Hugh Hewitt’s lifetime book reading list, or what you want every college freshman and sophomore to read.
HH: A few days ago, I was riding around with my intern, who is an enrollee at the Torrey Honors program at Biola University, and we were talking about what he was reading and not reading. And it occurred to me that most young college students are absolutely lost. They lack a program like Torrey, they lack a teacher like David Allen White, to tell them what they ought to read, at least when they’re freshmen or sophomores. And so I conspired with David Allen White, professor extraordinaire at the United States Naval Academy, where he’s been teaching Shakespeare and other matters to the mid-shipmen for more than a quarter century, and John Mark Reynolds, professor of philosophy at Biola University, and the head of the Torrey Honors program there, to put together a reading list, and it’s the top 30 books that every one of you ought to have read, and certainly freshmen and sophomores ought to have read. Here’s my plan. Take one a week for the next 30 weeks, or one a week during your year in college, you’ll be at least partially educated. Professor White, Professor John Mark Reynolds, welcome to you both. I’m going to lead off with you, Professor White. Since we’re going to be pressed for time, I’m going to ask you to just spit out your top ten, and I’m going to do the same with John Mark Reynolds, and then we’ll go back and compare and contrast. David?
DAW: Fair enough. Fair enough, Hugh. The first two are just givens. What can you say. And it’s not for a week, it’s for a lifetime. These are the two that I think should be everybody’s ultimate desert island books. You’re going to a desert island, you can only take two books. You’ve got to take The Bible, and you’ve got to take Shakespeare. What more can you say?
HH: All right, one and two. Of course, it’s going to be tough to get those done in a week.
DAW: It wouldn’t be possible, but again, you know, part of the problem, Hugh, if I can say this, is nobody’s got time to read anymore. We’re all rushing around, there’s so much going on, there’s no, what Aristotle called leisure time. We just don’t have it. We’re working too hard, and then we play a bit, and there’s no real leisure time. I’ll interrupt and tell you a very quick story. This happened, it was in the Washington Post last weekend. One of the greatest musicians in the world, Joshua Bell, violinist, went down into the Metro with his multi-million dollar Stradivarius, disguised as a street musician. Played Bach, played Massenet, and nobody stopped to listen.
DAW: He put his open violin case out there. You had one of the greatest musicians in the world playing the world’s greatest music. Nobody had time to stop and listen. Children were pulled away. One young woman recognized him, one former violinist stopped and listened to him a bit, and had his breath taken away. He made about $30 bucks.
HH: Now let me interrupt you, Professor White, because I want to see if John Mark Reynolds of Biola’s Torrey program will agree with the two givens, The Bible and Shakespeare?
JMR: Well, I would agree with the two givens. So if I were put on a desert island, I would take The Bible and Plato’s Republic with me. But that might be a little eccentric. Shakespeare’s certainly a great pick, and I totally agree that we don’t have time to read, but I think that’s a problem that has to be solved. People who don’t have time to read are going to be ineffectual, rotten at what they do, and are not going to be the leaders that we need, particularly in the conservative movement today.
HH: All right. Now let’s go back to the list. Professor White, numbers three through ten?
DAW: I agree with that absolutely. I’ll tell you what, it seems to me absolutely essential, I’m going along with the dialogues of Plato. I’m being unfair, I’m grabbing a book that has all the dialogues.
HH: Oh, that’s unfair.
JMR: Cheater, cheater.
HH: Okay, so the dialogues are on there. Next?
DAW: Without a doubt, the dialogues are on there. I’m going to include Homer’s Iliad.
DAW: It’s got to be there. Dante’s Divine Comedy, just one of the most extraordinary books of all time. And Cervantes’ Don Quixote, one of the few books I read year in, year out, never get tired of it. On my top ten, I’ll tell you, Dickens’ David Copperfield …
DAW: …one of the greatest stories told by one of our greatest storytellers, and everybody should read it at some point in their life. Continuing onward…
HH: You get three more in your top ten.
