How great are the great books?

Check out Britannica Blog’s forum, which asks: Are the great books really great?

About Joanne


  1. This isn’t about great books, it’s about “Great Books”, a specific concept and the title of a particular collection.

    I tried to search Britannica for an article to get a better idea of the whole “Great Books” situation. The encyclopedia had one article about “Great Books of the Western World”, but they required me to register and login and junk to get a preview of the article.

    So, if you actually want to know what the Britannica blog post is about, you’ve got to go to Wikipedia:
    (there’s also an article on “Great Books of the Western World”)

    I really tried to get the information from Britannica. I really, truly, honestly tried. *sigh*

  2. I was able to get a description of the set from clicking on the photo of the Great Books. The description contained a link to a list of the books in the collection. But I didn’t find a history of the Great Books. It was interesting to discover from the blog entry that there is a whole book on the history of the great books idea.

    A site for getting free access to great books, not sure it has all of the Great Books :

  3. My parents bought the “Great Books” collection when I was a kid. I think that it was my mother’s idea – she was pretty insecure about her lack of education. My dad read 1/4 to 1/3 of them over the years, and didn’t regret that the purchase. When I looked at them as an adult, I thought that the collection was pretty uneven. The science books were awful; trying to learn physics from Newton’s Principia is crazy. But I think that the great books idea makes no sense in science, since it is almost entirely cumulative, unlike philosophy or literature. Actually, I’m not sure literature is cumulative at all, since the most recently written novel that I really admired was written in the mid 50’s…

  4. After a year at do-your-own-thing, activist Oberlin, where I railed against the Dead White Men without knowing a thing about them, I read Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind and decided to transfer to St. John’s, “The Great Books College.” St. John’s has serious flaws, and I was a very flawed student, but I feel very lucky to have spent four years there. The seminars didn’t always pan out, but when they worked they could be stellar experiences (far richer than any class I’d had at Oberlin). Reading all those tough old books amped up my verbal abilities (I’d scored 640 verbal on my SAT but 800 on my GRE post-St. John’s). And while it would take a lot of thinking and time to explain why, I often feel that my soul has turned out, in some ways, freer and deeper than my more conventionally-educated peers.

  5. The point of reading the Principia, for example, is not to “learn physics” but to learn how one of the great minds thought. I think that is the whole idea behind the Great Books concept.