiste Racine: Tragedies
Isaac Newton: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy; Opticks
Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz: Discourse on Metaphysics; New Essays Concerning Human Understanding; "Monadology"
Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe
Jonathan Swift: "A Tale of a Tub"; A Journal to Stella; Gulliver's Travels; "A Modest Proposal"
William Congreve: The Way of the World
George Berkeley: Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge
Alexander Pope: "Essay on Criticism"; "The Rape of the Lock"; "Essay on Man"
Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu: Persian Letters, Spirit of the Laws
Voltaire: Letters on the English, Candide, Philosophical Dictionary
Henry Fielding: Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones
Samuel Johnson: "The Vanity of Human Wishes", Dictionary, Rasselas, Lives of the Poets
David Hume: A Treatise of Human Nature, Essays Moral and Political, An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding
Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, On Political Economy, Emile, The Social Contract
Laurence Sterne: Tristram Shandy, A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy
Adam Smith: The Theory of Moral Sentiments, The Wealth of Nations
Immanuel Kant: Critique of Pure Reason, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Critique of Practical Reason; The Science of Right; Critique of Judgment; Perpetual Peace
Edward Gibbon: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Autobiography
James Boswell: Journal; The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.
Antoine Laurent Lavoisier: Traité Élémentaire de Chimie (Elements of Chemistry)
Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison: The Federalist Papers
Jeremy Bentham: Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation; Theory of Fictions
Edmund Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Faust; Poetry and Truth
Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier: Analytical Theory of Heat
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: The Phenomenology of Spirit; The Philosophy of Right; Lectures on the Philosophy of History
William Wordsworth: Poems
Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Poems; Biographia Literaria
Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice; Emma
Carl von Clausewitz: On War
Stendhal: The Red and the Black; The Charterhouse of Parma; On Love
Lord Byron: Don Juan
Arthur Schopenhauer: Studies in Pessimism
Michael Faraday: The Chemical History of a Candle; Experimental Researches in Electricity
Charles Lyell: Principles of Geology
Auguste Comte: The Positive Philosophy
Honoré de Balzac: Le Père Goriot; Eugenie Grandet
Ralph Waldo Emerson: Representative Men, Essays, Journal
Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter
Alexis de Tocqueville: Democracy in America
John Stuart Mill: A System of Logic; On Liberty; Representative Government; Utilitarianism; The Subjection of Women; Autobiography
Charles Darwin: The Origin of Species; The Descent of Man; Autobiography
Charles Dickens: The Pickwick Papers; David Copperfield; Hard Times
Claude Bernard: Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine
Henry David Thoreau: "Civil Disobedience"; Walden
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: Capital; The Communist Manifesto
George Eliot: Adam Bede; Middlemarch
Herman Melville: Moby-Dick; Billy Budd
Fyodor Dostoevsky: Crime and Punishment; The Idiot; The Brothers Karamazov
Gustave Flaubert: Madame Bovary; Three Stories
Henrik Ibsen: Plays
Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace; Anna Karenina; What is Art?; Twenty-Three Tales
Mark Twain: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; The Mysterious Stranger
William James: The Principles of Psychology; The Varieties of Religious Experience; Pragmatism; Essays in Radical Empiricism
Henry James: The American; The Ambassadors
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche: Thus Spoke Zarathustra; Beyond Good and Evil; The Genealogy of Morals; The Will to Power
Jules Henri Poincaré: Science and Hypothesis; Science and Method
Sigmund Freud: The Interpretation of Dreams; Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis; Civilization and Its Discontents; New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis
George Bernard Shaw: Plays and Prefaces
Max Planck: Origin and Development of the Quantum Theory; Where Is Science Going?; Scientific Autobiography
Henri Bergson: Time and Free Will; Matter and Memory; Creative Evolution; The Two Sources of Morality and Religion
John Dewey: How We Think; Democracy and Education; Experience and Nature; Logic: The Theory of Inquiry
Alfred North Whitehead: An Introduction to Mathematics; Science and the Modern World; The Aims of Education and Other Essays; Adventures of Ideas
George Santayana: The Life of Reason; Skepticism and Animal Faith; Persons and Places
Lenin: The State and Revolution
Marcel Proust: Remembrance of Things Past (the revised translation is In Search of Lost Time; the original French title is À la recherche du temps perdu)
Bertrand Russell: The Problems of Philosophy; The Analysis of Mind; An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth; Human Knowledge, Its Scope and Limits
Thomas Mann: The Magic Mountain; Joseph and His Brothers
Albert Einstein: The Meaning of Relativity; On the Method of Theoretical Physics; The Evolution of Physics
James Joyce: "The Dead" in Dubliners; A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; Ulysses
Jacques Maritain: Art and Scholasticism; The Degrees of Knowledge; The Rights of Man and Natural Law; True Humanism
Franz Kafka: The Trial; The Castle
Arnold J. Toynbee: A Study of History; Civilization on Trial
Jean-Paul Sartre: Nausea; No Exit; Being and Nothingness
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The First Circle; Cancer Ward

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Long, Very Inclusive Great Books List from East and West

A good list.