DAW: I know, I know. This is really tough. Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, again, one of the greatest novels of all time, but it’s a philosophical novel, it’s historical, it’s got everything going on in it, and I’d have to include that. A personal favorite, Hugh, a book I absolutely love, and again, that I read almost every year, it’s Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited…
HH: All right.
DAW: …set in the Second World War. And then finally, what I consider the great book of our age…every age has a single great work. For me, it’s Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago.
HH: So the top ten are The Bible and Shakespeare, we’ve got the Dialogues of Plato, we’ve got Copperfield…
HH: Karamazov, Brideshead Revisited, and Gulag. To you, John Mark Reynolds.
JMR: Well, the top ten, if I’m going to squeeze the list of 30 you asked me for down to ten, I’ll go with the Odyssey, if I have to pick one of Homer, and I can’t pick both. I think everybody should read Aristotle’s Ethics at some point in their life…
DAW: I agree.
JMR: …so that they can learn to think about things correctly. Plato’s Republic, which is a book that I reread every semester, and probably will read every semester of my life…I think Oedipus Rex is also important, if we want to understand the nature of truth, and where theater comes from…
JMR: Augustine’s Confessions is actually a book that I read every year, and never stop seeing how far short I fall of this great Christian leader, Augustine. The Divine Comedy, it’s like picking three books at once. It’s like picking a worldview, it’s like picking a way you should think about everything, all at once. How could a guy put together the world’s greatest poetry, the best science of his time, as well as some of the best theology every written into one master work? We can look and see. Number 7, I’m going to go with the Second Treatise on Government by Locke. I think everybody that lives in the United States should understand what Locke was up to in that.
HH: Well, you’re a sadist.
HH: That is one of the hardest to read books ever, but go ahead.
JMR: Yes, so sorry. I think Virgil’s Aeneid is also important. If you’re going to read Dante and Homer, Virgil counts. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that everybody in your audience should go home and memorize Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, if they haven’t done it already. That’s what I’m going to work on this year, actually, as a private project, and read and totally imbibe the spirit of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. We’re at war, but we’re not at war with human beings, in one way, but with bad ideas. Christians, at least, my tradition, are called to love their enemies. That doesn’t mean we can’t do justice on them. But we need to start thinking about our enemies, I think the way Lincoln thought about his enemies.
HH: All right. Now we’ve got 20 great books out there…
JMR: Yeah, there you go.
HH: …between the two of you. I’d like you to each comment on your list, but I must say, I’m disappointed because neither of you brought up Plutarch, and neither of you brought up a good, robust history like the History of the English Speaking People, so that there would be a skeleton of chronology on which to hang these various great works. David Allen White, your reaction to that, and to John Mark Reynolds’ list?
DAW: Oh, we share a number of things. Obviously, Oedipus Rex was on my list, I agree totally about the Confessions of St. Augustine, a lot of stuff in common there. I agree, in terms of the history, Hugh. You’ve got to know history, but I have trouble coming up with one book. Obviously, I take my Plutarch through Shakespeare. I just have a hard time with a single book that I can name that would do it.
HH: John Mark Reynolds?
JMR: I don’t agree with his perspective on history, but when I send my students to get a history of England, I always send them to Charles Dickens’ Child’s History of England, which whatever its defects as history, is masterfully written, and contains wonderful passages about Henry VIII, like he was the greatest blot of grease ever to sit on the throne of England. Even when I don’t agree with the opinions, they’re cleverly written. I like anything written by Johnson, including the Birth of the Modern. If people haven’t read that book, they should, if they want to understand the problems on the left today. And so Johnson in general, I think, is a good read on the history of our times.
HH: Now I’ve got to ask you both with a minute each until we go to the break, we’ll come back for selections 11-20 after the break, is what’s your purpose here, David Allen White? Why these books? What do they do?
