A Library as a Timeline


Like many others who have fallen in love with the classics, I began developing an acute appreciation for the breadth and depth of literature over the last several thousand years. By ‘appreciation’, I mean ‘an overwhelming and crippling sense of awe’. To help myself ‘situate’ new readings as I go, I have organized my library into a quasi-chronological timeline, which I have titled A Library for a Lifetime. This basically started as a spreadsheet to help me keep my centuries straight, but it has grown into a hybrid of a reading record, ‘to read’ list, and snapshot of history. This tool remains under constant revision, and is nowhere close to complete. (Not that ‘completing’ such a project is even remotely possible in one lifetime!)

In addition, I have also started compiling a recommended reading list for people who are interested in dipping their toes into the ocean of classical literature for the first time.


Mortality by Christopher Hitchens

41gnL1ycUXL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Hitchens is very honest about death. He is also very honest about his disdain for sentimentality, self-pity, and denial. This book chronicles his experience of undergoing chemotherapy for esophageal cancer, and it quietly wrestles with the “bargain” of gaining a few extra months to live at the cost of independence, comfort, and wellbeing. Chapter V — Hitchens account of losing his voice — is alone worth the read.


The Greek Sophists by Jonathan Dillon

418UrfzSriL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The sophists — public orators and “speech coaches” for hire — were an extremely influential variable in the social and political life of ancient Athens. Many of their ideas frame the issues that exercised people like Socrates and Plato, and thus in these pages we encounter the kernels of many propositions that later grow into full-blown philosophical inquiries.

Dillon and Gergel’s curation and reconstruction of the sophist’s ideas is excellent, with the notable exception being the exclusion of Isocrates. (Dear Penguin Classics: how about a collected works of Isocrates to augment this book?)

In a world where the masses are sovereign, those who can influence the masses hold the power. This is another one of those “ancient” collections of writings that has a certain unmistakable resonance with the present.


Podcast Fixed

For some reason — which I do not understand, but can only assume was due to a technical mishap on my part — the podcast here was temporarily out of commission. It has now been fixed.

If you were subscribed via iTunes, you will probably need to resubscribe, since I had to resubmit the podcast to the iTunes Store in the process.


Early Greek Philosophy by Jonathan Barnes

41UPctaQdxL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ Ever since listening to Peter Adamson’s History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps podcast I was very curious to explore the writings of these early thinkers. In this book, Jonathan’s Barnes translation and editorial arrangement provides a high speed “fly by” of the presocratic philosophers. Context is minimal, but the scope is impressive, especially considering the small size of the volume. Readers will not finish this book ready to write a detailed theory piece on the writings of Anaxagoras (at least, I didn’t), but they will discover who Anaxagoras is and how his ideas build on the critical questions of his day. I came away from this book profoundly more appreciative for how strong the philosophical “tradition” was prior to Plato. And I doubt anyone can walk away without gaining a sense that the story goes back even farther than these fragments… but today, these fragments are as far back as we can go.