The Ancient Era

2000 BCE - 8BCE

Unknown, Sumer, ca. 2000 BCE. The Epic of Gilgamesh.
Unknown, Egypt, ca. 1000 BCE. Egyptian Book of the Dead.
Homer, Greece, ca. 800 BCE. The Iliad, The Odyssey.
Hesiod, Greece, ca. 700 BCE. Theogony.
Unknown, Israel, ca. 800-200 BCE.Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, Job.
Unknown, India, ca. 800 BCE. The Rig Veda.
Unknown, India, ca. 600 BCE. The Upanishads.
Confucius, China, 551-479 BCE. The Analects.
Lao Tzu, China, ca. 550 BCE. The Tao Te Ching.
Sappho, Greece, ca. 600 BCE. Hymn to Aphrodite.
Aeschylus, Greece, 525-455 BCE. Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, Eumenides.
Sophocles, Greece, 496-406 BCE. Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone.
Herodotus, Greece, 484-425 BCE. The Histories.
Euripides, Greece, 484-406 BCE. Medea, Electra.
Thucydides, Greece, 470-400 BCE. The Peloponnesian War.
Aristophanes, Greece, 448-338 BCE. The Birds, Lysistrata.
Plato, Greece, 428-348 BCE. The Apology of Socrates, The Republic
Aristotle, Greece, 332 BCE. The Nicomachean Ethics.
Sun-Tzu, China, ca. 500 BCE. The Art of War.
Mencius, China, ca.320 BCE. The Mengzi.
Various, India, ca. 400 BCE. The Teachings of The Buddha.
Chuang Tzu, ca. 300 BCE. The Chuang Tzu.
Valmiki, India, ca. 300 BCE. The Ramayana.
Vyasa, ca. India, 200 BCE. The Mahabharata.
Unknown, ca India, 200 BCE. The Bhagavad Gita.
Lucretius, Rome, 60 BCE. Of the Nature of Things.
Julius Caesar, Rome, 50 BCE. Commentaries on the Gallic War.
Cicero, Rome, 45 BCE. On the Nature of the Gods.
Virgil, Rome, 19 BCE. The Aeneid.
Ovid, Rome, 8 BCE. Metamorphoses.

The Middle Era

6 AD - 1485

Petronius Arbiter, Rome, 61. The Satyricon.
Seneca, Rome 49. On the Shortness of Life.
Luke, John, Paul. Israel, ca. 60-80. The Gospel, The Acts, Epistles, Romans.
Plutarch, Greece, 100. Life of Alexander, Life of Cato.
Suetonius, Rome, 119. The Twelve Caesars.
Marcus Aurelius, Rome, 180. Meditations.
Apuleius, Numidia, 160. The Golden Ass.
Augustine of Hippo, Rome, 410. The City of God.
Kalidasa, India, ca. 410. The Cloud Messenger.
Unknown, Japan, 630. The Kojiki
Muhammad of Medina, Arabia, 632. The Koran.
Hui-Neng, China, ca 700. The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch
Sei Shonagon,Japan, 990.The Pillow Book.
Murasaki Shikubu, Japan, ca. 990.The Tale of Genji.
Unknown, Baghdad, 950. The Thousand and One Nights
Ben Hasan Firdawsi, Persia, ca 1000. Shah Nameh.
Omar Khayyam, Persia, ca 1100. The Rubaiyat.
Unknown, England, ca. 1000. Beowulf.
Unknown, Wales, ca. 1150. The Mabinogion.
Snori Sturluson, Iceland, 1220. The Prose Edda.
Unknown, Austria, ca 1210. Niebelungenlied.
St. Thomas Aquinas, Italy, 1273. Summa Theologica.
Dante Alighieri, Italy, 1321. The Divine Comedy.
Giovanni Boccaccio, Italy, 1352. The Decameron.
Ibn Khaldun, Tunis, 1375. Muqaddimah.
Luo Kuan-chung, China, ca. 1380. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
Shin Nai-an, China, 1390. The Water Margin.
Geoffrey Chaucer, England, 1395. The Canterbury Tales.
Unknown, England, ca 1400. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Thomas Malory, England, 1485. Le Morte D’Arthur.