DAW: My sense is, and this is personal opinion, it’s a miracle we’re here at all, it’s quite extraordinary. But one of the things I, at least, think most people should do in the time that they spend on this planet, is have a sense of the greatest that’s been given to us. A life itself is the greatest gift, to have an immortal soul is extraordinary, but in beginning to understand what that means, I think you’ve got to turn to the greatest writers who can give you some sense of what it’s all been about, why you’re here, what it means and where you’re going. And that means you’ve got to delve into the great writers.
HH: John Mark Reynolds, why this list? What’s it do?
JMR: We need young men and women with souls that are good, true and beautiful. And if we’re going to form souls that are good, true and beautiful, we can’t begin with our own souls, because all of us are in process, too. The great writers know how to shape us morally, to get to goodness. They know how to help us find the big ideas, the truths that never change from culture to culture. And they know most importantly how to make us beautiful, so that we don’t fall into the trap of thinking only things that work matter. We need beauty in our lives as well.
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HH: I wish, David Allen White, you’d get out to Biola sometime and teach a semester there. You would really enjoy these young men. You’ve got the best…
DAW: I’m sure I would, Hugh.
HH: …of these mid-shipmen. Now first a question about translations, and then back to the list. As an English speaker, obviously Shakespeare and Gettysburg and the Second Inaugural are accessible to us in a way that they aren’t to non-native speakers. Does translation stand in the way, or does it give you pause for any of these particular works, David Allen White?
DAW: Translation is, I think, really a problem, Hugh, when it comes to poetry, the reason being poetry is verbal music, so you need the sound to get the fullness of the experience. Robert Frost said poetry is that which gets lost in translation. Therefore, it does make a difference. But we’re fortunate. Almost every age has had really fine translations of the classics. So it’s a matter of doing a little snooping around, asking a little bit, and finding out in our own time, who the best translators are, and using their translations, you’ll get as close to the original as it’s possible to get.
HH: John Mark Reynolds, do you share that belief that you can, in fact, get to the Odyssey through any translation? Or does it have to be a particular one?
JMR: You can get to the Odyssey through…you can get to the ideas of the Odyssey through any translation. What you’re going to miss, and this is the mistake that a lot of people make, for example, when they want to read the New Testament, they think if they learn Greek, that the translators, they’re going to find stuff in the New Testament that wasn’t there before. But we’ve got really fine English translations to the New Testament, really fine idea translations of the Iliad or Odyssey. What you miss are Greek word orderings which also matter, which help you understand not hidden messages, but hidden nuances and emphasis. So you can’t really read the Iliad or the Odyssey, or even the New Testament, and get everything a native speaker gets, but you can get the big ideas. You’re not going to discover in the New Testament that Jesus didn’t die, that he wasn’t resurrected on the third day. And sometimes, people are disappointed when they learn the original language at how good our translations are.
HH: When we come back, by the way, I want to make sure that everyone understands that we will post a transcript of this hour at Hughhewitt.com, with Amazon.com links to all of the books, because Duane really wants to do that, which means you don’t have to write ferociously. You can just listen. Okay, numbers 11-20, John Mark Reynolds.
JMR: Yeah, I’m going to go with modern books here. These are the modern books that every student should have read if they want to understand how the world works. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States are miracles of modern thought, taken the 18th Century forward as modern, and we sometimes forget that just because we’re Americans doesn’t mean that we can’t be proud of something we did. I also think to understand those works, you should have read the Federalist Papers, and Democracy In America.
HH: That’s four books right there, right?
JMR: Yeah, it is, but I’m counting the Declaration and Constitution, because they’re so short, as a whole.
HH: Okay, so you’re cheating again? These professors cannot be cabined by rules.
DAW: It’s true.
HH: They keep running off on us. It’s like Shakespeare should have been one play at a time. All right, John Mark, you’ve got three…
JMR: I’m a philosopher. We can’t count. That’s our problem.
HH: You’ve got three.
JMR: Everybody should read Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, and its contrast, the Communist Manifesto by Marx. If you’re ever tempted to be a socialist, the Communist Manifesto will argue you out of it.
