Monday, May 13, 2013

The Ultimate Reading List -- St. John's College

In idle moments I sometimes think that if I had it all to do over again, I would like to have attended St. John's College (Annapolis or Santa Fe campus, no matter). If you want to feel like a boorish dunce, go ahead and scan the St. John's Reading List below. That's their core curriculum, completed by every St. John's graduate. How many of these titles have you read? My guess is that the average college graduate is not even acquainted with 10% of these books. (If your college doesn't require that you read a significant number of these books, you might wish to question the quality of the education they are delivering.)

I haven't read them all, either (not by a long shot -- Lavoisier's Elements of Chemistry? Seriously?). I don't intend to turn this blog into some kind of stunt (like that woman who spent every day for a year cooking a dish from the Julia Child cookbook), but I think I will give the St. John's Reading List a go. Starting at the end of August 2013, I will start tackling the books in the order they are assigned to St. John's students. (I will have it a bit easier since I have read more than a few of the books already -- I'll re-read those, however.)

The next four years are going to go by anyway, why not spend some portion of them devouring the Great Books? I'll let you know if (and how) it makes me a better clinical psychologist. I'll let you know if I quit, too.

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."





To give a sense of the pace of reading, and to see how it can all be done, be sure to check out the seminar reading assignments (see example below). Wouldn't that have been something -- to come home for Christmas break and actually be able to reply to the question, "What did you learn during your first semester at college?" "Well, I read and discussed Homer, Plato, Aeschylus, Herotodus, Thucydides, Aristophanes, and a little Plutarch."

DateFreshman Reading (Detailed)
Aug. 23, 2012Homer: Iliad I-VI
Aug. 27, 2012Homer: Iliad VII-XII
Aug. 30, 2012Homer: Iliad XIII-XVIII
Sep. 03, 2012Homer: Iliad XIX-XXIV
Sep. 06, 2012Homer: Odyssey I-VIII
Sep. 10, 2012Homer: Odyssey IX-XVI
Sep. 13, 2012Homer: Odyssey XVII-XXIV
Sep. 17, 2012Plato: Meno
Sep. 20, 2012Aeschylus: Agamemnon
Sep. 24, 2012Aeschylus: Libation Bearers; Eumenides
Sep. 27, 2012Plato: Gorgias 447A-481B
Oct. 01, 2012Plato: Gorgias 481B-527E
Oct. 04, 2012Plutarch: Lives Lycurgus; Solon
Oct. 08, 2012Herodotus: History I; II, 50-53, 112-120; III, 37, 38, 66-87
Oct. 11, 2012Herodotus: History V, 76-78, 91-93, 105; VI, 48, 56-72, 94-120; VII (entire)
Oct. 15, 2012Herodotus: History VIII; IX
Oct. 18, 2012Plato: Republic I-II 367E
Oct. 22, 2012Plato: Republic II 367E-IV 427C
Oct. 25, 2012Plato: Republic IV 427D-VI 502C
Oct. 29, 2012Plato: Republic VI 502D-VII
Nov. 01, 2012Plato: Republic VIII-IX
Nov. 05, 2012Plato: Republic X
Nov. 8, 2012Aristophanes: Clouds
Nov. 12, 2012Plato: Apology and Crito
Nov. 15, 2012Plato: Phaedo 57A-84B
Nov. 19, 2012Plato: Phaedo 84B-118B
Nov. 26, 2012Thucydides: Peloponnesian War I; II, 1-46
Nov. 29, 2012Thucydides: Peloponnesian War II, 47-end; III; IV, 1-41
Dec. 03, 2012Thucydides: Peloponnesian War IV, 42-end; V; VI, 1-32
Dec. 06, 2012Thucydides: Peloponnesian War VI, 33-end; VII
Dec. 10, 2012Plato: Symposium beginning-198A
Dec. 13, (Thurs.) 2012Plato: Symposium 198-end

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