Interesting: St. John’s Required Reading

I wish more colleges would follow St. John’s reading program. This is what one would call a classical education. Oh, and all of this will only set you back $48,000 per year!


HOMER: Iliad, Odyssey
AESCHYLUS: Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, Eumenides, Prometheus Bound
SOPHOCLES: Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone, Philoctetes, Ajax
THUCYDIDES: Peloponnesian War
EURIPIDES: Hippolytus, Bacchae
HERODOTUS: Histories
PLATO: Meno, Gorgias, Republic, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Symposium, Parmenides, Theatetus, Sophist, Timaeus, Phaedrus
ARISTOTLE: Poetics, Physics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, On Generation and Corruption, Politics, Parts of Animals, Generation of Animals
EUCLID: Elements
LUCRETIUS: On the Nature of Things
PLUTARCH: Lycurgus, Solon
NICOMACHUS: Arithmetic
LAVOISIER: Elements of Chemistry
HARVEY: Motion of the Heart and Blood
Essays by: Archimedes, Fahrenheit, Avogadro, Dalton, Cannizzaro, Virchow, Mariotte, Driesch, Gay-Lussac, Spemann, Stears, J.J. Thompson, Mendeleyev, Berthollet, J.L. Proust


THE BIBLE: New Testament
ARISTOTLE: De Anima, On Interpretation, Prior Analytics, Categories
VIRGIL: Aeneid
PLUTARCH: “Caesar,” “Cato the Younger,” “Antony,” “Brutus”
EPICTETUS: Discourses, Manual
PTOLEMY: Almagest
PLOTINUS: The Enneads
AUGUSTINE: Confessions
MAIMONIDES: Guide for the Perplexed
ST. ANSELM: Proslogium
AQUINAS: Summa Theologica
DANTE: Divine Comedy
CHAUCER: Canterbury Tales
MACHIAVELLI: The Prince, Discourses
KEPLER: Epitome IV
RABELAIS: Gargantua and Pantagruel
PALESTRINA: Missa Papae Marcelli
VIETE: Introduction to the Analytical Art
BACON: Novum Organum
SHAKESPEARE: Richard II, Henry IV, The Tempest, As You Like It, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, and Sonnets
POEMS BY: Marvell, Donne, and other 16th- and 17th-century poets
DESCARTES: Geometry, Discourse on Method
PASCAL: Generation of Conic Sections
BACH: St. Matthew Passion, Inventions
HAYDN: Quartets
MOZART: Operas
BEETHOVEN: Third Symphony
STRAVINSKY: Symphony of Psalms


CERVANTES: Don Quixote
GALILEO: Two New Sciences
HOBBES: Leviathan
DESCARTES: Meditations, Rules for the Direction of the Mind
MILTON: Paradise Lost
PASCAL: Pensees
HUYGENS: Treatise on Light, On the Movement of Bodies by Impact
ELIOT: Middlemarch
SPINOZA: Theological-Political Treatise
LOCKE: Second Treatise of Government
RACINE: Phaedre
NEWTON: Principia Mathematica
KEPLER: Epitome IV
LEIBNIZ: Monadology, Discourse on Metaphysics, Essay On Dynamics, Philosophical Essays, Principles of Nature and Grace
SWIFT: Gulliver’s Travels
HUME: Treatise of Human Nature
ROUSSEAU: Social Contract, The Origin of Inequality
MOLIERE: Le Misanthrope
ADAM SMITH: Wealth of Nations
KANT: Critique of Pure Reason, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals
MOZART: Don Giovanni
JANE AUSTEN: Pride and Prejudice
DEDEKIND: “Essay on the Theory of Numbers”
“Articles of Confederation,” “Declaration of Independence,” “Constitution of the United States of America”
TWAIN: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
WORDSWORTH: The Two Part Prelude of 1799
Essays by: Young, Taylor, Euler, D. Bernoulli, Orsted, Ampere, Faraday, Maxwell