The Era of Reformation and Renaissance

1418 - 1750

Thomas a Kempis, Germany, 1418. The Imitation of Christ.
Niccolo Macchiavelli, Italy, 1513. The Prince.
Thomas More, England, 1516. Utopia.
Francois Rabelais. France, 1532. Gargantua and Pantagruel.
Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, France, 1580. Essays.
Christopher Marlow, England, 1587. Tamburlaine.
Wu Cheng-en, China, 1590. The Journey to the West.
Francis Bacon, England, 1597. Essays.
Miguel de Cervantes, Spain, 1605. Don Quixote.
William Shakespeare, England, 1601-1613. Richard III, Hamlet, The Tempest.
John Donne, England, 1633. Poems.
Rene Descartes, France, 1637. Discourse on Method.
Pedro Calderon de la Barca, Spain, 1636. Life is a Dream.
Thomas Hobbes, England, 1651. Leviathan.
John Milton, England, 1667. Paradise Lost.
Moliere, France, 1666. Tartuffe, Misanthrope.
Racine, France, 1667, Andromache.
John Bunyan, England, 1678. Pilgrim’s Progress.
Basho, Japan, 1702. The Narrow Road to the Deep North.
Blaise Pascal, France, 1623-1662. Pensees.
John Locke, England, 1690. Second Treatise on Government.
Samuel Pepys, England, 1669. Diary.
Daniel Defoe, England, 1660-1731. Robinson Crusoe.
Bishop Berkley, Ireland, 1710. Principles of Human Knowledge.
Alexander Pope, England, 1714. The Rape of the Lock
Jonathan Swift, Ireland, 1735. Gulliver’s Travels.
Voltaire, France, 1759 Candide.
David Hume, Scotland, 1740. Concerning Human Understanding.
Henry Fielding, England, 1749. Tom Jones.
Ts’ao Hsueh-Chin, China, 1750. The Dream of the Red Chamber.

The Era of Romance and Revolution

1762 - 1859

Jean Jacques Rousseau, France, 1762. The Social Contract.
Adam Smith, Scotland, 1776. Concerning the Wealth of Nations.
Immanuel Kant, Germany, 1785. Groundwork on the Metaphysics of Morals
Hamilton, Madison and Jay, US, 1786. The Federalist Papers.
Edmund Burke, Ireland, 1790. Reflections on the French Revolution.
Thomas Paine, England, 1791. The Rights of Man.
Mary Wollstonecraft, England, 1792. Vindication on the Rights of Women.
James Boswell, England. 1791. The Life of Samuel Johnson.
William Blake, England, 1794. Songs of Innocence, Songs of Experience.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Germany, 1808. Faust.
George Fredrick Hegel, Germany, 1807. Phenomenology of Mind.
Shelley, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Keats, England, 1812-1818. Poems.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, England, 1818. Frankenstein.
Stendhal, France, 1830. The Red and the Black.
Alexis de Tocqueville, France, 1835. Democracy in America.
Alexandre Pushkin, Russia, 1837. Eugene Onegin
Jane Austen, England, 1837. Pride and Prejudice.
Edgar Allen Poe, US, 1839. Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque.
Nikolai Gogol, Russia, 1842. Dead Souls.
Soren Kierkegaard, Denmark, 1843. Fear and Trembling.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, US. 1847. Poems.
Charlotte Bronte, England, 1847. Jane Eyre.
William Makepeace Thackeray, England, 1848. Vanity Fair.
Karl Marx, Frederick Engels. 1848. The Communist Manifesto.
Herman Melville, US, 1851. Moby Dick.
Walt Whitman, US, 1855. Leaves of Grass.
Henry David Thoreau, US, 1854. Walden.
Charles Baudelaire, France, 1857. Le Fleurs de Mal.
Gustave Flaubert, France 1856. Madam Bovary.
John Stuart Mill, England, 1859. On Liberty.