JMR: And I think we need to read Origin of Species, a book that I often listen to on tape, or CD, or on my I-Pod. You can do Origin that way. It’s not fascinating reading, but it’s important reading. Then finally, On The Genealogy of Morals, and Civilization And Its Discontents. Between Nietzsche, Freud and Marx, we have the makers…and Darwin, really, the makers of the modern mind. I don’t agree with them. And then the antidote to it? The best essay written in the 20th Century, C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man.
HH: Now I’ve got to ask David Allen White, before I go to your list to respond, that’s a lot of wasted time, in my view. I view Freud as a waste of time, I view Marx as a good joke on everyone who fell for it, and so I’m just not sure I would invest any time in Marx and…not Darwin, Darwin you’ve got to read, but Marx and Freud. What do you think?
DAW: I wouldn’t read Darwin, either. And the curious thing, Hugh, is, and you’ll notice there’s some big names that are not on my list. In fact, nowhere on my list are you going to find the name James Joyce, who I consider one of the big frauds of the 20th Century.
JMR: Oh, we’re in total agreement there.
DAW: Most people call Ulysses the greatest novel of the 20th Century. The irony, of course, is that nobody’s ever read it, or could read it. It’s a complete and total bore. The man, as with Darwin and Freud and Marx, was possessed of enormous talent, and a fine mind, the uses to which all that was put, I view as a complete waste of the gifts that they were given, and I wouldn’t waste my time going through them. Most of those writers, I think, you can get a sense of secondhand, and I wouldn’t take the time to read them myself, even though Heaven knows, I was forced through a lot of them.
HH: All right, 11-20, David Allen White?
DAW: Well, here we go. I agree with the Odyssey. The Odyssey’s got to be on there. Here’s a curiosity. It’s the first complete play we have. It’s Aeschylus’ Oresteia. And it’s about the establishing of the courts of justice in the city of Athens. It really is in a way the dawn of Western civilization, and one of the great plays ever written. So I’m going with Aeschylus’ Oresteia. I agree completely, Aristotle’s Ethics, Virgil’s Aeneid, one of the great poems, and one of the classic poems of all time, and necessary reading. The only book on my list that I’ve not yet finished, I dive into it, I come out of it, and I hope before I depart this Earth to get through it, and that’s Aquinas’ Summa Theologica.
HH: That’s not really a book.
DAW: It’s a book, all right, and you know, the curious thing is it was written as sort of…
HH: It’s like a sentence.
DAW: It’s like a summary introduction for people beginning their university educations, which tells us how much progress we’ve had. Here’s a curiosity. I love this book, the Pensees of Pascal. They were notes he made for a long work he hoped to write. He didn’t live long enough to write it, but thank Heavens we have the notebooks filled with his thoughts. It’s a glorious book. I’m going to include one of my favorites, everybody who wants to be married has to read it, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
HH: Oh, that’s a disaster for the men listening here.
DAW: No, no, no. It’s a great book, and boy, they can learn something about being a man. She had a better sense of manhood than most men in our time…
HH: Can we watch the movie instead, David Allen White?
DAW: No, you’ve got to read it. The sentences are exquisite, and the wisdom of this woman is profound. Here’s one, again you can call it a cheat, but this book actually exists. And in fact, I bought it when I was in high school. It’s still out there. It’s called the Immortal Poems of the English Language. It’s an anthology – Sidney, Spencer, Marlowe, Jonson, Donne, Milton, Dryden, Pope, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Tennyson, Browning, Hopkins, Whitman, Dickenson, Frost, all in one volume.
HH: An Immortal, well, Duane will put it into the transcript.
DAW: Yeah, Immortal Poems of the English Language, edited by Oscar Williams, you can get it all in one paperback volume. And then you knew this had to come up, Hugh, I suspect you were waiting for it, the greatest book written by an American, Melville’s Moby Dick.