Supreme Court opinions
DARWIN: Origin of Species
HEGEL: Phenomenology of Mind, “Logic” (from the Encyclopedia)
LOBACHEVSKY: Theory of Parallels
TOCQUEVILLE: Democracy in America
LINCOLN: Selected Speeches
KIERKEGAARD: Philosophical Fragments, Fear and Trembling
WAGNER: Tristan and Isolde
MARX: Capital, Political and Economic Manuscripts of 1844, The German Ideology
DOSTOEVSKI: Brothers Karamazov
TOLSTOY: War and Peace
MELVILLE: Benito Cereno
O’CONNOR: Selected Stories
WILLIAM JAMES; Psychology, Briefer Course
NIETZSCHE: Beyond Good and Evil
FREUD: Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis
BOOKER T. WASHINGTON: Selected Writings
DUBOIS: The Souls of Black Folk
HUSSERL: Crisis of the European Sciences
HEIDEGGER: Basic Writings
EINSTEIN: Selected papers
CONRAD: Heart of Darkness
FAULKNER: Go Down Moses
FLAUBERT: Un Coeur Simple
WOOLF: Mrs. Dalloway
Poems by: Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Valery, Rimbaud
Essays by: Faraday, J.J. Thomson, Millikan, Minkowski, Rutherford, Davisson, Schrodinger, Bohr, Maxwell, de Broglie, Heisenberg, Mendel, Boveri, Sutton, Morgan, Beadle & Tatum, Sussman, Watson & Crick, Jacob & Monod, Hardy

13 thoughts on “Interesting: St. John’s Required Reading”

  1. If you read Nietzsche, make sure you do it in German, the English translations suck (Same can be said for Dostoevsky (which I always spell with a Y) & Russian).

    Bet the St.John’s bookstore sells lots of cliff notes.
    Kierkegaard??, there’s 2 weeks of your life you’ll never get back. Here I’ll save you the trouble: churches suck and I have a rough time with God.

  2. This is a horrible reading list. I guess it’s ok if you think the only thing that matters is the Western world up to the first part of the 20th century, but most people don’t.

    Not to mention the selection is questionable in its value. What is the purpose of reading Newton’s Principia? The notation is outdated, and he wasn’t even very good at presenting the material. Calculus before Cauchy was pretty haphazard and didn’t make much sense. Similar things are true of the other writing on math/science.

    And I disagree with Ernesto. Dostoevsky is boring in both Russian and English, but at least the translations tend to be shorter, so that’s a clear advantage for reading him in English.

  3. You WILL have a pretty good idea of
    many of the origins of western civilization.
    Some people like Dostoevsky and think
    Kierkegaard was great….(I haven’t read
    Kierkegaard and not much of Dostoevsky) but if
    you want a classical education, there’s something
    to be said for reading some stuff you don’t
    really like.

  4. Many, many moons ago I attended another well-known school in Annapolis and would often pass by St. John’s on Saturday nights when I was allowed off my campus. I always wondered why there never seemed to be anybody at that school. I can only assume they were sequestered while reading from their reading list.

  5. I have to agree with Andy. You would get a lot of different views about the Western world but you wouldn’t understand a thing about any other cultures.

    Yay a bunch of Europeans disagree about God and the world and it forms the basis for how the Western world works. How about switching out some of those books for literature from other cultures and maybe we can understand how other countries and their people view the world?

  6. Spreading yourself too thinly, reading only the “most fun” selections from 20 different cultures.. that’s fine if you’re dabbling, but it’s no way to get true depth of knowledge. If all you’ve done is a basic survey, you’re in no position to make judgments or do much deep thinking.

    It’s beneficial to have a thorough understanding of one system of thought (and Western philosophy is the most important and relevant in today’s world) before going on to learn all the other interesting systems.

    The sad thing, Andy, is that judging from your comment you do have pretty in-depth knowledge of philosophy, and probably Western philosophy. You know Cauchy’s impact on calculus, something pretty rare outside of math majors who took real analysis. You’ve read Dostoevsky in multiple languages. And now you want to rob people of the experience of learning a beautiful philosophical system in great detail… why? You say Dostoevsky is boring… would you feel justified in saying that if you had only read one book by him? Hopefully not. Can you accurately judge the impact that Western literature has had on you?

    Honestly, you sound like a computer science professor I had who said “If you’re a bad programmer, you’ll never learn to be a good one” — forgetting the 30 years of experience he had and the slow buildup of technology over that time that gave him detailed knowledge of every aspect of programming (whereas today kids are tossed a Java book, their senior project is a web application, and people wonder why the hell they don’t understand pointers in C).

