The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had by Susan Wise Bauer

Title: The Well-Educated Mind:A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had
Author: Susan Wise Bauer
Published: 2003
Genre: general non-fiction
Pages: 432
Rating: ***1/2
  well-educated mind   Have you lost the art of reading for pleasure? Are there books you know you should read but haven’t because they seem too daunting? In The Well-Educated Mind, Susan Wise Bauer provides a welcome and encouraging antidote to the distractions of our age, electronic and otherwise. The Well-Educated Mind offers brief, entertaining histories of five literary genres—fiction, autobiography, history, drama, and poetry—accompanied by detailed instructions on how to read each type. The annotated lists at the end of each chapter—ranging from Cervantes to A. S. Byatt, Herodotus to Laurel Thatcher Ulrich—preview recommended reading and encourage readers to make vital connections between ancient traditions and contemporary writing.  The Well-Educated Mind reassures those readers who worry that they read too slowly or with below-average comprehension. If you can understand a daily newspaper, there’s no reason you can’t read and enjoy Shakespeare’s Sonnets or Jane Eyre. But no one should attempt to read the “Great Books” without a guide and a plan. Susan Wise Bauer will show you how to allocate time to your reading on a regular basis; how to master a difficult argument; how to make personal and literary judgments about what you read; how to appreciate the resonant links among texts within a genre—what does Anna Karenina owe to Madame Bovary?—and also between genres. Followed carefully, the advice in The Well-Educated Mind will restore and expand the pleasure of the written word. (from Goodreads)
Thoughts: The purpose of The Well-Educated Mind is to be a starting point for people who want to read the classics in five different categories: fiction, autobiography, history, drama, and poetry. The first section of the book outlays Bauer’s reading theory on how to read the ‘great books.’ There are three levels of thought that one should engage in when reading the classics- what she calls the grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages. Here I must say that I don’t agree with Bauer when she says that ‘no one should attempt to read the “Great Books” without a plan.’ I have read and enjoyed several classics that I read with no prior preparation or research. Nor do I feel that it is necessary to make character lists, summarize every chapter, make outlines, retitle the book, ask myself numerous sets questions after reading each book, and all the other things she suggests to be able to understand and enjoy classic literature. So for me, the first section of the book and in the second section where she talks about exactly how to read each genre according to her three stages were unnecessary.
     I did however enjoy her discussion of the history of each of the five groups of literature, their traditional conventions and structure and how they have changed over time. Of course, the best part of the book is the lists themselves. The lists are not designed to be comprehensive; instead, they aim to be a good introduction to the classic works in the genre, to show how each genre has changed over time, and to not be too difficult or inscrutable for a first-time reader of classic literature (hence the absence of Ulysses from the fiction list!). I have read a few classics but I have never seriously embarked on reading them. However, with my joining of The Classics Club, this has changed. I thought this book would be a good introduction to the classics and the classic club challenge. My only criticism of the books is that the lists are overwhelmingly Western orientated. Given that that the book is aimed at ‘classical’ literature, and uses the trivium as a guideline for her three-level reading strategies, I guess this isn’t a surprise. However, with three or four exceptions, there are no books by non-western authors. I will give her credit for including numerous books by African-American authors, especially in the autobiography and history sections. But while I expected the lists to focus on mostly western authors, as I was reading them I realized I wanted more from non-western sources. Some non-western classics I had assumed would be included but weren’t, such as Confucius’ The Analects or The Art of War by Sun Tzu.
  Despite this, I  did find several books that I wanted to read and so I decided to set my own challenge: The Well-Educated Mind Project. I am not setting a time limit for this challenge. This is meant to be a personal project to increase my exposure to classic literature. I am doing the Classic Club challenge which I hope will expose me to classic fiction, but this project will expose me to different types of works besides fiction- history, autobiography, drama, poetry. Some of the books on her fiction list I do want to read but are not included in my classic club challenge list so I am adding those as well for this project. Some of the books Bauer suggested are on my Classic Club list and I have included those here too to remind me that Bauer considered these books a good introduction to classical fiction.I have also added some non-western classics to the list below in an effort to increase my exposure to non-western classics (I have underlined these). I chose these simply through some quick research online, picking the ones that interested me and that also seemed important to their countries’ literary history. Here is the list, divided into the genres Bauer uses in her book:
Tale of the Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (1021)
Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en (1592)
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (1605)
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1815)
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (1838)
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harreit Beecher Stowe (1851)
Ann Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877)
Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges (1944)
1984 by George Orwell (1949)
The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz (1956)
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958)
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1967)
So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba (1981)
Autobiography and Memoir: 
The Confessions by Augustine (c. 400 A.D.)
The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon (1002)
Rihla by Ibn Battuta (1355)
The Book of Margery Kempe by Margery Kempe (c. 1430)
The Narrative of the Captivity of Mary Rowlandson by Mary Rowlandson (1682)
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano (1789)
Walden by Henry David Thoreau (1854)
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself by Harriet Jacobs (1861)
Life and Times of Frederick Douglas by Frederick Douglas (1881)
Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington (1901)
An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mohandas Gandhi (1929)
The Autobiography of Malcom X by Malcom X (1965)
The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksander I. Solzhenitsyn (1973)
The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway(1995)
All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs by Elie Wiesel (1995)
The Art of War by Sun Tzu (500 BC)
The Analects by Confucius (c. 300 BC)
Lives by Plutarch (100- 125 AD)
The Ecclesiastical History of the English People by Bede (731)
Common Sense by Thomas Paine (1776)
A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft (1792)
The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Debois (1903)
The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell (1937)
The Great Crash 1929 by John Kenneth Galbraith (1955)
The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan (1959)
The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedman (1963)
Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made by Eugene D. Genovese (1974)
A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century by Barbara Tuchman (1978)
All The President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (1987)
Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James A. McPherson (1988)
A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Dairy, 1785-1812 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (1900)
Recognition of Shakuntala by Kalidasa (c. 400 AD)
Richard III by William Shakespeare (1592-1593)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare (1594-1595)
Hamlet by William Shakespeare (1600)
Tartuffe by Moliere (1669)
The Way of the World by William Congreve (1700)
She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith (1773)
The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1777)
The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde (1899)
Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neil (1940)
No Exit by Jean Paul Sarte (1944)
The Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 2000 BC)
The Illiad and the Odyssey by Homer (c. 800 BC)
Odes by Horace (65-68 BC)
Kokinshu (c. 905)
Beowulf (c. 1000)
Masnavi by Rumi (1273)
Poems of the Masters (960-1278)
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (mid-1300′s)
Sonnets by William Shakespeare (late 1500′s)
Psalms– King James Bible (1611)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Matsuo Basho (late 1600′s)
Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley (1773)
Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake (late 1700′s and early 1800′s)
Final Harvest: Emily Dickinson’s Poems by Emily Dickinson (late 1800′s)
The Collected Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunabr by Paul Laurence Dunbar (late 1800′s)
Selected Poems of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes(first half of 1900′s)
Plath: Selected Poems by Silvia Plath (first half of 1900′s)


