Literature and Reading

"A losing trade, I assure you, sir: literature is a drug."- George Borrow, Lavengro, Ch. 30.

"In science, read, by preference, the newest works; in literature, the oldest. The classic literature is always modern."-Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton.

"La lecture de tous les bons livres est comme une conversation avec les plus honnêtes gens des siècles passés. - The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest persons of past centuries."-René Descartes, Le Discours de la méthode, I

"Education . . . has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading."-
G. M. Trevelyan, English Social History



"The Odyssey" an Epic poem in 24 books traditionally. This epic and the "Iliad" are said to have provided the basis of Greek education and culture throughout the classical age. The poem is the story of Odysseus, King of Ithaca, who after 10 years of wanderings (although the action of the poem is in fact the final six weeks) returns home from the Trojan War. He finds himself recognized only by his faithful dog and a nurse. With the help of his son Telemachus he destroys the importunate suitors of his wife Penelope and reestablishes himself in his kingdom.

The Trojan War
As said by Homer, the Trojan War began when Paris, the son of King Priam of Troy, stole Helen, the wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta. Menelaus’s brother, Agamemnon, sailed to Troy with an enormous army carried by a fleet of 1,000 ships to win Helen back. He laid siege to Troy for 10 years, but could not conquer the walled city. Then Odysseus, one of the Greek commanders, devised a plan. The Greeks built a huge wooden horse, positioned it outside the walls of Troy, and then sailed away. The Trojans Thought the house was a sacred offering and took it into their city. But the wooden horse was actually full of Greek soldiers who sneak out at night and opened the city gates for the rest of their army, which had sailed back from a nearby island. The Greeks took Helen Back, killed king Priam and the Trojan men, took the women captive, and burned Troy to the ground.
For centuries, Troy was believed to be a city of legend, living in the Greek epic poem the Iliad. Then in the second half of the 19th century the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann set out to prove that Troy had been a real city

Note: Plato, Emperor Caligula and the Roman Republic banned this work in 387 B.C. in Greece.

The Iliad The Odyssey  




It might be best to begin with the Apology, in which Socrates defends himself against the charges of atheism and corrupting the youth of Athens. The dialogue, a long speech. Follow that with the Crito (Socrates gives his reasons for refusing to escape from prison). Then the Protagors (dialogues). Then try the Meno (Plato's doctrine of "recollection"). Then the Symposium (practically a drama).

Complete Works:

Selected Work


Selected Works: Start with a reading of the Ethics and the Politics. The Ethics answers (or tries to) the question, What is the Good? The serious reader can handle all of the Ethics, if on takes it slowly. In the first reading concentrate on Books I, II, III, VI and X. The Politics deals specifically with men in association. The first and third of the eight books are the easiest. Some Links:  

Dante Alighieri (1265 - 1321)

Dante's status rests for the most part on the Divine Comedy (La Divina Commedia), a long vernacular poem in cantos. Dante entitled it Commedia; the adjective “Divina” was added in the 16th century by later commentators (probably because it narrate the tale of the Dante’s journey through hell, purgatory, and paradise). The poem is divided into three major parts: Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio), and Haven (Paradiso). Dante begins his journey in the hell (the inferno) on Good Friday morning. On the Mountain of purgatory, Beatrice (when Dante was nine he first saw the little girl, Beatrice (1266-1290); and ten nine years later saw her again) becomes Dante's guide and leads him to paradise and to god.Early writings, La Vita Nuova (The New Life, 1293) are a collection of thirty-one love poems for Beatrice. Non-fiction works include De Vulgari Eloquentia (On Writing in the Italian Language, 1303 or 04). Dante wrote The Divine Comedy while in exile (1302-1365). The Divine Comedy teaches that through knowledge, good choices and divine grace, one can eventually arrive to destination with the god.
1318 France-Lombardy: "De Monarchia" was publicly burned. 
1559 Italy-Rome: "De Monarchia" banned by Pope Paul IV and the Index of Trent for asserting that the authority of Kings was derived from God, not through God's Vicar on earth, the Pope. 
1581 Portugal-Lisbon: "La Divina Commedia" prohibited by Church authorities. 