The Modern Era

1861 - 1929

Charles Dickens, England, 1861. Great Expectations.
Ivan Turgenev, Russia, 1862. Fathers and Sons.
Feodor Dostoevskii, Russia, 1866. Crime and Punishment.
George Eliot, England, 1871. Middlemarch.
Arthur Rimbaud, France, 1873, A Season in Hell.
Leo Tolstoi, Russia, 1877. Anna Karenina.
Frederick Nietzsche, Germany, 1880. Al Sprake Zarathustra.
Mark Twain, US. 1884. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Emil Zola, France, 1885. Germinal.
Henrik Ibsen, Norway, 1890. Hedda Gabler.
Emily Dickenson, US, 1890. Poems.
Thomas Hardy, England, 1895. Jude the Obscure.
Anton Chekhov, Russia, 1898. Uncle Vanya.
Joseph Conrad, England, 1902. Heart of Darkness.
William James, Us, 1902. Varieties of Religious Experience.
Max Weber, Germany, 1904. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.
Marcel Proust, France, 1913. Swann’s Way.
DH Lawrence, England, 1913 Sons and Lovers.
Natsume Soseki, Japan, 1914. Kokoro.
WB Yeats, Ireland, 1917. The Swans at Coole.
Siegfried Sassoon, England, 1919. War Poems.
TS Eliot, US, 1921. The Waste Land.
James Joyce, Ireland, 1922. Ulysses.
Thomas Mann, Germany, 1924. The Magic Mountain.
F Scott FitzGerald, US, 1925. The Great Gatsby.
Franz Kafka, Czechoslovakia, 1925. The Trial.
Martin Heidegger, Germany, 1927. Being and Time.
Virginia Woolf, England, 1927. Mrs. Dalloway.
Berthold Brecht, Germany, 1928. The Threepenny Opera.
William Faulkner, US, 1929. The Sound and the Fury.

The Global Era


Mohandas Gandhi, India, 1928. My Experiments with Truth.
Aldous Huxley, England, 1932. Brave New World.
Kawabata Yusunari, Japan, 1934. Snow Country.
RK Narayan, India, 1935. The English Teacher.
Graham Greene, England, 1940. The Power and the Glory.
Arthur Koestler, Hungary, 1941. Darkness at Noon.
Eugene O’Neill, US, 1941. Long Days’ Journey into Night.
Junichio Tanizaki, Japan, 1943. The Makioka Sisters
Albert Camus, Algeria, 1943. The Stranger.
Jean Paul Sartre, France, 1943. Being and Nothingness.
Karl Popper, Austria, 1945. The Open Society and Its Enemies.
Simone De Beauviour, France, 1949. The Second Sex.
Ernest Hemmingway, US, 1953. The Old Man and the Sea.
George Orwell, England, 1948. Nineteen Eighty Four.
Ralph Ellison, US, 1952. The Invisible Man.
Samuel Becket, Ireland, 1952. Waiting for Godot.
Vladimir Nabokov, Russia, 1955. Lolita.
Allan Ginsburg, US, 1956. Howl.
Jack Kerouac, US, 1957. On the Road.
Chinua Achebe, Nigeria, 1958. Things Fall Apart.
Pablo Neruda, Chile, 1959. One Hundred Love Sonnets.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Columbia, 1967. One Hundred Years of Solitude
Ayn Rand, US, 1957. Atlas Shrugged.
Jorges Luis Borges, Argentina, 1964. Labyrinths.
Michel Foucault, France, 1966. The Order of Things.
Maya Angelou, US, 1969. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
VS Naipul, Trinidad, 1979. A Bend in the River.
Salman Rushdie, England, 1980. Midnight’s Children.
Margaret Atwood, Canada, 1985. The Handmaid’s Tale.
Toni Morrison, United States , 1987. Beloved.

The Great Books of Science

Aristotle, Greece, 220 BCE. Physics.
Euclid, Greece, 300 BCE. The Elements.
Ptolemy, Egypt, 147. Almagest.
Roger Bacon, England, 1267. Opus Majius.
Nicolaus Copernicus, Poland, 1543. Die Revolutionibus.
Andreas Vesalius, Belgium, 1543. De Corporis Fabrica.
Johannes Kepler, Germany, 1609. Astronomia Nova.
Francis Bacon, England, 1620. Novum Organum.
William Harvey, England, 1628. On the Circulation of the Blood.
Galileo Galilei, Italy, 1632. Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.
Robert Hooke, England 1665. Micrographia.
Isaac Newton, England 1687. Principia Mathamatica.
Giambatistta Vico, Italy, 1725. The New Science.
Carolus Linnaeus, Sweden, 1735. Systema Naturae.
Antoine Lavoisier, France 1789. Treatise on Chemistry.
Charles Darwin, England, 1859. The Origin of Species.
Sigmund Freud, Austria, 1899. The Interpretation of Dreams.
Albert Einstein, Germany 1916. Relativity: The Special and General Theory.
Max Planck, Germany, 1915. Eight Lectures on Theoretical Physics.
Jane Jacobs, US, 1961. The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
Karl Jung, Switzerland, 1961. Man and his Symbols.
Thomas Kuhn, US, 1962. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.
Rachel Carson, US, 1962. Silent Spring.
George Gamelov, Ukraine, 1966. Thirty Years That Shook Physics: The Story of Quantum Theory.
James Watson, James Crick US/England, 1968. The Double Helix.
Carl Sagan, US, 1973. The Cosmic Connection.
Richard Dawkins, England, 1976. The Selfish Gene.
Douglas Hofstadter, US, 1979. Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid
Stephen Jay Gould, US, 1981. The Mismeasure of Man.
Richard Feynman, US, 1985. QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter
Oliver Sacks, England, 1985. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
Stephen Hawking, England, 1988. Brief History of Time
Jared Diamond, US, 1999. Guns, Germs and Steel.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

How to Drive a Dane Crazy

But was Hamlet crazy or just epistemologically confused and overwhelmed?

