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Well-Educated Mind

Like the logician Isaac Watts, Susan Wise Bauer believes a well-educated mind is the result of steady effort rather than natural genius. She says anyone who devotes the time can adequately educate themselves. In The Well-Educated Mind (written mostly for adults) she compares the three stages of reading for understanding to the three principal elements of classical education: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. The grammar stage is the most basic stage and involves simply "getting" what one reads. The logic stage requires critical thinking in order to really understand what one reads. In the rhetoric stage, learners unlock the secret to clearly expressing the ideas learned in the logic stage. These three stages, once mastered, will be enough for you to pursue a valuable self-education.

Bauer suggests setting aside time to read and study four days a week. It doesn't have to be a long time—thirty minutes per day will do. She stresses not trying to study every day or for too long at a stretch as you're likely to burn out before you've developed any stamina. Consistency is the key—only by steady exercise will you build endurance or any useful skills. It's not a difficult system, either: just read and take notes on what you've read.

Part one discusses how to get started giving yourself a classical education. The author discusses her educational philosophy and shows how to read in order to make your efforts worthwhile. She offers insights into literary analysis, good note-taking, and how to summarize your notes for increased understanding. Everything you need to prepare for your self-guided classical education is in these first four chapters.

Part two is mostly a series of annotated reading lists with accompanying questions to help you along; there is also some discussion of the mechanics and interpretation of poetry. The reading lists are huge. Most people won't have the time or patience to make it through all of them, and you don't need to. This isn't a curriculum, it's designed to get you started on the road to consistent and constant self-instruction and learning. Each title has a few paragraphs describing the book in question, a brief discussion of the author and his perspective, and maybe some clues about what to look for when reading the particular work. A lot of these synopses are glorified plot outlines, but even so many are genuinely helpful.

Throughout the text (including part two) there are little asides and explanations designed to further hone the reader's analytical skills. The real purpose of this book isn't to encourage people simply to read as much as possible, but to read for understanding. While it was intended for adults, this would make a good substitute for a more elaborate literature course for many high schoolers, though it's crazy to expect any high schooler to get through all the books listed if they're taking notes and reading for comprehension, even in four years. However, the skills and insights into literary study make this an invaluable text and one that has the potential to change your entire view of education and how it ought to be regulated and pursued.

