My Online Curriculum

Quite often, I am asked what I think the best or most valuable books or movies are, and which ones people looking to grow intellectually should read or watch.

So, below, I have compiled a series of lists of what I consider to be the best books, works of art, music, and films.

These lists are not my attempt to spark some kind of an online university to make money. The writer Nassim Taleb says the best way to have an ‘antifragile’ education is to have a personal library and engage in street fights.

This is my attempt at providing a kind of map for how to put together a decent library, even if it is mental, whilst we all fight our battles on the street and thus learn both how to think and to work and live. I will add to these lists when necessary. No recommended list can ever be set in stone…

Books:

Reading and discussing these 95 books will give you a more rounded education than any current university degree. These are simply the books which have shaped my life and which I have enjoyed the most. They represent no political concerns. They represent mostly the western tradition, but seek and express wisdom that is, or should be, universal and accessible to all. The five most essential books – the works which together summate the universal experience of humanity best, in my opinion – are in bold with a brief introduction.

You will also see links in the list taking you to pieces written about the five books that I think most vividly describe our own modern world, namely: Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, Dostoevsky’s ‘Demons’, Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’, Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’, and Paton’s ‘Cry, the Beloved Country’.

  1. The Bible (1300 BC to AD 100)

“The sublime influence of God here reaches so deeply into the everyday that the two realms of the sublime and the everyday are not only actually unseparated but basically inseparable.” German and Jewish literary theorist, Erich Auerbach, on the differences between the Bible and classical texts written by the likes of Homer… The Bible is still the most mysterious and fertile text in our possession. By its stories, it gives birth to history. If you have not read it, you are not really educated.

2. Homer – Iliad (762 BC)

3. Homer – Odyssey (762 BC)

This tale of a hero striving against gods to make his way home to Ithaca from the great battle of Troy, where his son struggles with newfound responsibility, and his wife is tormented by usurpers seeking his position, is still a kind of meta-story for people today. It represents the first great poetry, and the first attempt to write a mythical story that is universal in application.

4. Aeschylus – Oresteia (458 BC)
5. Sophocles – Oedipus Rex (429 BC)
6. Euripides – The Bacchae (405 BC)
7. The Bhagavad Gita (400 BC)
8. Plato – Last Days of Socrates (380 BC)
9. Plato – Republic (380 BC)
10. Tao Te Ching (350 BC)
11. Aristotle – Politics (340 BC)
12. Aristotle – Poetics (340 BC)
13. Virgil – Aeneid (19 BC)
14. Ovid – Metamorphoses (AD 8)
15. Augustine – Confessions (AD 400)
16. Thomas Aquinas – Summa Theologica (1274)

17. Dante – Divine Comedy (1320)

Dante takes the political strife of the Florence of his day, the classical myths, the great philosophical synthesis of Greek and Christian theology undertaken by Aquinas, and weaves an allegory of every soul’s necessary journey into the darkness of hell, up the mountain of struggle and challenge, to the beauty and freedom of the stars moved by the love of God.

18. Geoffrey Chaucer – The Canterbury Tales (1400)
19. William Shakespeare – Much Ado About Nothing (1599)
20. William Shakespeare – Julius Caesar (1599)
21. William Shakespeare – Twelfth Night (1602)
22. William Shakespeare – Othello (1604)
23. William Shakespeare – A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1605)
24. William Shakespeare – King Lear (1606)
25. William Shakespeare – Macbeth (1606)
26. William Shakespeare – Sonnets (1609)

27. William Shakespeare – Hamlet (1609)

“I am trying to recall attention from the things an intellectual adult notices to the things a child or a peasant notices: night, ghosts, a castle lobby where a man can walk four hours together, a willow fringed brook and a sad lady drowned, a graveyard and a terrible cliff above the sea, and amidst all of these a pale man in black clothes with his stockings coming down, a dishevelled man whose words make us at once think of loneliness and doubt and dread, of waste and dust and emptiness and from whose hands to our own, we feel the richness of heaven and earth and the comfort of human affection slipping away.” CS Lewis on ‘Hamlet’. And so Shakespeare captures perfectly that ineffable worry that sums up the hinge of the Renaissance away from the Mediaeval toward the Modern.

28. William Shakespeare – The Tempest (1611)
29. William Blake – Songs of Innocence and Experience (1789)
30. Samuel Coleridge and William Wordsworth – Lyrical Ballads (1798)
31. Jane Austen – Mansfield Park (1814)
32. Jane Austen – Emma (1815)
33. Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol (1843)
34. Charles Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
35. Fyodor Dostoevsky – Crime and Punishment (1866)
36. Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace (1867)
37. Fyodor Dostoevsky – The Idiot (1869)
38. Fyodor Dostoevsky – Demons (1872)
39. Mark Twain – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)

40. Fyodor Dostoevsky – The Brothers Karamazov (1880)

An awful father is murdered. Which son did it? The monk, the intellectual, or the prodigal son? And who is the strange servant boy lurking around the house? Simply the greatest novel ever written…
“I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”