The time is out of joint: O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!
*********Hamlet, act one, scene 5

What keeps Hamlet from acting? His father's ghost told him who did the killing. Why doesn't Hamlet take this information and exact revenge for his father's death? What's his problem?
Hamlet was born betwixt and between. The, ‘times were out of joint.’ The dying Age of Faith still lingers on as seen in the ghost of Hamlet’s father. But a new age was being born. And this new Age of Science could not be satisfied by the testimony of a ghost at midnight.
Hamlet played at being crazy. But if you are born in the middle of a paradigm shift, if you feel drawn towards both ideals you will feel crazy. You will always be neither fish nor fowl and you will never feel completely at home or welcomed by either ideal. The times will truly be out of joint.
The epistemological goal of the new age was the banishment of doubt and its replacement by certainly based on independently verifiable sensory experience. Thus Hamlet ended up constructing the crude experiment of putting on the play reminiscent of his father’s death and observing his uncle’s reaction. Hamlet was too much a man of his time to be able to feel comfortable with proceeding to action without satisfying the needs of the new scientific method.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

"That Is How All The Great Imaginative Literature of Europe Began"

The movie is The Human Stain. It deals with race, hypocrisy, love and lust.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


I will not be posting again for a week or two

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Fireman's Ball by Vachel Lindsay

By Vachel Lindsay ----- I am only reproducing the third section below. Anyone interested in reading the complete work can find it with many other Lindsay poems here.

Section Three

In Which, contrary to Artistic Custom, the moral of the piece
is placed before the reader.

(From the first Khandaka of the Mahavagga: "There Buddha
thus addressed his disciples: `Everything, O mendicants, is burning.
With what fire is it burning? I declare unto you it is burning
with the fire of passion, with the fire of anger, with the fire of ignorance.
It is burning with the anxieties of birth, decay and death,
grief, lamentation, suffering and despair. . . . A disciple, . . .
becoming weary of all that, divests himself of passion.
By absence of passion, he is made free.'")

[To be intoned after the manner of a priestly service.]
I once knew a teacher,
Who turned from desire,
Who said to the young men
"Wine is a fire."
Who said to the merchants: --
"Gold is a flame
That sears and tortures
If you play at the game."
I once knew a teacher
Who turned from desire
Who said to the soldiers,
"Hate is a fire."
Who said to the statesmen: --
"Power is a flame
That flays and blisters
If you play at the game."
I once knew a teacher
Who turned from desire,
Who said to the lordly,

"Pride is a fire."
Who thus warned the revellers: --
"Life is a flame.
Be cold as the dew
Would you win at the game
With hearts like the stars,
With hearts like the stars."
[Interrupting very loudly for the last time.]
Clear the streets,
Clear the streets,
CLANG . . . A . . . RANGA. . . . CLANG . . . A . . . RANGA. . . .
CLANG . . . CLANG . . . CLANG. . . .
CLANG . . . A . . . RANGA. . . . CLANG . . . A . . . RANGA. . . .
CLANG . . . CLANG . . . CLANG. . . .
CLANG . . . A . . . RANGA. . . . CLANG . . . A . . . RANGA. . . .
CLANG . . . CLANG . . . CLANG. . . .

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Mortimer Adler and Brian Lamb Discuss Books and Ideas

I love the ease with which he says, "I don't know the answer."



