The Classical Mind Newsletter for December 30, 2022
"An optimist stays up until midnight to see the New Year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves." -William E. Vaughn
Now that the holidays are coming to a close, the newsletter will resume a more regular schedule of every other week.
The next episode of the podcast comes out on Tuesday of this week and will be a discussion of The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius.
The February book will be Beowulf if you want to get ahead.
As the year ends, I just want to say a thank you to all of you who support the podcast and newsletter through financial contributions and good discussion!
The Top 5 Books I Read in 2022
Rescuing Socrates: How the Great Books Changed My Life and Why They Matter for a New Generation by Roosevelt Montas
Roosevelt Montas is a Senior Lecturer in American Studies and English and the Director of the Freedom and Citizenship Program at Columbia University. He has experienced firsthand the benefits of a Great Books education and talks about it in this wonderful book. Part memoir, part defense of a Great Books education, and part exposition on the writings of Plato, Augustine, Freud, and Gandhi, Rescuing Socrates is a refreshing read that offers a healthy defense of the classics in a world where they are either directly attacked or ignored due to a perceived lack of relevance.
The Pastor’s Bookshelf: Why Reading Matters for Ministry by Austin Carty
This may be a slightly niche book unique to my interests. However, as a minister and a reader, I found this book to be edifying. I’ve always believed it’s important to read widely and well and it’s always been something I’ve aspired to do. Carty’s work is helpful because it offers a positive framework for pastors to read. He recommends that those in ministry schedule an hour of their day to read and that hour should be viewed as a pastoral visit. He explains that the benefit, while not always immediate or readily apparent, is that it gives the pastor a “reservoir” from which to draw in preaching, counseling, and other pastoral duties.
One thinker Carty interacts with a lot is Maryanne Wolf, a Harvard Ph.D. in Human Development and Psychology who also has a Master’s degree in English Literature. Her work focuses on the connections between reading and neuroscience. If Carty’s book is too narrow for you, you may want to check out her work: Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World and Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.
Back to Virtue: Traditional Moral Wisdom for Modern Moral Confusion by Peter Kreeft
Peter Kreeft is a genius who writes with great clarity. While he can be blunt at times, his diagnosis of the problems with modern ethics is timely and prophetic. In order to move forward, he argues, we have to move backward to recover a virtue ethic. One of the strengths of this book is that it offers a glimpse at how ethics unfolded from Ancient Greek sources like Plato and Aristotle to modern, Western understandings that are heavily emphasized by Christianity.
Grant and Sherman: The Friendship that Won the Civil War by Charles Bracelen Flood
I must confess that I’m a Civil War nerd and I love Ulysses S. Grant so I immensely enjoyed Charles Bracelen Flood’s book on Grant and William T. Sherman. The book details their backgrounds prior to the Civil War and then looks at how the two generals met at the Battle of Shiloh and subsequently formed a friendship and brilliant working relationship that was responsible for winning the war.
“What is an Author?” by Michel Foucault
This is an essay, not a book but I’m including it anyways. In it, Foucault argues that the idea that the author is an individual genius responsible for creating art from their own imagination is a modern phenomenon. The ancient view, according to Foucault, is that groups or traditions were responsible for the production of texts (one could think here of the modern critical theses that the Johannine community, rather than the Apostle John, are more responsible for the Gospel of John and Johannine epistles as an example). The modern view of the author allows for the author to be viewed as the text’s owner, leading to a hermeneutic that heavily or exclusively emphasizes authorial intent as the locus of meaning. He also believes that the concept of the author has been used as a way to control the dissemination of knowledge and justification for censorship. I don’t always agree with Foucault and I do think authorial intention matters. However, I’m skeptical that authorial intention is always the decisive factor in the meaning of the text. This essay was a challenging but thought-provoking read.
What were your favorite reads in 2022?
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