Let’s face it: we all have holes in our education.

In part, this is because we can only fit so much into the years of our formal education.

But the holes in our education are also due to the fact that we no longer have a standard canon of sources that we are expected to study in school.

In the past, this canon served a unifying function among those in the Western world: it gave us a common lens through which to view the world, common terms for discourse, and a means to understand a common past.

Now, however, many are lucky to have any exposure to classical sources beyond selections from the Iliad, a Shakespeare play or two, and Huckleberry Finn. Most books that students read differ from school to school, which leaves people with very few literary experiences that they share in common. (No wonder we’re becoming more divided as a country!)

Faced with this situation, what are we to do? Well, if you want to learn the classical sources, you’re most likely going to have to do a lot on your own. You simply cannot depend upon today’s education system to put these books in front of you. You’re going to have to self-educate.

Fortunately, there’s a book to help you with this! It’s called The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had, by Susan Wise Bauer. In Part I, she provides advice on how to more maturely study (vs. simply “reading”) classical texts on one’s own. In Part II, she provides a list/program of books (both past and present) that can make one part of the “Great Conversation” that has been taking place for over two thousand years.  

Below I have provided her list, in which the books and authors are put in chronological order. There’s plenty to quibble with in it – both in terms of its exclusions and inclusions. However, I think the inspirational point behind the list remains: there’s a human and social value to reading the classics, and tapping into that value requires much in the way of personal sacrifice and effort.  

Novel List

  1. Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes
  2. Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan
  3. Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift
  4. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  5. Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens
  6. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
  7. The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne
  8. Moby Dick, Herman Melville
  9. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe
  10. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
  11. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
  12. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  13. Return of the Native, Thomas Hardy
  14. Portrait of a Lady, Henry James
  15. Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
  16. Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane
  17. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
  18. The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
  19. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  20. Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
  21. The Trial, Franz Kafka
  22. Native Son, Richard Wright
  23. The Stranger, Albert Camus
  24. 1984, George Orwell
  25. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
  26. Seize the Day, Saul Bellow
  27. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
  28. If on a winter’s night a traveler, Italo Calvino
  29. Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
  30. White Noise, Don Delillo
  31. Possession, A.S. Byatt


Autobiography List

  1. The Confessions, Augustine
  2. The Book of Margery Kempe, Margery Kempe
  3. Essays, Michel de Montaigne
  4. The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila, Teresa of Avila
  5. Meditations, Rene Descartes
  6. Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, John Bunyan
  7. The Narrative of Captivity and Restoration, Mary Rowlandson
  8. Confessions, Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  9. Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin
  10. Walden, Henry David Thoreau
  11. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written By Herself
  12. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass
  13. Up from Slavery, Booker T. Washington
  14. Ecce Homo, Friedrich Nietzsche
  15. Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler
  16. An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Mohandas Gandhi
  17. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein
  18. The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton
  19. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, C.S. Lewis
  20. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X
  21. Journal of a Solitude, May Sarton
  22. The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn
  23. Born Again, Charles W. Colson
  24. Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez, Richard Rodriguez
  25. The Road from Coorain, Jill Ker Conway
  26. All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs, Elie Wiesel


History List

  1. The Histories, Herodotus
  2. The Peloponnesian War, Thucydides
  3. The Republic, Plato
  4. Lives, Plutarch
  5. The City of God, Augustine
  6. The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Bede
  7. The Prince, Niccolò Macchiavelli
  8. Utopia, Sir Thomas More
  9. The True End of Civil Government, John Locke
  10. The History of England, Volume V, David Hume
  11. The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  12. Common Sense, Thomas Paine
  13. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon
  14. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft
  15. Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville
  16. The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
  17. The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, Jacob Burckhardt
  18. The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois
  19. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber
  20. Queen Victoria, Lytton Strachey
  21. The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell
  22. The New England Mind, Perry Miller
  23. The Great Crash 1929, John Kenneth Galbraith
  24. The Longest Day, Cornelius Ryan
  25. The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan
  26. Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made, Eugene D. Genovese
  27. A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century, Barbara Tuchman
  28. All the President’s Men, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
  29. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, James McPherson
  30. A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
  31. The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama


Drama List

  1. Agamemnon, Aeschylus
  2. Oedipus the King, Sophocles
  3. Medea, Euripides
  4. The Birds, Aristophanes
  5. Poetics, Aristotle
  6. Everyman and Medieval Miracle Plays
  7. Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe
  8. Richard III, William Shakespeare
  9. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare
  10. Hamlet, William Shakespeare
  11. Tartuffe, Molière
  12. The Way of the World, William Congreve
  13. She Stoops to Conquer, Oliver Goldsmith
  14. The School for Scandal, Richard Brinsley Sheridan
  15. A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen
  16. The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde
  17. The Cherry Orchard, Anton Chekhov
  18. Saint Joan, George Bernard Shaw
  19. Murder in the Cathedral, T.S. Eliot
  20. Our Town, Thornton Wilder
  21. Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Eugene O’Neill
  22. No Exit, Jean Paul Sartre
  23. A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams
  24. Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller
  25. Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett
  26. A Man For All Seasons, Robert Bolt
  27. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard
  28. Equus, Peter Shaffer


Poetry List (I’ve mainly included her recommended authors rather than her specific poem recommendations)

  1. The Epic of Gilgamesh
  2. Iliad and the Odyssey, Homer
  3. Greek Lyricists
  4. Odes, Horace
  5. Beowulf
  6. Inferno, Dante Alighieri
  7. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  8. The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer
  9. Sonnets, William Shakespeare
  10. John Donne
  11. Psalms, King James Bible
  12. Paradise Lost, John Milton
  13. Songs of Innocence and of Experience, William Blake
  14. William Wordsworth
  15. Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  16. John Keats
  17. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  18. Alfred Lord Tennyson
  19. Walt Whitman
  20. Emily Dickinson
  21. Christina Rossetti
  22. Gerard Manley Hopkins
  23. William Butler Yeats
  24. Paul Laurence Dunbar
  25. Robert Frost
  26. Carl Sandburg
  27. William Carlos Williams
  28. Ezra Pound
  29. T.S. Eliot
  30. Langston Hughes
  31. W.H. Auden
  32. Philip Larkin
  33. Allen Ginsberg
  34. Sylvia Plath
  35. Mark Strand
  36. Adrienne Rich
  37. Seamus Heaney
  38. Robert Pinsky
  39. Jane Kenyon
  40. Rita Dove