Monday, August 31, 2009

Beethoven: Joy and Radiance

I recently saw the movie ‘Copying Beethoven’ in which Ed Harris played Ludwig van Beethoven. It is worth seeing. But the central character of the movie is Beethoven’s music. And that makes for a very inviting and attractive movie. There is another major character. It is a girl who shows up to make copies of the score as Beethoven finishes his ninth symphony. Such a female never existed and it is indescribably unlikely that a woman would have done that job in those times. Let me just say that some unfortunate people find Gloria Steinem, Bill and Hillary and PC foolishness more important than historical accuracy and say no more about this blemish on this movie that is otherwise highly commendable.
The movie recaptures the events surrounding the completion of the ninth symphony and its first performance. The movie conveys a strong sense of the beauty and grandeur of the ninth without the whole work being executed from beginning to end at one go. Some sense of that debut is created by large chunks of the beginning and end being played in a beautiful and spacious hall. The final choral section’s ability to bring tears to the eyes of men and women because of its joyous beauty is there in all its glory.
The movie has a few scenes that show Beethoven’s relationship with his nephew. Beethoven had raised the young man but had not done a fantastic job at it. It could be summed up by saying that he loved his nephew and had been better at parenting than his own father had been. It is probably unrealistic to expect more than that from anyone. But this subplot gives us insight into the man who happened to be an artist. And Beethoven’s contacts with others were generally very limited. He was consumed by and totally devoted to his music.
Beethoven had an extremely high opinion of himself because of his great talent for music. And his great gift makes him stand out in the history of mankind. But the inordinate greatness of his gift was so prodigious that it would be more accurate to call it a rare gift from God than the an aptitude or achievement of one person. Still it is good that Beethoven saw himself as so very special. Because of this sense of self-importance he went to the lengths necessary to create his body of musical work. He was able to live through the loneliness, misunderstanding and sacrifices that necessary for the creation of his work. And the emotional tenor of his music makes it obvious that he never surrendered to anger or hate.
Throughout my life I have been emotionally drawn to different composers at different times. In my twenties I was drawn to Mahler, Brahms and Stravinsky. In more recent years I have felt more pulled toward Gabrieli, Vivaldi, Corelli and Scarlatti. But throughout varying times Bach and Beethoven have remained constants. (I sometimes think of them as the Catholic and the Protestant of music or the papist and the roundhead.) I do not know much about many of the technical aspects of music. I listen to the emotion of the music and am guided totally by my emotional reactions. And I suspect that this is also the case with the most technically talented and knowledgeable of musicians: they also end up where their emotions lead them.
Emotionally I find Beethoven’s music a rock and an inspiration. Around the edges and sometimes a little deeper the master’s music is aware of the challenges, irritations, disappointments and inescapable tragedies of life. But at the core is an heroic and steadfast and even joyful perseverance in the face of anything life sends at him. Beethoven’s music defiantly refuses surrender to any force. Plato would have welcomed this music into his Republic because there is nothing about it that encourages sentimentality, lewdness, cowardliness or excessive introspection. There is something about the master’s music that fully appreciates the dangers and difficulties of life and responds by grappling with them and enjoying any victories. Defeats are possible but are only momentary since they are never wallowed in and the hero of this epic music always has forward momentum.
But this music is not just about difficulties and obstacles. There is also the simple and soul strengthening enjoyment of natural beauty. And there is joy. The joy of just being alive and aware. The joy of creation and accomplishment. The joy that comes of feeling the radiance of a beautiful work of art or one of nature’s endless miracles. As love is the opposite of hate and fear, I think that joy is a species of love. Rather than having one object joy’s object is all of creation: the eternal and imperishable within myself and within everything in creation. I suspect joy even enjoys the perishable and finite in everything. In his Poetics Aristotle says that a beautiful object is characterized by unity, harmony and radiance and joy is the radiance within me that is able to recognize and enjoy the radiance in everything external to me.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Modern Library

