How to Read and Discuss Great Books

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

Solitary reading will enable a man to stuff himself with information; but without conversation his mind will become like a pond without an outlet — a mass of unhealthy stagnature. It is not enough to harvest knowledge by study; the wind of talk must winnow it, and blow away the chaff; then will the clear, bright grains of wisdom be garnered for our own use or that of others.
— William Mathews, “Literary Clubs” (1874)

Good reading is hard work. Moreover, “good reading” almost always entails “good re-reading” facilitated by “good discussion” of the initial reading. By synthesizing the highlights of Mortimer Adler’s well-known reading methodology with my own insights from over 30 years of reading and teaching classics, this short module will introduce a time-tested approach to effectively engaging great books dealing with profound ideas. Because reading in a skill and, as with other skills, knowledge improves practice. Continue reading

Reading Machiavelli and Macbeth … Twice!

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is sometimes read as a rebuttal of Machiavelli’s Prince. We’ll explore this notion by using the strategy laid out in Mortimer Adler’s classic How to Read a Book, to read each work twice, once quickly to get an overview and then again more slowly to figure out the details. Along the way, we’ll pay careful attention to the literary, philosophical, and political aspects of each classic work as well as the relationships between the two. Continue reading

To Be, or Not to Be, a Victim? Reading Seamus Heaney’s The Cure at Troy … Twice!

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

Developed with South African apartheid and Northern Ireland’s “Troubles” in mind, Seamus Heaney’s adaptation of Sophocles’ Philoctetes explores the all-too-human tendency towards self-pity as an obstacle to communal reconciliation. Using the strategy laid out in Mortimer Adler’s classic How to Read a Book, this course, we’ll read Heaney’s play once quickly to get an overview and then again more slowly to figure out the details. Along the way, we’ll pay careful attention to the dramatic, psychological, and philosophical features of a text that is frequently quoted by American politicians. Continue reading

Reading the Washington-DuBois Debate … Twice!

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

Although Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois are typically understood as ideological adversaries, a close consideration of their thought can suggest similarities as well as differences. Using the strategy laid out in Mortimer Adler’s classic How to Read a Book, this course is devoted to developing a thorough understanding of the core debate by reading Up from Slavery and The Souls of Black Folk twice, once quickly to get an overview and then again more slowly to figure out the details. Along the way, we’ll pay careful attention to the literary, philosophical, sociohistorical, and political aspects of each classic work. Continue reading

Reading Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice … Twice!

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

Using the strategy laid out in Mortimer Adler’s classic How to Read a Book, this course is devoted to developing a thorough understanding of perhaps Shakespeare’s most controversial play, The Merchant of Venice, by reading it once quickly to get an overview and then again more slowly to figure out the details. Along the way, we’ll pay careful attention to both the dramatic and the religious features of the text, and also compare Shakespeare’s play with Christopher Marlowe’s contemporaneous The Jew of Malta. Continue reading

Reading Rousseau’s Origin and Foundations of Inequality … Twice!

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

Using the strategy laid out in Mortimer Adler’s classic How to Read a Book, this course is devoted to developing a solid understanding of Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality (aka: The Second Discourse) by reading it once quickly to get an overview and then again more slowly to figure out the details. Along the way, we’ll pay careful attention to the literary, religious, and philosophical features that are woven together in the Enlightenment’s greatest account of “The Fall of Man” and a work that helped paved the way for the French Revolution and the development of Communism.
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Reading Descartes’s Meditations … Twice!

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

Using the strategy laid out in Mortimer Adler’s classic How to Read a Book, this course is devoted to developing a thorough understanding of Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy by reading it once quickly to get an overview and then again more slowly to figure out the details. Along the way, we’ll pay careful attention to both the dramatic and the philosophic features that Descartes interweaves in this philosophical creation story. Whether you’ve attempted Descartes’s Meditations before or never cracked the cover, this course is for you. Continue reading

How to Read the U.S. Constitution as Literature

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

Like its counterparts “How to Read Classic Texts” and “How to Read Religious Texts as Literature,” this course is designed to help students improve their reading skills. In this case, by learning how to read the United States Constitution as “literature” rather than as “law” — and thereby discover new layers of meaning in what often seems like an old chestnut. Continue reading

How to Read Plato’s Dialogues as Literature

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

Like its counterparts in the “How to Read Classic Texts” series, this course is designed to help students improve their reading skills. In this case, by learning how to read Plato’s dialogues as “philosophical dramas,” the full appreciation of which requires attention to each work’s dramatic and philosophical dimensions (sometimes referred to as “form” and “content”) — as well as (sometimes) to its connections to other dialogues in Plato’s canon. Discover what folks who read Plato’s dialogues as thinly-veiled manifestoes are missing! Continue reading

How to Read the Book of Genesis as Literature

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

Like its counterparts “How to Read Classic Texts” series, this course is designed to help students improve their reading skills. In this case, by learning how to read the Book of Genesis as “literature” rather than as “scripture,” thereby unlocking new layers of meaning. We’ll focus both on paying close attention to the actual text on the page, and on becoming self-aware of the unconscious biases that we bring to this foundational book, as well as to the rest of “The Bible.” Continue reading