The following “great books” lists are among the most famous ones compiled for familiarizing a reader with the West’s most influential ideas. The first two, the Great Books of the Western World (GBWW) and The Harvard Classics are physical sets sold in various editions throughout the 20th century. Both cover a wide range of novels, nonfiction, poetry, and drama, though there are quite large differences in the particular works selected for each. For those desiring a detailed comparison of the two sets, I recommend checking out David Milliern’s article here.
The third set is essentially Britannica’s GBWW set republished and reorganized by the Franklin Library. This set is generally the most expensive (for good reason – easily the best quality) of the sets described on ThinkingWest.
The fourth set is Easton Press’s “100 Greatest Book Every Written,” which has some fantastic custom artwork on many of the covers. This set, expanded later to include 125 volumes, weighs heavier on novels than philosophic and scientific works in comparison to many other sets listed here.
The fifth set, called the “World’s Best Reading”, is an all-fiction series published by Reader’s Digest. It focuses very heavily on 19th and 20th century British and American literature.
The last two book lists here are those recommended by two influential professors, Jordan B. Peterson and Susan Wise Bauer. Dr. Peterson, known for his work in clinical psychology and his outspoken cultural and political ideas, compiled a list reflecting his background in psychology, mixed with potent philosophical, historical, and religious works. Bauer’s list is more inline with the GBWW and HC sets with the aim of providing a classical education to laymen, which she expounds with great effectiveness in her book The Well-Educated Mind (found here for those interested – a highly recommended read).
Also, a fine introduction to the “Great Conversation” (the same conversation any classical liberal education partakes in) is found in the first volume of the GBWW set, which can be found free in .pdf form here. It’s a short exposition on the importance of reading the Great Books as a means to education and how education more generally shapes society.
Lastly, there are a few resourceful sites out there for reading many classic books online for free. Check out those resources here.
Book Lists to Check Out
- Great Books of the Western World
- The Harvard Classics
- The Franklin Library’s Great Books
- The Easton Press 100 Greatest Books Ever Written
- The World’s Best Reading Series by Reader’s Digest
- The Jordan B. Peterson Book List
- The Susan Wise Bauer Classics List
- The International Collectors Library
- Little Leather Library Set