When I was young I read a lot, all kinds of books. I read those horrible books written for specific age groups and then slowly went beyond to the classics. Sometimes I look back and wonder what it was that so drew me. I know part of it was deep insecurity. I had no sense of purpose or goal . And I felt that if I read and studied the books that centuries of consensus called the best I would become better by learning what mankind valued most highly. And that is how it works. Matthew Arnold called education an introduction, “to the best that has been thought or said.” If done properly it includes developing critical thinking. And also developing a sense for recognizing and appreciating beauty.
One of the things that made the classics superficially attractive was Random House’s Modern Library. They are simple but delectable little books. When I was in school they mainly published the best writers from Homer and Confucius to Joyce and Proust. In those days I spent dozens of hours a week in libraries and these beautiful little jewels of books were sprinkled throughout the stacks. Initially I didn’t read any of them. But I took them down off the shelf and just enjoyed looking at them. They were smaller and had more pleasant proportions than most books. They all had essentially the same binding. It was clean, symmetrical and appealing and each had a little surprise: the title and author’s name in the small dark box. When younger I was always mildly startled by the art deco naked runner with the torch. I grew up with Pinkie and Blue Boy and landscapes on the walls. I didn’t know from art deco. In spite of their modest size they were not inconsequential. Printed on heavy paper they had real heft. And I loved to open them to the back and look over the list of all of the titles offered . Here I slowly made familiar objects of all the names. Turgenev, Pepys, Plutarch, Goethe, Gogol and many others slowly began seeping into my consciousness.
Then I slowly began reading them. One I tried earliest was Gulliver’s Travels. It moves slowly compared to what I was accustomed to. There would be pages and pages of minute descriptions. I couldn’t hack it. I don’t think I made it to page forty. Then I started checking out some of the Caedmon recordings of plays. Some Shakespeare, some O’Neil and lots of Tennessee Williams. I didn’t enjoy any of this but I forced myself because I was sure it was good for me. In those days the average American education didn’t prepare a ninth grader for Shakespeare.
I kept at it. I was a senior in high school when I read Plato’s Republic. And even though most of it went over my head it was the first of the bunch I recall enjoying. (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a Modern Library edition; it was probably the Viking Portable edition.) From there I went to reading histories of philosophy and many individual thinkers. I ended up with some fondness for Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Spinoza, Hume, Kant and Wittgenstein. When I entered college I intended to get a string of degrees in philosophy. But I soon realized that my mind does not have the acute gift for logic that serious philosophy requires.
I began to turn more towards literature. I had read Clifton Fadiman’s ‘Lifetime Reading Plan.’ And my interest was peaked by his description of Thomas Mann’s prose. He called it musical and talked about Mann’s use of Wagner’s leit motif technique. So I read ‘The Magic Mountain.’ and I was hooked by Mann’s slow but solid prose. I ended up reading all of his major novels: ‘Buddenbrooks,’ ‘Felix Krull, Confidence Man,’ ‘Doctor Faustus,’ Joseph and His Brothers’ and ‘Lotte in Weimar.’ But ‘The Magic Mountain’ was a great intro to Mann and to the classics of Western civilization. It is the story of a simple young man who accidentally ends up in the company of a couple of very educated European scholars. One of the men is a product of the more spiritual traditions while the other is a materialist. They enter into a fight for the young man’s intellect and soul. But so much else happens since five hundred plus pages can contain much.
As I was growing away from philosophy I developed deeper enjoyment of literature. And I had begun to haunt bookstores. Used bookstores were full of Modern Library editions in those days (the seventies and eighties). And I discovered some other great and attractive books. The Loeb Classical Library filled some of the spaces left by the Modern Library, e. g., Strabo. But the Loebs are higher priced. Penguin books are great. The Oxford Classics are ok but don’t have the grace and charm of the Modern Library. The Viking Portables are pleasant and reasonably priced. I highly recommend the multivolume collection of English verse if only for the marvelous and enlightening introductions to each by W. H. Auden.
The other day I looked up the Modern Library on the net. And they still have a hell of a fine line up of books. Though they seem comparatively more expensive and I didn’t see any frequent flyer type of program. And, no, they didn’t pay me to write this.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