41. Mark Twain – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
42. Emily Dickinson – The Complete Poems (1890)
43. Oscar Wilde – The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
44. Oscar Wilde – The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)
45. JM Barrie – Peter Pan (1904)
46. GK Chesterton – Orthodoxy (1908)
47. Kenneth Grahame – The Wind in the Willows (1908)
48. GK Chesterton – The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)
49. TS Eliot – The Waste Land (1922)
50. GK Chesterton – The Everlasting Man (1925)
51. F Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby (1925)
52. Evelyn Waugh – Decline and Fall (1928)
53. Aldous Huxley – Brave New World (1932)
54. Joseph Roth – The Radetzky March (1932)
55. GK Chesterton – The Father Brown Stories (1935)
56. Miriam Joseph – The Trivium (1937)
57. Evelyn Waugh – Scoop (1938)
58. Hilaire Belloc – The Great Heresies (1938)
59. Graham Greene – The Power and the Glory (1940)
60. CS Lewis – The Abolition of Man (1943)
61. TS Eliot – The Four Quartets (1943)
62. CS Lewis – The Space Trilogy (1945)
63. Evelyn Waugh – Brideshead Revisited (1945)
64. Victor Frankl – Man’s Search for Meaning (1946)
65. Herman Charles Bosman – Mafeking Road (1947)
66. Josef Pieper – Leisure: The Basis of Culture (1948)
67. Alan Paton – Cry, the Beloved Country (1948)
68. Evelyn Waugh – Helena (1950)
69. Roger Lancelyn Green – King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table (1953)
70. William Golding – Lord of the Flies (1954)
71. Kingsley Amis – Lucky Jim (1954)
72. JRR Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings (1954)
73. Roger Lancelyn Green – The Adventures of Robin Hood (1956)
74. CS Lewis – Till We Have Faces (1956)
75. Giuseppe di Lampedusa – The Leopard (1958)
76. Robert Bolt – A Man for All Seasons (1960)
77. Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
78. Evelyn Waugh – Sword of Honour (1961)
79. Arnold Toynbee – A Study of History (1961)
80. Barbara Tuchman – The Guns of August (1962)
81. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962)
82. Flannery O’Connor – The Complete Stories (1971)
83. EF Schumacher – Small is Beautiful (1973)
84. PG Wodehouse – The Jeeves series (1915-1974)
85. Agatha Christie – The Poirot series (1920-1975)
86. Tom Wolfe – The Painted Word (1975)
87. René Girard – Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (1978)
88. Tom Wolfe – Our House to Bauhaus (1981)
89. Roger Scruton – A Short History of Modern Philosophy (1981)
90. John Gribbin – In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality (1984)
91. Paul Johnson – Intellectuals (1988)
92. Simon Singh – Fermat’s Last Theorem (1997)
93. René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo – The Asterix series (1959-2009)
94. Nassim Taleb – Antifragile (2012)
95. Thomas Nagel – Mind and Cosmos (2012)

Art:

These ten pieces of art, or series of art, seem to me to tell the story of humanity’s desire to understand and express visual beauty. The cave art shows man has always been an artist. The cathedral that man is a craftsman, looking to rebuild earth along the lines of heaven. Turner and Rockwell show the drama and humanity of modern life, despite all its greys and industrialism.

1. The Caves of Lascaux (15000 BC)

2. Aphrodite of Milos (130 BC)

Venus de Milo Louvre https://www.tuttartpitturasculturapoesiamusica.com

3. Christ Pantocrator of Sinai (AD 550)

4. Chartres Cathedral (1220)

5. Andrei Rublev – The Hospitality of Abraham (1411)

6. Sandro Botticelli – The Birth of Venus (1480)

7. Michelangelo – The Pietà (1498)

8. Caravaggio – Conversion on the Way to Damascus (1601)

9. JMW Turner – Fishermen at Sea (1796)

10. Norman Rockwell – The Willie Gillis series (1946)

Music:

I have grouped my top ten pieces of music according to best in each genre, through time. I think that there would be not that much debate concerning the older pieces – Mozart and Beethoven are ridiculously famous for a reason. ‘Moon River’ represents the best of the old pop. Louis Armstrong’s voice is gospel music. My most controversial choice would be the Oasis song – not exactly a critically acclaimed set of musicians – but I think in some kind of naivety they stumbled on a sound and a lyric which sums up the blues and pop resident in rock and roll and which mourned its passing in the ‘90s. Find them all on YouTube; read about them on Wikipedia.

  1. Canticle: Allegri’s Miserere (1630)
  2. Concerto: Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto (1791)
  3. Symphony: Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (1824)
  4. Hymn: Lyte’s Abide with Me (1847)
  5. Opera: Wagner’s Parsifal (1882)
  6. Mass: Faure’s Requiem (1890)
  7. Aria: Puccini’s Nessun Dorma (1926)
  8. Jazz: Mancini’s Moon River (1961)
  9. Blues: Armstrong’s Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen (1962)
  10. Rock and Roll: Oasis’s Don’t Look Back in Anger (1995)

Film:

Again, these are organised by genre. I believe that if you watch these films in order, you will once again realise that cinema need not be pure consumerist entertainment, nor the esoteric work of some hipster nihilist. It can tell beautiful stories.

  1. Romance: Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942)
  2. Fantasy: Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
  3. Western: Ford’s The Searchers (1956)
  4. Thriller: Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958)
  5. Musical: Wise’s The Sound of Music (1965)
  6. Crime: Coppola’s The Godfather (1972)
  7. Detective: Polanski’s Chinatown (1974)
  8. War: Malick’s The Thin Red Line (1998)
  9. Epic: Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004)
  10. Superhero: Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008)