Over the last year or so, I’ve been reading a lot of classical and philosophical books. Most of them are really dense (and can cause some tears when they are assigned for a class), but I found them worth it in the end. In no particular order, here is a list of some of the books I read so far:
1. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison- Michel Foucault
2. Orientalism- Edward W. Said
3. The Communist Manifest- Karl Marx
4. The First Book of Virgil’s Aeneid- J.T. White
5. The Clash of Civilizations- Samuel P. Huntington
6. The Republic- Plato
7. The Iliad- Homer
8. The Odyssey- Homer again
9. The Nicomachean Ethics- Aristotle
10. The Prince- Niccolo Machiavelli
11. Leviathan- Thomas Hobbes
12. Second Treatise of Government- John Locke
13. The Social Contract & Discourse on the Origin of Inequality- Jean-Jacques Rousseau
14. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman- Mary Wollstonecraft
15. Virtue and Terror- Maximilien de Robespierre
16. Medea, The Bacchae, and Helen- Euripides
17. Theogony & Works and Days- Hesiod
18. A few Homeric Hymns- can you guess?
19. Metamorphosis- Ovid
20. The Bacchae of Euripides: A Communion Rite- Wole Soyinka
(Maybe I should’ve just titled this ‘The Benefits of Reading Long-Ass Books’)
Funny thing is I'm not entirely sure I am going to remember the plot or the ground-breaking discovery from each of these books. There were also a lot of times where I fell asleep reading them. But at the end of the day, they were well worth the effort. Here are just a few benefits I got from reading the Classics and philosophy.
1. Things become complicated, and that’s good
Politics (and I suppose life), can be incredibly complex. We want to make sense of stuff like populism, Brexit, or even deeper concepts like nationalism, globalism, or patriotism. When we try, however, we tend to dumb things down to the point where they can be flat out wrong.
Black Lives Matter = White Lives don’t (where do I fit in btw?)
Trump won a ton of votes = these voters don’t care about human decency.
Invasion of Iraq when we find out there wasn’t a nuclear bomb = we are bringing justice for the Iraqis.
Simplification can happen on both sides, and the more I began to read philosophy, the more I began to realize just how crazy complicated the world can be. Ya, there are a lot of arguments that talk about the practicalities of things, but only when I began to read books from the Social Contract Trio (Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau) did I begin to understand principles like patriotism, human nature… social contract.
Reading philosophy can help one realize that the professor you're listening to isn’t trying to make the world more complicated. It already is really complicated. When I began to understand that, I found that the people who wanted to simplify issues tended to be politically motivated.
2. Its economic
You’re a working individual. What would you rather spend your hard-earned money on? A book that was published last week, or a book that survived the test of time and will continue to thrive in the future.
Now, I’m not saying that the book that came out last week isn’t going to be good. But what the consumer knows is that the classics:
a. Are game changers on how we see the world
b. Influences other great works
c. Has a lot of respect from both the experts and other consumers
Which one are you willing to invest in?
3. What comes next?
Power, religion, politics, and people are all shaped by the many who took the time to ask really difficult questions. Whether it be Plato’s what is the best sort of life for an individual? Or Homer’s does a single human nature exist?
These are questions we ask about ourselves and about the people around us, and these books look like they got the right idea.
Now you shouldn’t only read philosophy and the classics (they only consist of 25% of the books I have read so far). I always love going back to books like The Hunger Games, I am Number Four, or The Maze Runner. All I am trying to say is that we tend to become better people when we learn from those that came before us.
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