  William Shakespeare

My impression of Shakespeare is that he was a practicing theater craftsman, a busy actor, a sharp, wealthy businessman, a greatest English poet and dramatist, not always great (eye on a deadline rather than posterity), not a great original thinker. There is no such thing as Shakespeare "mystery". To enjoy Shakespeare, clear minds from the school/college English class. Shakespeare is for reading not for studying. To read him complete is well worth. The minimum reading (judgments differ, of course) consists of the following dozen out of thirty-seven plays and twenty or so sonnets. The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, Henry IV (Parts 1 and 2), Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida, Measure for Measure, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Othello, The Tempest and SONNET: 18, 29, 30, 33, 55, 60, 63, 64, 65, 66, 71, 73, 94, 98, 106, 107, 116, 129, 130, 144, and 146. Complete Works  

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

When read GBS it helps to remember a few simple facts about Shaw.
First, he was Irish, as he puts it, “I am a typical Irishman; my family came from Yorkshire.” Hence, his world is English life. Second, he was a Fabian Socialist who never recovered from Karl Marx. Hence, economics plays an important part in his work. Third, he is probably the greatest showman of ideas who ever lived. He uses thousand stage tricks to play with the ideas that might be found in books of sociology, economics, politics, and philosophy.
Suggested Reading: Arms and the Man, Candida, The Devil’s Disciple, Caesar and Cleopatra, Man and Superman, major Barbara, Androcles and the Lion, Pygmalion, Heartbreak House, Back to Methuselah, Saint Joan.

Minimum Readings: Works:


Some Useful Links:


 Sir Walter Scott

Minimum Reading: Works:  

Daniel Defoe (1659 - 1731)

Daniel Defoe was born in London in 1660. He was liberal (in today’s term) and very tolerant of others' religious ideas. After his mother died his father sent him to a boarding school, after which he attended Morton's Academy. He was a very good student. By 1683, Daniel was a successful young merchant. In 1684, he married Mary Tuffley. Later that year, he joined the army of the rebel Duke of Monmouth. The failed revolt against James forced Defoe to live in semi-exile. He traveled for three years and wrote anti-James II pamphlets. Daniel went bankrupt in 1692. In 1701, he wrote a poem called The True-Born Englishman that became the best-selling poem ever at that time. It was well known that he signed several of his later works as The True-Born Englishman. Still, it was only a pamphlet, which made Daniel the lowest form of writer as far as his contemporaries were concerned.
The next affair in his life was when he was pilloried in July 1703. He wrote a pamphlet called The Shortest Way with the Dissenters. Bear in mind that Daniel himself had been labeled a Dissenter. This Jonathan Swift style pamphlet made shocking proposal for dealing with Dissenters. It sold well. He was the only person ever pillioried who later become a national hero.
He had gotten another incarceration. His business failed while he was in Newgate prison. Desperate to support his wife and six children, he contact Robert Harley, Speaker of Parliament. Robert appreciated Daniel's usefulness as a writer and manipulator of popular opinion. From then on, Daniel had a steady job as a pamphleteer. Defoe was perhaps the first truly outstanding professional journalist (or hired hack) in England. In 1706, he returned to Scotland and started up a newspaper in Edinburgh called the Post-Man
Robinson Crusoe is one of the most famous books in the world. The first volume of Robinson Crusoe was published on April 25, 1719, and it was a big hit, chiefly with the lower and middle classes. Robinson Crusoe is a boys’ book ( its cousin Huckleberry Finn) in the sense that it satisfies those male dreams that happen to be most clear in boyhood but go on to lead an underground life in most males. In my opinion, this book makes the daydream respectable. Robinson Crusoe and Moby Dick are the two great novels that manage brilliantly without involving "female" sex. They have never been popular with women.
Since that, one worked so well, Daniel published Moll Flanders in 1722, drawing a great deal on his experience in Newgate prison. Afterward, this novel got him the label of a social historian. Daniel wrote on various economic issues and on travel, A Tour Thro' the whole Island of Great Britain.

 Minimum Reading:

Works: Some Useful Links:


 Jonathan Swift

Minimum Reading:

Gulliver's Travels

 Jane Austen

Minimum Reading (depend upon sex):  Works:

 Emily Bronte

Minimum Reading (depend upon whether sex):  Works (Bronte Sisters):


  Charles Dickens

Minimum Readings: Works:

 Lewis Carroll

Minimum Reading (Children): May include (depend upon age):

 Andrew Lang (Edited by)

Minimum Reading (Children):

  Richard F. Burton (Translated by)


 J. M. Barrie

Minimum Reading (Children):

D. H. Lawrence

Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter (1850) novels, resting on the tragic consequences of deny guilt. The setting of the novel is mid-seventh century puritan New England, the tale go after the history of four people. Hester Pryne who has born the daughter of an unnamed father and must wear the scarlet "A" of Adulteress on her bosom, Arthur Dimmesdale later on discovered to be the father of the child, Roger Chillingworth, an elderly physician and Pearl, the child. 
This novel was the first U.S. work to rank among "classics of world literature" was banned (1851-1899) in USA by Rev. A.C.Coxe. In 1852 Nicholas I banned this novel in Russia.