Is there anything on my list you think I’m missing? If so, tell me!


About hillarypat

I'm a recent college graduate and this is my blog where I talk about whatever happens to be on my mind- mostly books!
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Books, Challenges/Group Reads/ Personal Goals, Nonfiction, Other and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had by Susan Wise Bauer

  1. TBM says:

    Not sure I would enjoy the plan part. I read for fun these days. her way sounds more like homework and that’s great if that’s what you want it to be like. Me, I want to brew the perfect cup of tea, snuggle under a blanket, and disappear into a good story. That’s my plan 🙂

    • hillarypat says:

      I want to read more classics, but I want it to be fun, not a chore. Her suggestions to me seem like they would suck all the fun out of reading if I used them. Your plan sounds much more like my time of thing!

  2. I really like the books you’ve chosen to read! I have a copy of “The Well-Educated Mind” and had a good read through it last summer. I came to the same conclusions that you have regarding having a reading plan and writing chapter summaries, etc. It was very useful in making up my own lifetime book list and although it was interesting to read through all her recommendations, I won’t be implementing them with any regularity in my reading!

    (I just discovered your blog recently and I really enjoy it! I’ve added you to my blogroll and look forward to seeing what you have to say about the books you read in 2013.)

    • hillarypat says:

      Her book was worth reading because of the lists and background information she gives to each type of writing in my opinion. I would like to eventually purchase it just to have on hand, but as far as her suggestions for reading the classics I can’t really see myself implementing any of them either!

      (aw thanks! I’m fairly new to blogging so I love connecting with other bloggers! I’ve checked out your blog– I see your also doing The Classic Club challenge, it”s good to know someone else whose doing the same.. I’ve added you to my blogroll as well- I’m so jealous that you’ve been to Japan!)

  3. Pingback: January Round Up and Looking Toward February | ahorseandacarrot

  4. severalfourmany says:

    I like your lists! A good mix of world classics and some of my favorites. Looking forward to following along on your adventure. You might also add the Indian epic, Mahabharata, and the Chinese classic, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. For the Analects of Confucius I highly recomend the Chichung Huang translation. I had a very similar reaction to Bauer and ended doing a whole series of posts in reaction.

    • hillarypat says:

      I want to have more non-western classics on the list but not knowing much at all regarding them I’m not sure what else to add. I have heard of the Mahabharata before and I think I will add it. I’ve never heard of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms before- I’ll look into it. Thanks for recommending the Chichung Huang translation, one of the problems I have is that I’m not sure which translations are best for which works; I don’t want to end up hating something because I have a bad translation! I love hearing what people thing about books that I’ve read so I’ll check your post out. Thanks again!

      • severalfourmany says:

        You don’t always have much choice for translations. I’ve been reading Japanese and Korean classics lately. Sometimes finding ANY translation is a challenge. I’ve been trying to find the first modern Korean novel, Yi Kwang-su’s Heartless. It is available in an excellent translation but very expensive and hard to find in libraries. Recently read Shonagon’s Pillow Book. Very strange and poetic. You might like it.

  5. Pingback: Sunday Salon- 2/3/13 | ahorseandacarrot

  6. Tiddle says:

    I’ve just found your blog and love it. I’ve picked up this book (The Well-Educated Mind..) and haven’t had a chance to read it yet… Based on your summary and comments, I’m just dying to get into it. Can’t wait to see how your reading goes. May follow along when work permits.

    • hillarypat says:

      Thanks for your kind comment! For me the book was most useful in helping me think about what books I would like to read and helping me prepare my list. As for the book providing a practical way to read the classics, I think it is less useful. However you may think differently! I hope you enjoy the book!

  7. Pingback: Thinking About Reading… | ahorseandacarrot

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s