Better living through books

Ever wanted to get into some of the great authors of Western civilization, but didn't know where to start? You'll want to take a look at "The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization," published by Bethany House and edited by Dr. John Mark Reynolds of Biola University.

This book is a sweeping survey of literature from 850 B.C. to the early 20th century, starting with Homer and ending with G. K. Chesterton. The table of contents is a Who's Who of some of our world's most notable and influential writers, including Plato, Augustine, Dante, Shakespeare, Pascal, Newton, Austen, Darwin, Tolstoy, Nietzsche, and Chesterton. There's just one little problem, which I'll get to in a moment.

Each excerpt has an introduction by Dr. Reynolds, and is followed by an essay from a modern thinker. These thinkers, most of whom are Christians, include Peter Kreeft, Anthony Esolen, Frederica Mathewes-Green, William Dembski, Hugh Hewitt, Hunter Baker, Phil Johnson, and Dale Ahlquist. They explain and engage with the ideas communicated by the great minds represented in the book -- some of the foundational ideas of our culture.

The book is, of course, only meant to be a stepping stone on the way to bigger things. As Dr. Reynolds explains in his introduction:

"Reading only a bit of a great book (e.g., Plato's Republic) is like getting engaged but never marrying. The initial experience is pleasurable but can become frustrating if prolonged. Some things are only good in anticipation of a higher good that's coming. . . .

"Do not use this text to avoid reading the books featured here in their entirety. This would twist the intentions of the authors, because though Great Books Reader is an introduction to writers you will love, it is not a full courtship. The best writers are approachable, but really getting to know them isn't cheap or easy. Each reflects God's grace in powerful ways -- even when they have tried to reject Him. Knowing them will require a lifetime of effort; this book is a start at some literary matchmaking."

Ultimately, Dr. Reynolds says, the goal of the book is "to introduce you to a better life." "The Great Books Reader" works diligently to fulfill this goal, and is thus a noteworthy and laudable project. There is, as I said, just one little problem, and here it is:

There's no Dickens.

But if you can get past that soul-crushing disappointment, then "The Great Books Reader" is well worth your time and attention.


Well, at least they included Jane Austen. My sympathies, Gina. Even though I don't know Dickens' works well, I would hazard to say - laying myself open to Janite scorn - That Mr. Dickens has had a greater influence on society than Miss Jane Austen has had. I don't see excellent adaptation of her works aired every year on TV; and Mr. Dickens was more explicit on the dangers of evil. Marley's ghost always gives me the shudders!
They took Dickins out just to spite you, Gina.

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