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HH: This is Hugh Hewitt’s lifetime reading list, or what your freshman ought to have read their first year in college, if you got your money’s worth. And it’s 30 books, or actually, it’s more like 35, given the way these guys count, of what they ought to have plowed through, and maybe it will take two years. But we go back to my question before the break. John Mark Reynolds, neither you nor David Allen White, on the cheat sheet you sent me, included the Essays by Montaigne, a book with which I have spent years, given I had to spend an entire year straight with it, it sits by my bedside table most months of the year. What’s wrong with you two?
JMR: There’s nothing wrong with us, and there’s nothing wrong with that book. But I eliminated lots of books I think people should read, and that we could have picked. Bluntly, I think you would have been better off spending all of your time with Burke if you want to understand the way politics works, the way people work. Is there anything better than his reflections on the revolution in France on this topic?
HH: Yes, the Essays. They’ll tell you how people work. David Allen White, why are you anti-French?
DAW: I’m not anti-French at all. Listen, I’ve already included Pascal, and I’ve got another French work coming up on the list. But I would say this, just as I take my Plutarch through Shakespeare, I get my Montaigne through Shakespeare as well.
HH: All right. You also pronounce it that way, too, and that’s a division among people for years. Let’s go back to you, John Mark Reynolds. Your next five, this would be 21-26?
JMR: Okay, my next five, I will go with the Summa. You have to have read some of it to be well educated. The second book I want to add to the list is Canterbury Tales. You’ve got to understand where your language came from. The third thing is to understand the way politics works, even when it shouldn’t, is The Prince.
HH: You know, I’m glad you put that there. I was afraid I had a couple of ancients here, and they were going to scowl at Machiavelli and move on without mentioning him.
DAW: I do scowl at Machiavelli.
JMR: No, no.
HH: (laughing) I knew you did, David. That’s three, John Mark.
JMR: Well, listen, both of you want to understand the modern mind without reading the modern mind, so I don’t know what to make of either of you. Everybody should read The Faeire Queene, which C. S. Lewis described as a psychologically purifying moment, and some of the best English ever written. And five, I want to add Calvin’s Institutes. I don’t agree with the theology in particular, but it’s the best systematic theology written by a Protestant Reformer, and that’s important to shaping the modern world we live in.
HH: David Allen White, your next five?
DAW: Well, I’m going to duplicate. There’s some echoing here. Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, what can you say? Among the greatest works ever written by anybody, and gets right to the question of who am I, and proves to us we have no idea. And when we find out, it’s pretty horrifying. Moving along, a beautiful, beautiful poem, in French, Hugh, see, here’s another French one. We don’t know who wrote it, it’s Chanson de Geste from the 10th, 11th Century, called the Song of Roland, one of the great battle poems of all time, and an extraordinary character study, the Song of Roland, well, well worth reading. I think I may have forgotten to mention the Canterbury Tales, essential reading, I absolutely love it. And then, this may sound crazy, but I absolutely mean it, I do understand the modern mind, because when I was young, I read Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass. And boy, there is the modern world for us in spades.
HH: All right, before we go to the final five, we’ve got about a minute to the break. John Mark Reynolds, any reacts to David Allen’s last five?
JMR: No, those are fantastic books, they should be on anybody’s good reading list. Any time I leave off a book, it’s very hard. With Shakespeare, I’d be curious to know what the good Doctor wants us to read. My Shakespeare picks are Lear, MacBeth, Henry V, and Julius Caesar, As You Like It, maybe? What would he have us read?
DAW: Lear is number one, to my mind, the greatest thing ever written by anybody. No problem with As You Like It. I might go with Twelfth Night, and maybe Henry IV, Part 1, instead of Henry V, but I also would head to the end of his career, and either the Winter’s Tale or the Tempest.
JMR: A Winter’s Tale is fantastic.
HH: Is there any other, is the shadow of Shakespeare so great that there’s no other English playwright you would recommend, Professor White?
DAW: You know what’s very sad is the number two guy was George Bernard Shaw, who fought with Shakespeare his whole life. And at the end, in the last thing he wrote, which was a little puppet show, [Shakes Versus Shav], admitted that Shakespeare was indeed greater.
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HH: John Mark Reynolds, I think it’s your turn to give me your final five.
