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List of Great Idea Books

By Fritz Hinrichs
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #11, 1996.

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Fritz Hinrichs


AESCHYLUSAgamemnon, Libation Bearers, Eumenides (Ancient Greek writer whose works explore many human dilemmas)

ANSELMProslogium, Monologium, Cur Deus Homo (11th century founder of Scholasticism, a movement which used logic to prove Christian doctrines and to ferret out the answers to theological and other questions)

AQUINASSumma Theologica (Masterpiece of the most influential medieval Catholic writer. This multi-volume work is so long that you may prefer to read the condensed Summa of the Summa, available at discount from Conservative Book Club)

ARISTOTLEDe Anima, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, Physics, Poetics (One of the three fathers of Greek philosophy, and arguably the man who, besides the biblical writers, most influenced Western thought)

ATHANASIUSOn the Incarnation (Church Father who successfully squelched the Arian controversy almost single-handed, leading to the phrase “Athanasius contra mundum,” or “Athanasius against the world.”)

AUGUSTINEConfessions (Prodigal youth who converted to Christianity in the 4th century and became a major force in Church theology)

AUSTENEmma, Pride and Prejudice (Flawless novels of 19th century British manners by one of the first women novelists)

BACHSt. Matthew Passion (Great church music from the greatest church musician)

BACONNovum Organon (17th century work that introduces the modern scientific method)

CALVINInstitutes of the Christian Religion (An appeal to the king of France to stop persecuting Protestants, and incidentally an organized description of the entire Protestant theological system)

CERVANTESDon Quixote (The famed “tilter at windmills,” demonstrating the dilemma of the modern man who may yearn for heroic deeds but who lives in an increasingly petty and nonheroic age)

CHAUCERCanterbury Tales (From the father of English literature)

CLEMENTExhortation to the Greeks (Another influential Church Father, considered the founder of Alexandrian theology)

DANTEDivine Comedy (Italian Dante’s concept of heaven and hell has greatly influenced Western literature)

DESCARTESDiscourse on Method (“I think, therefore I am”)

DOSTOYEVSKIThe Brothers Karamazov (Analysis in novel form of the moody, ultimately penitent, soul in novel form from this moody, penitent Russian)

FREUDThe Interpretation of Dreams, A Case of Obsessional Neurosis, The Ego and the Id (Freud’s underlying theory is terribly wrong, and may in fact have been prompted by his need to justify his own sexual sins and other misdeeds, but the religion of psychoanalysis which he founded, in which denial of guilt is substituted for forgiveness of guilt, has arguably become the civil religion of the entire modern Western world)

HEGELPhenomenology of Spirit (Another German thinker with a major influence on the modern world, Hegel believed that a “thesis”—a particular worldview—and its “antithesis”—an opposing worldview—would always ultimately meld into a new “synthesis,” which in turn would eventually meld with its own antithesis, and so on. For one example, Communism (a thesis) and capitalism (an antithesis) meld into the “managed state,” in which Big Business and Big Government cooperate. Such cooperation is largely made possible by the mindset Hegel introduced.)

HERODOTUSThe Persian Wars (Ancient Greek history from the “first historian” outside the biblical writers, otherwise known as “the father of history”)

HOMERIliad, Odyssey (The greatest poet of the ancient world. His tales of Odysseus trying to make his way home in the face of constant interference from gods and goddesses must be read in order to understand much of Western literature)

HUMETreatise on Human Nature (18th century British thinker who argued that all human knowledge comes from what we experience through our senses, as opposed to the Christian view that God can and has revealed facts outside our sensory experiences)

HUSSERLPhenomenology and the Crisis of Philosophy (Founder of 20th century philosophical movement by that name)

KANTProlegomena, Foundations of a Metaphysic of Morals (Major thinker behind the abandonment of classical Christian thinking in favor of a “leap of faith”)

KIERKEGAARDFear and Trembling (“Christian” existentialist who promoted the search for a “religious experience” in place of religious truth. Very influential, moved many from “Is it true?” to “Does it work for me?”)

LEWISGod in the Dock, Essays (Excellent defense of the Christian religion, from the author of the Screwtape Letters, the Narnia books, and dozens of other fiction and nonfiction masterpieces)

LINCOLNSpeeches (As in “President Abraham Lincoln”)

LOCKESecond Treatise on Government (Political philosopher who influenced the Founding Fathers)

LUCRETIUSOn the Nature of Things (Major Roman philosopher)

LUTHERCommentary on Galatians (John Wesley became “born again” as a result of reading this book of Luther’s. A powerful exposition of the teaching that we are saved by “faith alone,” from one of the major fathers of the Protestant Reformation)

MACHIAVELLIThe Prince (From this discussion of the duties and strategies of rulers, we get the word “Machiavellian,” meaning “amoral and sneaky.” Naturally, rulers and the elite have studied this treatise for hundreds of years.)

