The Great Books List

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Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, England. 1818 Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was born into a famous literary family, moved amongst a circle of poetic greats and married one of the foremost writers of the era and, in an age when women were generally marginalized, she cast them all into the shadows with her famous novel Frankenstein. Shelley’s Gothic horror novel was one of the first best sellers by a woman author, is still widely read today and has been the basis for numerous film and stage adaptations. Blending Romantic era philosophical questions about natural perfection and beauty with horror and social criticism, the...

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The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Basho, Japan.1702 Basho, was the pseudonym of Matsuo Munefusa, a Japanese poet, who is considered the master of the Japanese poetic form of haiku. He was the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan. Basho is also celebrated for his works in the collaborative haikai no renga form. His poetry is internationally renowned, and within Japan many of his poems revered. Born into a lower level samurai family in 1644 in the province of Iga, Basho went through the usual education of one of Japan’s minor nobility and was expected to join the military when old enough. But...

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Meditations c 175 Marcus Aurelius, Rome, 121-180 Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus was Roman Emperor from 161 to his death. Regarded as the last  of the ‘Five Good Emperors,’ he ruled the Roman Empire from 161 to 180, and is also considered one of the most important stoic philosophers. He, along with Julius Caesar, is the only one of two ancient leaders whose written works makes The Great Books List. While in popular imagination Marcus Aurelius is regarded as an intellectual leader, his reign was marked by several wars including those against the Parthians, Germans and even elements of his own...

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Les Fleurs du Mal

Charles Baudelaire, France.1857 Of all the poets to appear on the Great Books List, few evoke the cliché of a tortured poet better than Frenchman Charles Baudelaire. Impoverished, pallid and unrecognized Baudelaire had a short, hard life; but his poetry made him one of the most influential European poets of the nineteenth century. Baudelaire was born in Paris, in 1821 into a middle class family. His father was 34 years older than his wife and died shortly after Charles was born. His mother remarried an army staff officer who was also a senior ambassador for the French government. Baudelaire began...

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The Book of Chuang Tzu

Chuang Tzu , China, c.265-275 BCE It is common with many ancient philosophic traditions for the teacher to have a primary disciple, often unknown to the teacher, who adds to and evolves the original tradition. Confucius had Mencius, Socrates wrote nothing himself but was the central character in the works of his student Plato, and Jesus of Nazareth’s philosophy was codified and written down by Paul. The same case apples to Taoism, where the original ideas of Lao Tzu written down in the Tao were expanded and discussed in the Zhuangzi, or the Book of Chuang Tzu. Chuang Tzu, who...

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Tell us about the Great Books

We hope you like the new look of The Great Books List. Part of the rework was to enable people to comment and discuss the great books. Do you have an opinion on the Great Books? Have some comment on any book or plays on the list? Do you find this useful or interesting? Any particular book we have missed? We are always looking for you feedback and how you have approached the Great Books and you thoughts on them. Start a debate with a comment. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Poems John Donne

John Donne’s poetry and prose still resonate today with their meditations upon love and death, religion and politics. His poetry, characterized by its intensity, passion word-play, and complexity is still widely read. Well-known as both a writer and important religious figure in the years leading up to the English Civil War, Donne is considered one of the greatest love poets in the English language. He is also noted for his religious verse and treatises and for his sermons, which rank among the best of the 17th century John Donne was born in London in 1572 into a prosperous Roman Catholic...

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Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad, England.1902 Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski was born in 1857 in Warsaw in modern day Poland. He was born into an impoverished noble family where is father was a playwright and political activist. His father, Apollo Korzeniowski, fell afoul of the ruling Russian Tsarist authorities in 1861 when Josef was just four, and was arrested and exiled for his part in the organizing a popular uprising. The family was initially exiled to Russia then to Ukraine. The harsh climate eventually claimed the lives of Josef’s mother and father. By the age of 11 he was an orphan. But he...

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Thomas More, England 1515 Due to the recent success of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring Up The Bodies, there has been a recent re-evaluation of Thomas More. Recent interpretations of More were coloured by Robert Bolt’s play and film A Man For All Seasons, where More is portrayed as the definitive man of conscience. More in refusing to endorse Henry VIII’s divorce of his wife, remains true to himself and unwavering in his beliefs and in doing so condemns himself to death. Mantel, on the other hand, portrays More as an intransigent ideologue, sanctimonious and ruthless, willing...

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The Hymn to Aphrodite

Sappho, Greece c.600 BCE Sappho was a Greek lyric poet born in Eressos on the island of Lesbos. She is most often associated with Mytilene, the capital city of Lesbos, and a major city even in the 7th century BCE. Most sources say she was born sometime between 630 BCE and 612 BCE, and it is said that she died around 570 BC. The bulk of her poetry has been lost, although her reputation has remained. Sappho was born into an aristocratic family, which is reflected in the sophistication of her language. Fragments of her work that remain make references...