The Floating University

Top 10 Classics

Recommendations for Further Study: 

Dean Brenzel strongly recommends obtaining a copy of How to Read a Book, by the philosopher and humanist Mortimer Adler. It is available for about $10 from Amazon.

Here is the book description:

“How to Read a Book, originally published in 1940, has become a rare phenomenon, a living classic. It is the best and most successful guide to reading comprehension for the general reader…  You are told about the various levels of reading and how to achieve them -- from elementary reading, through systematic skimming and inspectional reading, to speed reading, you learn how to pigeonhole a book, X-ray it, extract the author's message, criticize. You are taught the different reading techniques for reading practical books, imaginative literature, plays, poetry, history, science and mathematics, philosophy and social science. Finally, the authors offer a recommended reading list and supply reading tests whereby you can measure your own progress in reading skills, comprehension and speed.”

In strongly recommending the book to students in this course, Dean Brenzel notes that he stumbled across it while doing the research reading for his Ph.D. in Philosophy. After absorbing it and applying what Adler teaches, he says, he wanted to choke every teacher he ever had for not calling it to his attention earlier in his education.

Top Ten Classics:

Dean Brenzel’s top ten list of classics, selected with great reluctance from what could have easily been 100 other books, presented in chronological order with some recommended translations or editions:

  • Homer, The Odyssey (translations by Robert Fagles or Robert Fitzgerald)
  • Plato, The Symposium and The Republic  (translations published by Hackett Publishing)
  • Aristotle, The Nichomachean Ethics (translation by Terence Irwin)
  • Augustine, The Confessions (the Hackett edition with translation by F. J. Sheed)
  • Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
  • Shakespeare, the four great tragedies: Hamlet, MacBeth, Othello, King Lear
  • John Milton, Paradise Lost
  • Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations
  • Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky)
  • Charles Darwin, On The Origin of Species (an interesting edition is The Annotated Origin, a facsimile of the first edition with annotations by James T. Costa)

Online Resources:

There’s an engaging radio talk show called “Philosophy Talk” – information and downloadable recordings of the programs can be found at