MARXDas Capital (The work ultimately responsible for hundreds of millions of deaths, from the father of Communism. Marx, the great “friend of the working man” who paid his housemaid slave wages and made her his mistress as well, believed that capitalism would die on its own, but Lenin and his followers decided to help it along with any means necessary, including terrorizing the people, lying to them, and denying the system’s failure even when that failure became evident.)

MILTONParadise Lost (Famous poem that deals with Heaven and Hell, including Milton’s own psychoanalysis of Satan and others.)

MONTAIGNEEssays (Famous 16th century French author whose prose style set the standard)

NIETZSCHEBeyond Good and Evil (German book that introduced the idea of the “superman,” not a flying being who wears Spandex, but a noble soul who, by virtue of his superior qualities and strength, is above all human laws. The Nazis loved this book.)

PASCALPensées (Literally, “thoughts.” The great French Christian author handles eternal questions in a cool, elegant manner.)

PLATOApology, Crito, Euthyphro, Gorgias, Meno, Phaedo, Republic, Theatetus (The second great father of Greek philosophy. He taught Aristotle, who ended up disagreeing violently with many of Plato’s conclusions. Plato believed in the existence of eternal realities of which earthly objects are only “shadows.” In the Republic, written over 2,000 years ago, he also designed a system of socialist government run by “philosopher kings” who control everything from childbearing to military service (for both sexes!) which eerily resembles what Hillary and her friends are trying to introduce today.)

PLUTARCHGreek Lives, Roman Lives (All the dirt on many famous figures of the ancient world. Parts are not suitable for reading by children—for them, obtain an expurgated edition.)

ROUSSEAUDiscourse on the Origins of Inequality, Social Contract (The Frenchman who believed people should be “forced to be free” if they didn’t want to accept the “freedom” of a system based on rebellion against God’s laws and worship of Nature and Reason. This later culminated in many clients for Madame Guillotine during the French Revolution, where Rousseau’s theories were enthusiastically enforced. All from the man who deposited his own babies at the nearest orphanage door, while exhorting French mothers to nurse their babies and extolling natural affection.)

SHAKESPEARECoriolanus, Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, The Tempest ,Troilus and Cressida (Actually, anything by Shakespeare is famous, and everything should be read in order to understand the countless literary allusions to his work that pop up everywhere from classical novels to Star Trek.)

SMITHWealth of Nations (Proponent of an “invisible hand,” e.g., the hand of God, which caused supply and demand to balance in an economy if government didn’t step in to muck up the waters. The father of “laissez faire” capitalism, vastly influential in an earlier America, ignored by economists today who love the thought of government tinkering with the economy.)

SOPHOCLESOedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone (Ancient Greeks agonizing over awful dilemmas, thus revealing their character in these plays.)

SPENSERThe Faerie Queene (Very long 16th century poem that influenced the later Romantic movement)

SWIFTGulliver’s Travels (The original “angry young man,” Dean Jonathan Swift acerbically trashed what he hated about 19th century England in this series of allegorical stories.)

TACITUSAnnals (First century Roman public official whose histories cover much of the period of the early Emperors)

THUCYDIDESPeloponessian War (Another early Greek historian, chronicling the devastating war between Athens and Sparta.)

TOCQUEVILLEDemocracy in America (Insightful commentary on what made America great, and how we could lose that greatness, written by a French count who visited us several centuries ago.)

TOLSTOYWar and Peace (The original “empire” book. Someone has said that the only two ways to write a great novel are to either chronicle the entire history of a nation or to chronicle a single day in one man’s life. Solzhenitsyn did the latter, with A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch. A century earlier, the pacifist Russian Tolstoy did the former, with his epic War and Peace. You will have to master the intricacies of Russian nicknames to understand this monumental book, which in turn inspired an eight-hour movie.)

TWAINHuckleberry Finn (Insight into the American soul from the quintessential American writer, through the eyes of a young boy having adventures.)

VIRGILAeneid (Monumentally famous Roman work: the “Odyssey” of Rome, telling the story of Aeneas and his wanderings after Troy fell, and incidentally promoting the idea that Emperor Augustus was descended from the goddess Aphrodite, ostensible mother of Aeneas.)


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