DEMONS by Dostoevsky

I had planned to start this site off by writing about ‘Demons’ by Dostoevsky. I read it and greatly enjoyed it. It was well plotted for a rambling nineteenth serialized novel. It swarms with well drawn characters and many compelling situations. And it had lofty themes. When I finished I felt I had a good grasp of it. Then I started to write about it. I wrote about different aspects and characters. But I ended up feeling that all my writing was about aspects and corners and I had failed to capture the strong character of the novel. So I kept putting off the launch of the site as I wrote more and felt more and more frustrated. Then I just decided to put together the best I had as well as I could. When I had done that I let it sit a couple of days and then read it. I was not happy with what I had written. It felt like it was all awkward seams stretched over scarring and pimples. I decided I would be sorry if I posted what I had. So I decided to let it sit some more, wait for more insight on how to best present it and move on to some shorter works by James Joyce. I feel a need to lay out a quick sketch of why I think ‘Demons’ is significant and enormously relevant in times full of change and of great transition.
I want to present something that might induce more people to read this great work. And I will begin with a brief description.
Dostoevsky’s Demons is the story of a group of young Russians in the 1870s planning and executing a rebellion in a small provincial capital. They call themselves a fivesome which is the basic organizational unit in the secret society planning the revolt. They disseminate political tracts, which from the evidence within this book, was a brazen and effective political tactic of that time and place. They have also commissioned an escaped prisoner to commit random acts of violence. As things progress, the leader from outside the fivesome, Pyotr Verkhonensky, decides to bind the group closer together and increase his control over them. Pyotr says that a member has betrayed their plans to the governor and decides that they will execute him for this crime against the revolution. This murder so stresses the rebels that the fivesome disintegrates. The authorities, who have been baffled about all of the events, slowly come to an understanding of what has happened.
Nikolai Stavrogin is one of Dotoevsky’s more complex and interesting characters. He is believed by many to be the leader of the secret revolutionary society. His mother is the widow of a general and the richest land owner in the province. He is flawed but larger than life; a mysterious and compelling figure. Women want his love and want to mother him. Men want his approval (seldom given) and they endlessly project their feelings and beliefs onto him. He spent a couple of his early years after college in drunken dissipation in Moscow and St. Petersburg. While there he spent most of his time with the the lowest class of society: with the poor, the insane and drunkards. He moves from there to Europe where he mixes with Russian expatriates in France, Switzerland and Germany. In Europe he spends his time with the wealthy and educated. He is up on all the newest trends of the intellectuals but he is also a gentleman of the old school who duels and deflowers virgins.
The main force, planner and agitator for the revolution is Pyotr Verkhovensky who generally tries to stay behind the scenes. He has been abandoned by his father and has done a good job of self-creation by becoming a modest middle class intellectual type. He wants Stavrogin to be seen as the leader. He feels that people will be more likely to follow Stavrogin whose large personality draws people to him. And maybe he hopes to escape some blame in case of failure. He weasels his way into the circle of the wife of the provincial governor and uses his influence with her to lower the values and standards of the upper class of the province’s society. His understanding of the upper classes and the basic psychology of socialists and atheists is summed up by his assertion that,. “I can get them to go through fire, if I just yell at them they’re not liberal enough . . .”
Shigalov has thought and written along the lines of Fourier about the new society that the revolution will create. He describes his system thus: “ . . . I am suggesting my own system of world organization. . . I get entangled in my own data, and my conclusion directly contradicts the original idea from which start. Starting from unlimited freedom, I conclude with unlimited despotism. I will add, however, that apart from my own solution of the social formula, there can be no other.”
The narrative plot of Demons is a rebellion against the czarist government and one of the main subplots is rebellion against God or atheism. Most of the characters I’ve mentioned so far are atheists. And they are not atheists of the ‘No I don’t believe there is a God, would you like to get together for dinner on Tuesday” variety. They are more of the ‘Of course there is no God, but if there was I still wouldn’t believe just to teach that megalomaniac a lesson’ variety. They are pathologically atheistic. All of the members revolutionary society are atheists. It is never a matter of rational argument or discussion. It is just what everybody thinks and to not go along would be to subject oneself to the ridicule a peer group uses to enforce conformity. And you would never get anywhere in the world of socialists and revolutionaries without submitting completely to peer pressure.
Kirilov went too far with atheism even for this group. Rather than the revolt against the czar he makes revolt against God the center of his life. And he thereby makes himself only slightly useful in the earthly revolution. He is angry and frustrated that God has limited his freedom by making the time of his death a random event. But it is more than that. Possibly he’s insane since he feels he can become God by committing suicide. His singular devotion to this idee fixe causes him to resemble a paranoid monomaniac. This dialog between him and Pyotr Verkhovensky takes place: “Pyotr V. says, “’If you shoot yourself you’ll become God. Is that right?’
“‘Yes, I will become God.’ [Kirilov answers] . . .Kirilov says, “If there is a God, then the will is all his, and I cannot get out of his will. If not, the will is all mine, and it is my duty to proclaim self-will.”. . . ’It is my duty to shoot myself because the fullest point of my self-will is -- for me to kill myself.’
“‘But you’re not the only one to kill yourself, there are lots of suicides.’ [replies Pyotr Verkhovensky]
“‘For reasons. But without any reason, only for self will-- only I.’
… . . ..
“‘It is my duty to proclaim unbelief . . . .’”
Stavrogin is the most clearly and completely drawn character in the book He is full of contradiction. He is a duel fighting, skirt chasing rich kid who is recognized by most as the leader of a revolutionary secret society. He steals a trinket just to see a child be punished for the theft, rapes the child and then plans to publicly confess to enjoy the thrill of the humiliation. He is not purely evil since he does experience guilt for his disgusting actions. And this is one of the reasons why women are so drawn to him. He is able to project himself as the kind of ‘bad boy’ women are often fascinated by. And he causes many women to feel challenged to reform him.
More than any other character Stavrogin walks on the razor’s edge between good and evil. He has at times steeped himself in especially noxious evil. Evil that is like the mommy-naughty child-spank-me hypnotic sexual role game Rousseau plays endlessly. And the ego won’t let go of it. It can’t just be a sinner but demands to be THE SINNER TO OUT SIN ALL SINNERS. Tikhon, the holy man, understands this and does not empower it with argument: he just offers a simple yet difficult solution, which, if embraced, strips the muscle from the pathological ego. And Tikhon understands what a complete game it is because he sees that all sins are infinitely evil since their very nature is the denial of God. He is as much a sinner as Stavrogin but his salvation comes from not having Stavrogin’s need to keep playing the ‘I’m naughtier than you game.’
There is so much here: good and evil, revolution with power struggles and in fighting, a genuine holy man and devout atheists. There are a couple of love stories. And there is redemption. Or at least a map to redemption.
Thi is what I've been able to get together so far. I plan to add more about God, socialism and revolution as it comes together.