Great Books of Western Thought: 96%

I had a friend, Catherine White, who one day decided she was going to cook every meal in the New York Times 100 best meals in the world. Every Sunday when her husband and I were in town with her, the two of us were enchanted and enthalled by her cullinary wizardry. Not one to follow the paths well-worn, she would express her creativity by improving upon meals in many ways. In some cases, despite being very financially secured, she would utter pronouncements like, "I used cottage cheese instead of ricotto cheese because it was cheaper."  The on-going exquisite cuisine had one caveat: David and I were not to read ahead to see what the next meal was going to be. Needless to say, we became as illiterate as the average high school graduate when it came to reading cookbooks.

In 2002 while flying cross country, the airline's shopping magazine had an offer to buy a book collection that represented the "Greatest 100 books of Western thought." Noticing that I had read some of them, and out of curiosity, I decided to check the ones that I had not read. Surprising myself, I found that four were not checked. I had read 96 out of the 100 on this "great" list.

When I tell people that I read 96 of 100 Great Books of Western Thought, they have usually two very valid responses:

  1. There is no agreement on what constitutes the 100 Great Books of any genre. True.
  2. Without the experience to appreciate the subtlties and critique the errors, blind, brute force reading 100 books over a wide-range of topics is like
    1. like taking a quote out of context,
    2. like a five-year old quoting the bible,
    3. like a couch potato protesting taxes, or,
    4. like raping a nun.

Of the first objection--"no agreement"--my reading claim has career value because I did not set out to check off books from a list like my friendly cook checking off meals. Any list of books that warrants a unified printing as a "100 greatest" will probably be a good representation of great writers and great thinkers.

Of the second objection,--"without experience"--each book had been read in the years and decades prior to the airline flight for the reason of understanding the subject matter better. I did not read the books in a speed dating mode. Rather, most were sought over the years to extend my base of knowledge. At the time of the flight I was in my early 50's. Thus, I did not read out of context nor to notch my literary belt. My learning rule has been, if I cannot summarize the paragraph, that I read and then I re-read until I do understand. I wanted an education, not a college GED from a for-profit diploma mill .

Of those who say reading is no big deal, my response is you don't read enough like the cancerous, starving man who who has no appetite. Most anti-readers disparage readers as eggheads. Yes, readers are eggheads, that is, yoked rather than yokeled. Most anti-readers are victims of the "medium is the message" decline of thinking and logic from TV's.

Sadly, as I pondered the books I had read, I thought of the President appointed by the Supreme Court in 2000 who probably had never read a single one of them. Did he ever find a dictionary that he did not dislike?

  1. This was the President who said to the President of France that French businesses suffered because they did not have a word for "entrepreneur."
  2. What does it say about the future when America has a President who brags about not reading newspapers, that he knows everything he needs to know from his heart? A self-proclaimed doodoo digester. The poster-boy for self-liars .
  3. What can you say for the future of humanity's best democracy when as the Yale commencement speaker the President brags about being a "C" student in Spring 2001? His gentleman's "C" was a middle-class "F"--Grades that were probably inflated as were his father's and grandfather's grades.
  4. What can you say about a President who in an interview with Dianne Sour states and restates that he does not read. He has the confidence of ignorance .
  5. What can you say about a President who a few years later responds to the question of his summer goals by saying he intends to read seventy (70!) books. That is one one book a day excluding weekend days. Comic books don't count.
  6. What can you say about a President who starts holding news conference in front of a fireplace with books on a mantle? No book reader places books above a fireplace which will dry out the binding thus causing them to fall apart. Dollars to donuts, he never read a single book on that mantle.
  7. What can you say about a President that does not read? The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks should be no surprise, for he didn't read the CIA's, August 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Briefing on threats to the USA.


  1. While visiting Washington, DC, in Spring, 2010, my wife purchased a copy of "The Portable Abraham Lincoln" (edited by Andrew Delbanco). This was a listing by Mr. Delbanco of his "best" Lincoln writings. Since one out of four books that I read or re-read is about Lincoln, I was not surprised to find that 90% of the 80+ documents I had read many, many times. It was like cruising down the "mystic chords of memory" to see old familiar moments of joy and sadness: Young Men's Lyceum ... Mary Todd ... Speed ... Kansas-Nebraska ... Dred Scott ... House Divided ... Douglas Debates ... Cooper Institute ... Grace Bedell ... Lyman Trumbull ... Alexander Stephens ... Farewell Address ... Winfield Scott ... Seward ... Ellsworth ... Fremont ... Welles ... Greeley ... Colored Men ... Divine Will ... Habeous Corpus ... Little Mac ... Schuz ... Emancipation ... Hooker ... Corning ... Meade ... Retaliation ... Wright ... Gettysburg ... Stanton ... Sumner ... Re-election ... Schermerhorn ... Serenade ... Bixby ... 2nd Inaugural ... Weed ... 140th Regiment ... Reconstruction.
  2. There were many others that I would have added, e.g., Grant, Sherman, etc.
  3. Lincoln is treated like a poor bitch who is repeatedly raped by habitual politicians--see Republicans are not the Party of Lincoln . In the 2008 Presidential election, candidates from both parties insultingly and misappropriately referenced Lincoln.
  4. As noted by teachers and from necessity, I was a reader early on ... a refuge from the pain of living.
  5. I rather be reading than writing, thinking than doing ... wasting than saving ... loving than hating .
  6. In December, 2013, Time magazine had a listing of its 100 most influential people in history. I can say that I could give a paragraph synopsis on each.

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