11 Dec 21

The essential value of a classical education

Jeffrey Brenzel, who teaches at Yale, makes the argument that we should prioritize reading classic books instead of reading contemporary material.

  • We have limited time, and there are too many books to go through
  • It's better to read something that has stood the test of time, and been evaluated by many tough critics, than the current best seller that hasn't yet gone through intensive, long testing.

Five characteristics of a classic:

  1. Deals with universal human concerns
  2. Game-changer
  3. Influenced many other great books
  4. Highly regarded by experts
  5. Challenging yet rewarding

Five values of a classic:

  1. Discovering forgotten ideas
  2. Connecting and comparing ideas
  3. Enconutering strangeness
  4. Building an intellectual muscle
  5. Better judgement

I found his argument very compelling, and helpful in dealing with the amount of things I want to read in my lifetime. Unfortunately, I didn't have the opportunity to study the classics during college (I studied design), so I'll have to catch up now. My only gripe with his thinking is that he didn't mention any books or authors from the East or Global South, being predictably focused on Western thought. I also think that there are great modern books that could have at least as much impact, and he didn't offer any advice on how to curate those.


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