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Reading List 2022

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Published : January 15th, 2023
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In 2022, I finished the Harvard Classics, a six-year project. I originally undertook this as a sort of homeschooling foundation. I fell into a group of ambitious homeschoolers, at They explicitly recognize the generational education deficit we have today, where parents have not been educated to the level that they would like their children to be educated. This deficit has to be remedied, with parental effort. Basically, you give yourself the education that you should have got when you were younger, but didn’t. Then, you can pass this on to your children. The TJ-ed people assert that it is not really possible to educate children to a level above or outside what you have yourself done. I think this is basically true, so, after doing it for several years, I agree that the “education deficit” view of things is valid. The TJ-ed people recommend that this deficit be remedied by roughly two hours a day of study, by parents, over a period of ten years. This can be done while the children are younger. I don’t think I met that lofty standard (more like one hour a day, on average), but nevertheless I got a lot done.

Also, there is a large cohort of adults today, mostly educated at the better universities, who nevertheless feel that they have not been sufficiently educated. They feel this lack. So, even if you don’t have any homeschool ambitions, but you would like an organized program of Liberal Arts education, the Harvard Classics is a good one. A lot of the contents I was not at all familiar with. I wondered if it would be worthwhile. I can say that every selection was worthwhile and rewarding. It passed a rigorous selection process that omitted, for example, the entirety of Aristotle. So, just put your faith in the editors of the Harvard Classics, and start reading.

This is a difficult project. Even with some focus, it took me six years. Many people, between career and family, could not do it even at that slow pace. It could be a good retirement project. So, although I recommend this collection in general, I do not necessarily recommend it for everyone. If you simply don’t have the time and energy to devote to it, do something more achievable. I think it is a good goal to read ten good books a year, for a busy adult. Out of these ten, choose perhaps five or six “classics.” You don’t have to torment yourself by completing/not-completing an overly ambitious project.

Among less ambitious projects, I suggest a survey of opera and ballet on DVD. I have some of the Royal Ballet (UK) and Royal Opera, from Opus Arte on DVD; plus, some productions of the Bolshoi. Both opera and ballet are quite demanding of attention, so I would start with something a little easier, like Turandot, La Boheme or Figaro among operas, and leave Wagner for later. (Turn on the English subtitles.) Ballet is all pretty enjoyable — mostly, it is beautiful dancing women. Be sure to read a description of the plot of the ballet, by Act and Scene. Otherwise, it can be a little puzzling.

Classics become classics because of their depth and sophistication. It has often been said that you won’t even be able to appreciate what is in there, until you are over 40. I think this is true. Are these then appropriate for teens, or people of college age? They really won’t absorb the contents very well. Even if they do read them, they should read them again, later in life, and find out what they were really about. Nevertheless, teens and young adults learn a lot from exposure and absorption. They are always absorbing something, and if you put them in the company of Virgil or Pascal, they will absorb something out of it. If you leave them with TikTok and whatever Cultural Marxist filth comes out of Hollywood or the music industry, they will absorb that, equally mindlessly. Nevertheless, these are very demanding works. A teen or young person should at least be able to enjoy them, as this is the motor that will eventually get them through to the end. There are a lot of works that are a lot simpler to read. Oliver Twist is a lot easier to read than the Divine Comedy. In the old days, people read Oliver Twist just for fun, like we would see a movie (they didn’t have movies), so they were already building on that foundation. Maybe you have to build a foundation first. Learn to speak and read your own language.

I wanted to feel that “Western Civilization” was not something that you drove to a museum to see, or heard other people talk about, but was carried in your mind and heart. This I achieved.

Some precocious children will be able to read these around Age 16, but they are called the Harvard Classics in part because the collection would be good for highly capable 18-21 year olds, and even then they would be a challenge. Let me show you what I mean:

This is from Volume 49: Epic and Saga. There are 436 more pages like this. It might take a little while before you can read this for fun. There are a lot of other “classics” that you can read to build up to this elevated level.

I have a 1963 translation of Beowulf as well, by Burton Raffel. It is dumbed-down. I would not read the dumbed-down translations of any book. I have an old translation of Heidi, a children’s book, and also one from the 1950s. The 1950s translation is terrible. Look for pre-1910 translations of all classic works. (I did enjoy a recent translation of Don Quixote, however. The contemporized language went well with this silly book.)

My pace definitely backed way off in 2022. This year’s list is short. I got off the audiobook habit, which crimped my progress in novels. I only finished A Sentimental Journey, which is quite short. Actually, I picked up a set of the Harvard Classics of Fiction, a twenty-volume set, to accompany the Harvard Classics which contains little in the way of novels. (The set, printed in 1917 and in mint condition, was for sale for $60 on EBay.) Otherwise, the only other books of note were a history of China, and Felix Somary’s excellent autobiography (where he recounts getting a Harvard Classics-type education, including many of the same titles, at his elite high school academy in Vienna). Also, I read a number of interesting books for youths, as part of the homeschooling process. This included Little Women, Robin Hood (Henry Gilbert) and Robinson Crusoe. For 2023, I plan to finally start William Durant’s 11-volume The Story of Civilization series, another longstanding ambition, aiming at one book a quarter. I’ve basically completed my survey of classic novels, but I plan to continue casually in this pattern for some time, perhaps with works from Alexander Dumas or Walter Scott. There should be a little more time available for more contemporary stuff as well.

The Gold Standard: Retrospect and Prospect, ed. Peter Earle and William Luther

Gold and Liberty, by Richard Salsman

A History of Chinese Civilization, by Jacques Gernet

Harvard Classics #43: American Historical Documents

Money and Liberty, by James Turk

Harvard Classics #44: Sacred Writings I

Harvard Classics #45: Sacred Writings II

A Sentimental Journey, by Laurence Sterne

The Raven of Zurich, by Felix Somary

Harvard Classics #46: Elizabethan Drama I

Harvard Classics #47: Elizabethan Drama II

Harvard Classics #50: Lectures

Harvard Classics #48: Thoughts and Minor Works, by Blaise Pascal

Harvard Classics #49: Epic and Saga

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Nathan Lewis was formerly the chief international economist of a firm that provided investment research for institutions. He now works for an asset management company based in New York. Lewis has written for the Financial Times, Asian Wall Street Journal, Japan Times, Pravda, and other publications. He has appeared on financial television in the United States, Japan, and the Middle East.
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