The Great Books of the Western World. Learn more at HomeSchool ThinkTank. Philosopher bust statues in library.

In this article about The Great Books of the Western World, you’ll discover the following.

  • Information about The Great Books.
  • The Great Books lists and collections.
  • Information about The Great Conversation.
  • A short explanation of The Socratic Method.
  • Helpful videos and resources.

This article about The Great Books is a companion article to information about a classical education method of homeschooling.

What Is The Great Books List?

The Great Books are a collection of humanity’s greatest literature, from ancient times through the 20th century. It includes novels, plays, religious texts, nonfiction works, poetry, and philosophical writings of the Western World.

Varying Definitions of The Great Books

Please note that the terminology, Great Books, can be used in two different ways.

  1. The Great Books can reference a very specific collection that Encyclopedia Britannica produced.
  2. Great Books can also refer to various books that modern-day scholars agree are the essential foundation of literature in Western culture.

Either way, the books must be important to Western culture to be considered one of The Great Books.

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Definition One: What Are The Great Books of the Western World?

Great Books of the Western World is a series of books originally published in the United States in 1952, by Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., to present the great books in a 54-volume set.

The original editors had three criteria for including a book in the series drawn from Western Civilization:

  1. The book must have been relevant to contemporary matters and not only important in its historical context.
  2. The book must be rewarding to re-read repeatedly with respect to liberal education.
  3. The book must be a part of ‘the great conversation about the great ideas,’ relevant to at least 25 of the 102 ‘Great Ideas’ as identified by the editor of the series’ comprehensive index, what they dubbed the ‘Syntopicon,’ to which they belonged.

The books were not chosen on the basis of ethnic and cultural inclusiveness, (historical influence being seen as sufficient by itself to be included), nor on whether the editors agreed with the views expressed by the authors.

A second edition was published in 1990 in 60 volumes. Some translations were updated, some works were removed, and there were significant additions from the 20th century located in six new, separate volumes.”

Paraphrased for ease of reading. Great Books of the Western World. September 20, 2021. Wikipedia. Accessed March 11, 2023.

Definition Two: What Are The Great Books?

“Great books are written publications that have been accepted by modern day scholars as the essential foundation of literature in Western culture. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines them as certain classics of literature, philosophy, history, and science that are believed to contain the basic ideas of western culture.”

Great Books. October 5, 2021. Wikipedia. Accessed November 14, 2021.
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Great Books Lists

Following are a few book lists of The Great Books for you to review. They are each a bit different.

The Great Books & The Great Conversation

Reading The Great Books & Joining The Great Conversation

When you or your children begin reading The Great Books, you can better join The Great Conversation and discuss the important ideas and topics to humankind.

The Great Conversation is the ongoing process of writers and thinkers referencing, building on, and refining the work of their predecessors. …

According to Hutchins, “The tradition of the West is embodied in the Great Conversation that began in the dawn of history and that continues to the present day”.

Adler said, ‘What binds the authors together in an intellectual community is the great conversation in which they are engaged. In the works that come later in the sequence of years, we find authors listening to what their predecessors have had to say about this idea or that, this topic or that. They not only harken to the thought of their predecessors, they also respond to it by commenting on it in a variety of ways.'”

Great Conversation. November 5, 2021. Wikipedia. Accessed November 16, 2021.

What Is The Socratic Method?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the Socratic Method in the following way.

“The method of inquiry and instruction employed by Socrates especially as represented in the dialogues of Plato and consisting of a series of questionings the object of which is to elicit a clear and consistent expression of something supposed to be implicitly known by all rational beings.”

In essence, when you use the Socratic Method to teach, you rarely give the child an answer. Instead, you would ask questions to allow the child the space to think and come up with answers on their own.

When reading books with your children, ask questions that encourage your children to think.

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