Listed below you'll find the books Bauer recommends. For the most part we've included only the editions she suggests, but as long as you have the original text it doesn't really matter which edition you have; the author doesn't cite pages or anything like that. What matters is that you (or your students) don't quit at the first sign of difficulty. Difficulty is (despite modern educational rhetoric) a necessary part of learning, and though many of these books are difficult Bauer's always there to lend a hand and show you how to enjoy them and take something worthwhile from them.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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1984
Signet Classics
by George Orwell
from Signet Classics
for 10th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
$8.49
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
by Mark Twain
from Dover Publications
Realistic Fiction for 7th-10th grade
in 19th Century Literature (Location: CLT-19C)
$3.83 $1.60 (2 in stock)
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
by Mark Twain
from Bantam Books
Realistic Fiction for 7th-10th grade
in 19th Century Literature (Location: CLT-19C)
$5.06
Aeschylus' Oresteia
Penguin Classics
by Aeschylus (translation by Phillip Vellacott)
from Penguin Classics
Ancient Greek Tragedy for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
$10.20
All the President's Men
by Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein
2nd edition from Simon and Schuster
for 10th-Adult
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Anna Karenina
Signet Classics
by Leo Tolstoy
from Signet Classics
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$6.76 $3.60 (1 in stock)
Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Dover Thrift Editions
by Benjamin Franklin
from Dover Publications
for 9th-Adult
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$3.40
Battle Cry of Freedom
Oxford History of the United States
by James M. McPherson
from Oxford University
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$16.96
Benjamin Franklin: The Autobiography and Other Writings
Signet Classics
by Benjamin Franklin
Reprint from Signet Classics
Autobiography for 9th-Adult
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$4.21
Beowulf
by Anonymous (translation by Seamus Heaney)
from W. W. Norton and Co.
Medieval Poetic Epic for 8th-Adult
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Beowulf
by Anonymous (translation by Seamus Heaney)
from W. W. Norton and Co.
Medieval Poetic Epic for 9th-Adult
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$21.21
Canterbury Tales
Penguin Classics
by Geoffrey Chaucer (edited by Nevill Coghill)
from Penguin Classics
Medieval Poetry for 8th-12th grade
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$9.35
Charge of the Light Brigade & Other Poems
Dover Thrift Editions
by Alfred Tennyson
from Dover Publications
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City of God
by St. Augustine (translation by Marcus Dods)
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City of God
by St. Augustine (translation by Marcus Dods)
from Modern Library
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$13.56
Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy
by Jacob Burckhardt
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$14.45
Common Sense
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by Thomas Paine
from Dover Publications
Political Philosophy for 9th-Adult
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$2.55
Communist Manifesto
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Signet Classic from Signet Classics
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$2.80 (1 in stock)
Communist Manifesto
by Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels
from Signet Classics
for 10th-Adult
in 19th Century Literature (Location: CLT-19C)
$5.06
Complete English Poems of John Donne
Penguin Classics
by John Donne
from Penguin Classics
Lyrical Poetry for 9th-Adult
in Poetry (Location: APO-05A)
$13.60
Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
by Emily Dickinson
from Little, Brown & Company
for 7th-Adult
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$18.69
Complete Poems of Samuel Taylor Coleridge
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
from Penguin Classics
for 9th-Adult
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$15.30
Crime and Punishment
by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (translation by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky)
Reprint from Vintage Classics
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in 19th Century Literature (Location: CLT-19C)
$15.26
Death of a Salesman
by Arthur Miller
from Penguin Putnam
American Tragedy for 10th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
$11.05 $6.00 (1 in stock)
Democracy in America
by Alexis De Tocqueville
from Harper Perennial
American Government for 11th-12th grade
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$19.54
Distant Mirror
by Barbara W. Tuchman
from Ballantine Books
for 10th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
$16.11
Divine Comedy I
Penguin Classics
by Dante Alighieri (translation by Dorothy Sayers)
from Penguin Classics
Medieval Allegory/Poetic Epic for 10th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
$12.75
Divine Comedy II
Penguin Classics
by Dante Alighieri (translation by Dorothy Sayers)
from Penguin Classics
Medieval Allegory/Poetic Epic for 10th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
$11.05
Divine Comedy III
Penguin Classics
by Dante Alighieri (translation by Dorothy Sayers & Barbara Reynolds)
from Penguin Classics
Medieval Allegory/Poetic Epic for 10th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
$11.90
Divine Comedy set
Penguin Classics
by Dante Alighieri (translation by Dorothy Sayers)
from Penguin Putnam
Medieval Allegory/Poetic Epic for 10th-Adult
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$35.70
Don Quixote
by Miguel de Cervantes (translation by John Rutherford)
from Penguin Putnam
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$14.45 $8.00 (2 in stock)
Ecclesiastical History of the English People
by Bede (edited by Judith McClure & Roger Collins)
from Oxford University
Church History for 10th-Adult
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$11.86
Everyman and Other Miracle and Morality Plays
Dover Thrift Editions
by Anonymous
from Dover Publications
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Four Plays by Aristophanes
by Aristophanes
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Gilgamesh
by Anonymous (translation by David Ferry)
from Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Ancient Poetic Epic for 7th-Adult
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Great Crash: 1929
by John Kenneth Galbraith
from Mariner Books
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in Great Depression (1929-1939) (Location: B01-24A)
$14.95
Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Reissue from Charles Scribner's Sons
Realistic Fiction for 9th-12th grade
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$13.60
Greek Lives
by Plutarch (translation by Robin Waterfield)
1st Reissue from Oxford University
Biography for 11th-Adult
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$11.86
Gulliver's Travels
Puffin Classics
by Jonathan Swift
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Satire/Social Commentary for 9th-Adult
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$3.25
Gulliver's Travels
by Jonathan Swift
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Satire/Social Commentary for 9th-Adult
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Gulliver's Travels
by Jonathan Swift
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$5.60 (1 in stock)
Gulliver's Travels
Puffin Classics
by Jonathan Swift
from Puffin Books
Satire/Social Commentary for 9th-Adult
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Heart of Darkness
by Joseph Conrad
from Modern Library
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$9.35
Histories
Penguin Classics
by Herodotus (translation by Aubrey De Sélincourt)
from Penguin Putnam
Historical Non-Fiction for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
$10.20 $6.00 (1 in stock)
Histories
Penguin Classics
by Herodotus (translation by Robin Waterfield)
from Oxford University
Historical Non-Fiction for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
$9.31
History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Penguin Classics
by Edward Gibbon
from Penguin Putnam
Historical Non-Fiction for 11th-Adult
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House of Mirth
by Edith Wharton
from Dover Publications
for 9th-Adult
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$3.40
Idylls of the King
by Alfred Tennyson
from Signet Classics
Epic Poetry for 8th-Adult
in Poetry (Location: APO-05A)
$6.76
Idylls of the King
by Alfred Tennyson
from Penguin Classics
Epic Poetry for 8th-Adult
in Poetry (Location: APO-05A)
$13.60
Iliad
Everyman's Library
by Homer (translation by Robert Fitzgerald)
from Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Ancient Literature/Epic Poetry for 9th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
$19.55
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