Herman Melville (1819-1891)


Mark Twain

"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)" is a novel about a mischievous boy name Tom winning triumphs through a number of adventures.
 "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)" is a novel about a boy, Huck and his black friend Jim who together make a journey, interrupted by many stops, far down the Mississippi on a raft. The London Athenaeum has called it one of the six greatest books ever written in America.
These two novels were banned by public libraries of US 1876+. Also banned in Soviet Union.
A little bit detail:
1876: excluded from the children's room, Public Library, Brooklyn, N.Y., U.S.A.
1876: excluded from Denver Public Library.
1885: "The Adv. of Huckleberry Finn" was banned by Public Library, Concord, MA.
1905: Both novels excluded from the Public Library, Brooklyn NY.
1930: Books confiscated at the border by Soviet Union.
Results of cencership:
1946: These two books became best sellers in soviet Union.
1957: United States and New York City dropped these books from list of approved books for schools.

Minimum Reading:  Works: 

 Feodor Mikhailovich Dostovski

Minimum Reading: Works:

Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy

Minimum Reading:  Works:

Anton Chekhov

Minimum Readings (Short Story):

Maxim Gorky 

Minimum Reading (Short Story):

Wollstonecraft Shelly 

Minimum Reading (Science Fiction):


Arthur Conan Doyle

H. G. Wells

John Stuart Mill

Alfred North Whitehead

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

Sigmund Freud

Selected Works:

Niccolo Machiavelli (1467-1527)

Machiavelli, Italian diplomat and political philosopher, was a Florentine. Savonarola dominated Florence when he was in his twenties. Immediately after Savonarola’s putting to death Machiavelli gets hold of a small position in the Florentine government (1498). He remained in its service until the re-reestablishment of the Medici in 1512. He was arrested, but set free, permitted to live in withdrawal near Florence. His most famous work, The Prince, was written in 1513, and dedicated to Lorenzo the Magnificent to win the favor of the Medici (but failed to conciliate). His longer work, the “Discourses” is markedly more republican and more liberal.

Principe (The Prince), a remarkably short book, tries to lay out methods or schemes how principalities are won, how they are held and how they are lost. In fifteenth century Italy few rulers were legitimate; even the popes, in many cases, secured election by fraudulent way. The Prince is very explicit in repudiating received morality where the conduct of rulers is concerned. A ruler will not survive if he is at all times good; he must be cunning and as violent. There is chapter (XVIII) entitled: “In What Way Princes Must Keep Faith.” We learn that they should keep faith when it pays to do so, but not otherwise. A prince must on occasion be faithless.

In Machiavelli there is no “legitimate power” comprehension. Power is for those who have the skill to grab it in a free competition or rivalry. His preference for popular government is not resulting from any idea of “rights,” but from the observation that popular governments are less cruel, unscrupulous, and inconstant than tyrannies.

In his doctrine, there are three important political goods: national independence, security, and a well-ordered constitution. The best constitution is one that shares out legal rights among prince, aristocracy, and people in proportion to their real power (the idea is under such a constitution successful revolutions are hard and therefore stability is achievable). His political philosophy is scientific and empirical, based upon his own experiences. He holds that religion should have a leading place in the State, not on the ground of its truth, but as social make strength.

Minimum Reading:

Selected Works:

The Prince (1513), Discourses on Livy (1517), The Art of War (1520), Reform of Florence (1520), The Life of Castruccio Castracane, History of Florence, and Numerous essays on the military and politics.

Rene Descartes (or Cartesius – the Latin form of his name) (1595 – 1650)

Descartes is a father of modern rationalism. He died unhappily in the service of queen Christina of Sweden.

Minimum Reading:

Blaise Pascal

Willian James

William Wordsworth

Will Durant

Jean-Jacques Roussiau



Miscellaneous Links


There is no place like Home