Reading List

As mentioned elsewhere, I (fosco) am in the middle of a reading project which should take me through nearly all of the Western Canon, or at least that portion of it discussed by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren in their most excellent How To Read A Book. I keep track of my progress on a spreadsheet, part of which is reproduced below (the books remaining on the list are not displayed). I’m following their outline in rough order, though have occasionally left the path for considerable periods.

Our periodicals are not listed, but at the moment we’re reading The Atlantic Monthly, Scientific American, Red Herring, Touchstone, First Things, Our Big Back Yard, National Geographic for Kids.

And, I hasten to add, the children have their own books and whatnot. Some of the books below are/were bedtime reading for them.

The Brothers Karamazov Dostoevsky, Fyodor
The Histories Herodotus
The Peloponnesian War Thucydides
Lives of the Famous Grecians and Romans, V1 Plutarch
The Dark Tower, Vol. 5 King, Steven
State of Fear Crichton, Michael
The End of the Affair Greene, Graham
Brideshead Revisited Waugh, Evelyn
Last Days of Socrates Plato
Philosophy 101 with Socrates Kreeft, Peter
Master and Commander O’Brian, Patrick
Post Captain O’Brian, Patrick
Our Mutual Friend Dickens, Charles
How to Read a Book Adler, Mortimer
To The Lighthouse Woolf, Virginia
The Life of Greece Durant, Wil
Caesar and Christ Durant, Wil
Cadillac Beach Dorsey, Tim
Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way Pope John Paul II
The Spirit of the Liturgy Ratzinger, Joseph
Brunelleschi’s Dome King, Ross
Handy as I Wanna Be Rause, Vince
Ivanhoe Scott, Sir Walter
The Faerie Queen Spenser, Edmund
Civil Disobedience Thoreau, Henry
Kubla Khan, Rime of the Ancient Mariner Coleridge, Samuel
The Age of Faith Durant, Wil
Prothalamion, Epithalamion, Sonnets Spenser, Edmund
The Prelude (selections) Wordsworth, William
The Rubaiyat Khayyam, Omar (trans. Fitzgerald)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Rowling, JK
Inferno Dante (trans. Esolen)
The Medea, Hippolytus, Alcestis Euripides
Elements Euclid
Works Archimedes
On Conic Sections Apollonius of Perga
Introduction to Arithmetic Nicomachus of Gerasa
The Odyssey Homer (trans. Chapman)
On Looking into Chapman’s Homer Keats, John
The Hobbit Tolkien, J.R.R.
Amores, Metamorphoses, et al Ovid
The Meditations Marcus Aurelius
The Aeneid Virgil (trans. Fitzgerald)
The Iliad Homer (trans. Lattimore)
Theogeny, Works & Days, The Shield Hesiod
Lives of the Famous Grecians and Romans, V2 Plutarch
Dark Night of the Soul St. John of the Cross (trans. Alison)
Titus Groan Peake, Mervyn
The Devil in the White City Larson, Erik
The Life of Samuel Johnson (abridged) Boswell, James
1776 McCullough, David
Arguing About Slavery Miller, William Lee
London: A Poem,Vanity of Human Wishes Johnson, Samuel
Third Satire Juvenal
Mere Christianity Lewis, C.S.
The Magician’s Nephew Lewis, C.S.
Final Harvest Dickinson, Emily (T.Johnson, ed)
De Rerum Natura Lucretius
The Rape of the Lock Pope, Alexander
The Screwtape Letters Lewis, C.S.
The Enneads Plotinus
Minor poems (Lycidas, Nativity, etc) Milton, John
The Discourses Epictetus
Purgatory Dante (trans. Esolen)
Georgics, Eclogues Virgil
Rhetoric, On Poetics Aristotle
The Annals Tacitus
Letter to Herodotus, Letter to Menoeceus Epicurus
Agamemnon Aeschylus
Prometheus Bound Aeschylus
Oedipus The King Sophocles
Antigone Sophocles
Lysistrata Aristophanes
The Libation Bearers Aeschylus
Iphigenia in Tauris Euripides
Electra Sophocles
Medical Writings Hippocrates
On the Natural Faculties Galen
Pride and Prejudice Austen, Jane
Prince Caspian Lewis, C.S.

