The Great Books pull us into a millennia-old conversation, one opened not to the mere technician of a narrow field—physics, history, literature, economics—but one that demands the person-in-full. A college major trains us in the latest specialized skills of a single field of study. By such training we become technicians of a certain sort, credentialed for some kind of labor.

The Great Books, however, go much further. They cultivate us to be citizens of, even participants in, an eloquent, imaginative community that cuts across time and place, status, race, and sex. The Great Books liberate us from our time’s misperceptions by removing our parochial blinders. They graduate us from being mere cogs in an economic machine, serfs on a twenty-first-century manor, and let us sail home with Odysseus, play the patriot with Cicero, love God with St. Bernard, and cry out against a contrived and plastic world with Goethe. In short, the Great Books humanize us.

Dr. Gary JenkinsAuthor:
Dr. Gary Jenkins
Former Van Gorden Professor in History
Former Chair of the History Department

“Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. … Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. ”

Francis Bacon, “Of Studies”