Fundamentals: the list
My graduate program’s qualifying exams have a rather eccentric format. The reading list, rather than consisting of several dozen or hundred books, has only twelve to fifteen works–but they must be “fundamental.” I’m not sure I could precisely define what “fundamental” is supposed to mean. It has something to do with identifying the authorities that represent the intellectual tradition into which you’ve chosen to enter; or, perhaps, with identifying the books that you most want to be friends with. In any case, the books on my tentative list (which, based on the feedback I’ve gotten, is fairly typical, save for the slight imbalance in favor of imaginative literature), will give you some idea. It’s possible, hopefully unlikely, that this list will change; if it does, I’ll update this post.
Since I’ll most likely be taking these exams in the not-too-distant future, many of the posts here between now and then will revolve around the books on this list. I mean, more than they already have been. I’m going to try to write at least once about each, and perhaps more about the ones I need to think more about. I may also post some translations of the Goethe poetry (which I’m reading in the original German).
For now, you can consider this post both a promissory note and a recommendation that you read any books on this list you haven’t already. It’s not quite accurate to say this is the authoritative list of my fifteen favorite books, but there aren’t many books I’d call my favorite that aren’t on it, and there’s none I wouldn’t re-read, even if I didn’t have to.
- Aeschylus – The Eumenides
- Dante Alighieri – Paradiso
- William Shakespeare – King Lear
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – Gedichte
- Herman Melville – Moby Dick, or The Whale
- T. S. Eliot – Four Quartets
Philosophy, Religion, and Theology
- Plato – Phaedo
- Aristotle – Nicomachean Ethics
- Thomas Aquinas – Summa Theologiae, Questions on God
- Blaise Pascal – Pensées
- Ludwig Wittgenstein – Philosophical Investigations
History and Social Theory
- Augustine of Hippo – The City of God against the Pagans
- Giambattista Vico – The New Science
- Max Weber – The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
- Johan Huizinga – The Autumn of the Middle Ages