The Song of Roland (trans. Dorothy Sayers)
Beowulf (trans. Seamus Haney)
Paradise Dante (trans. Esolen)
Icelandic Sagas (Erik the Red, Hen-Thorir, etc) Various (trans. Gwyn Jones)
Voyage of the Dawn Treader Lewis, C.S.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (trans. Tolkien)
Pearl (trans. Tolkien)
Sir Orfeo (trans. Tolkien)
The Case for Democracy Sharansky, Natan
Various Bede
Various Caedmon
Canterbury Tales Chaucer
Crito Plato
Art of Love, Book 1 Ovid
Phaedo Plato
Metamorphoses Ovid (trans. Mandelbaum)
Works (Sonnets and other poetry) Spenser, Edmund
The Silver Chair Lewis, C.S.
Republic (selections) Plato
Raving Fans Blanchard, Bowles
Eats, Shoots and Leaves Truss, Lynne
How to Really Love Your Child Campbell, Ross
Peopleware Demarco, Tom and Lister, Tim
Fab Gershenfeld, Neil
Treasure Island Stevenson, Robert Louis
Troilus and Cresidye Chaucer
Treatise on the use of the Astrolabe Chaucer
Symposium Plato
The Story of King Arthur and his Knights Pyle, Howard
Various short stories Kipling, Rudyard
The Prince Machiavelli, Niccolo
Praise of Folly Erasmus, Desiderius
HMS Surprise O’Brian, Patrick
Utopia More, St. Thomas
The Mauritius Command O’Brian, Patrick
Portuguese Irregular Verbs (audio) Smith, Alexander McCall
No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Smith, Alexander McCall
The Spirit to Serve Marriott, Bill
The Last Battle Lewis, C.S.
The Wind In The Willows Grahame, Kenneth

Three Treatises Luther, Martin
Institutes of the Christian Religion Calvin, John
Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence Saint-Jure, Jean Baptiste
The Jungle Book Kipling, Rudyard
Don Quixote Cervantes, Miguel (trans. Putnam)
The Kalevala (trans. Keith Bosley)
Adventures of Robin Hood Pyle, Howard
Essays, New Atlantis Bacon, Francis
The Fellowship of the Ring Tolkien, J.R.R.
Dune Herbert, Frank
Essays De Montaigne, Michel (trans. Cohen)
Dr. Zhivago Pasternak, Boris
The Faerie Queen Spenser, Edmund
“Inventing the Essay” Boorstin, Daniel
“Montaigne” Barzun, Jacques
The Two Towers Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Silmarillion Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Unfinished Tales Tolkien, J.R.R.
Beowulf (again) (trans Seamus Heaney)
The Golden Bough (selections) Frazier, James
The Return of the King Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Swiss Family Robinson Wyss, Johann
Gormenghast Peake, Mervyn
Titus Alone Peake, Mervyn
Tales of H.P. Lovecraft Lovecraft, H.P. (Joyce Oates, ed)
A Wrinkle In Time L’Engle, Madeleine
A Journey To The Center Of The Earth Verne, Jules
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Clarke, Susanna
Mansfield Park Austen, Jane
Uncle Wiggly Stories Garis, Howard
Children of Men James, P.D.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Twain, Mark

Tears of the Giraffe Smith, Alexander
Decline of the West (abridged) Spengler, Oswald
Reflections on the Psalms Lewis, C.S.
Morality For Beautiful Girls Smith, Alexander
The Kalahari Typing School for Men Smith, Alexander
The Full Cupboard of Life Smith, Alexander
* Oxford History of English Literature: 16th Century Poetry and Prose Lewis, C.S.
* The Annotated Alice Carroll, Lewis (ed. Martin Gardner)
Blue Shoes and Happiness Smith, Alexander
Pillars of the Earth Follet, Ken
The Good Husband of Zebra Drive Smith, Alexander
* The Story of the Champions of the Round Table Pyle, Howard

* – In progress Not really. I can’t keep up with this list any more, and it’s way out of date. I haven’t touched it in months, but we continue to read voraciously. Look for updates in the blog postings.


5 Responses to “Reading List”

  1. josephmcbee Says:

    Did you aactually read all of these books so far? If so I am mucho impressed! If not, I am still mucho impressed.

  2. fosco Says:

    Yes. I started this project a couple of years ago, right about the time we stopped watching television. I made considerable progress that first year because I had switched to transit for a few months and suddenly found myself with 3 hours/day that I could dedicate to reading. Some of those are also books that I’ve read to the oldest kids for bedtime, so they’re going on in parallel with whatever I happen to be reading at the same time.

    I’ve actually derailed considerably from the original plan – I’m supposed to be reading Shakespeare right now, but only got past the first couple of plays before losing interest. I’ll probably swing back to the Adler/Van Doren list here before too much longer.

  3. josephmcbee Says:

    Excellent. I have a list of 100 of The Greatest Books Ever Written that I am working through albeit at a much slower pace than you. What made you choose this plan? How did you go about picking the books for your list?

    Also, when you say Van Doren, are you referring to the poet Mark Van Doren? If so, where have you found his books, they are all out of print and I would love to pick up some copies as I love his work.


  4. fosco Says:

    The list comes from a book called How To Read A Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren. It’s a short how-to guide to attacking the Western Canon, and it was published around 30 years ago. There’s a list in the back of the book of the books that they considered essential reading, but you can also find the list online here. These lists must have been popular some time ago, and I keep coming across volumes in the used bookstores that look to have been part of some “Own The Great Books” series, probably sold as a book-of-the-month sort of thing. Once in a while, I come across a complete set for sale, and the contents almost always match this list (or ones like it).

    As for choosing, I started in (rough) chronological order with occasional side-trips into biographies or histories if I need some historical context. I’ve also been known to consult Cliff’s notes and whatnot.

  5. josephmcbee Says:


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