  7. That’s where my mom went. I didn’t follow her footsteps because I don’t find Greeks even mildly interesting. I probably know more about them than your average person my age. Probably much more. Thanks mom!

    In defense of studying Western civilization, America seems to have a very short memory. I periodically hear people asking “Why do they hate us?” In part, it’s because other countries have longer memories. People in the Middle East remember (through passing it down) the crusader slaughters of even Christian Arabs. They remember the forceful reinstallation of the Shah or the US selling weapons to Saddam. Other countries textbooks may bring up the US internment (“concentration”? without the killing, of course) camps during WWII where the Japanese US citizens got sent. Or the virtual extinction (planned and unplanned) of the First Nations/Native Americans.

    If Americans knew more of their own history and how their country (and the West) had interacted with the rest of the world, the world might make a lot more sense.

  8. Mrs. Micah,

    You left out all the good things the US has done.

    Yes, we have made mistakes and done stupid things, but EVERY country has done that.

  9. JLP, yes I did, but I was taught all the good stuff in school. And with that kind of background, it’s hard to understand why people wouldn’t like the US. Then you start learning more and say “ohh…..”

    As you say, every country does bad stuff. And lots of good stuff. It’s important to know both if we want to understand our world. Hence the reason to study Western/American history in depth. Know what brought us here. Know what’s built up perceptions.

  10. Mrs. Micah,
    Amen. You nailed it. We are so arrogant in this country. We think we know what’s good for everyone else. We refuse to see things from another’s prospective. We impose our will and views on them without a care for what they want or actually need.

    It’s okay to make mistakes, which we make plenty of. But then we don’t acknowledge them or seek to find out from others what went wrong. We just continue to impose our will. Our latest big blunder is trying to impose democracy at the end of gun. How unbelievably stupid. Especially, when trying to impose it on a culture that has absolutely no understanding of it.

    We also think it’s unpatriotic to question such actions. This only reinforces our arrogance with stubbornness. Not a great combination.

  11. I knew something was up with them…
    One time when I was in Annapolis, my parents and I walked through their campus. My mom asked a girl where the bookstore was, under the assumption that, like many college students, she would understand “bookstore” to mean “place where you buy college merchandise”. The girl pointed us in the direction of the bookstore, raving about how great it was. We walked into this building, and it was full of…books. And it wasn’t like Barnes & Noble. It was dark and kind of creepy and full of books like the ones on this list. I guess if you’re into reading a hundred or so centuries-old books, then it is a pretty sweet bookstore

  12. It’s arrogant to say we are trying to
    impose democracy on a culture with “absolutely
    no understanding of it”. Yes, we’ve made
    mistakes, as you point out, but we are no more
    arrogant than everyone else (which IS still too
    much). Reading a selection of the works on
    St. John’s formidable reading list could well
    make anyone less arrogant…..or more, I’ll
    admit, LoL.

  13. @Jon,

    I can sympathize with your concern about spreading too thin but justifying this by saying that Western philosophy is the most relevant thought system in today’s world betrays an ignorance that even most Americans have largely remediated. Any person not living under a rock for the past decade can tell you that the rise to super-power status of countries like China and India is undeniable. Once this democratization of world power takes place, diminishing the tyranny of the so-called NGOs that are stifling their growth, it’s only a matter of time before Africa, South-East-Asia and the rest of the world follows suit.

    Couple that with the spending and eating habits of Americans, and the increasing godlessness and disintellectualization of Europe (essentially amounting to a complete rejection of any of the values and beliefs you’ll read about in the above list — so much for relevance) and it’s clear where the balance of future power is headed.

    In raising your concern, you make the incorrect assumption that depth of study is only achievable through dividing rational thought based on cultures. The fact of the matter is that when it comes to learning how to think this distinction is imaginary and even harmful. If anything, this reading list raises all sorts of alarm bells regarding the state of liberal arts education today. If you want to make arguments for deep thinking based on a narrow focus, you can continue to take it to absurd limits. Harold Bloom thinks that there is nothing about human nature that one cannot learn from Shakespeare so why not fashion a syllabus based on ruthless dissection of Shakespeare for all four years of college? Compared to that, the above list is but a “basic survey”.

    Part of being a good thinker necessarily involves the ability to contrast and view the sum of all human knowledge from a global perspective. Perhaps it was just such a lack of diversification that led your computer science professor to make his unfortunate generalization.

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