JMR: Ahh, the final five, it’s so hard. I’m going to go with Paradise Lost, which proves that Protestants can write world class poetry, despite some accusations…
JMR: If you’re at war, you ought to be reading Boethius, the Consolation of Philosophy.
HH: Wait. What? That is alien to me. I have no idea what you just said.
DAW: Oh, it’s a great work, Hugh.
JMR: Yeah, it’s the work that deals with fate and God’s relationship to fate. The world’s a tough place to live in, and how should we handle the tough things that happen to us?
HH: Go back over the title and the author again slowly.
JMR: It’s Boethius, the Consolation of Philosophy. And for about five hundred or six hundred years, it was the most widely read book in the Western world.
JMR: So it’s an important one to take a look at. I’m going to agree with the Orestia. And then for my students, I’m going to add Cicero on Friendship and on Duties. These are must reads for modern people who have forgotten all about doing their duty, and the nature of friendship as well. And then finally, a book that I think is vile and evil, but everyone should have read at least some of, is Hobbes’ Leviathan, if you want to see the kind of state we want to avoid at all cost.
HH: David Allen White, your final five?
DAW: Well actually, I somehow have six here, but I know I only had 30. I must have miscounted at some point. I have to do a Tolstoy, I’ve gone with Anna Karenina. War And Peace is a great book, you’ve got to read one or the other. You probably should read both.
HH: Why Anna over War And Peace?
DAW: I find it a more intriguing story, and it’s easier to find now because Oprah had it on her Book Club.
HH: There you go.
DAW: In fact, it actually went on the bestseller list again, about a century after Tolstoy died. It’s extraordinary. I only have one poet that I’m calling for buying his collected poems, and that’s T.S. Eliot. To my mind, he’s the voice of the age, and I’ll tell you, given the temperatures lately, April really is the cruelest month. What can you say?
JMR: (laughing) True enough.
DAW: My last ones are purely personal picks. These are books I love. They’re recent, I think everybody should read them. One of the great American autobiographies called Witness by Whittaker Chambers. What happened to Chambers is one of the central moments in American history, and the Hiss-Chambers case popped up in the Washington Post again this week. They’re still pushing the big lie. But apart from the case, Chambers’ Witness is an extraordinary book. You won’t be surprised by this, Hugh. You’ve heard her name often, the Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor, I think maybe the best literature writer in America in the 20th Century. And then last two, just books I love and read over and over, Norman Mailer’s Of A Fire On The Moon. The landing on the Moon was one of the great events of our lifetime, nobody wrote about it other than Mr. Mailer, and he goes to the core of who we are, what went on. It’s a fascinating read. And finally, a wonderfully brilliant, funny, complex book unlike anything ever written, Walker Percy’s Lost In The Cosmos, which he calls the last self help book. It’s a parody of all those self help books, but in the midst of it, he goes to the core of what it means to be human, to live and die in the world.
HH: Now gentlemen, you’re both good natured, jovial and long time academics who enjoy a good argument. I have to ask before we move to the question of the canon, as you listen to each other’s list, there must have been one that hit you in the solar plexus, and you said oof, what happened to him? There’s got to be one you just absolutely reject as being appropriate for the list. John Mark Reynolds, you’re the younger, so I’ll let you go first. Which one ought David Allen White not to have recommended to your young students? What would you not let them read?
JMR: I think anybody who gets near Norman Mailer gets evil diseases of the intellectual sort, and can utterly shut down and stop thinking forever. So I would avoid at all cost sending a young adult near such an author.
HH: (laughing) And David Allen White, your commentary on John Mark Reynolds’ list?
DAW: All I can say is, and I understand historically the importance, but I hear the name Calvin, and I fall on the floor and shake.
JMR: (laughing) Hey, the host is a Presbyterian. Don’t be so cruel.
HH: Oh, always be careful with your definitions. Now I’ve got to ask you both, given that there is so much agreement about the canon, and there really is. If you talk to educated people who are serious about ideas, they always say the same thing. Why isn’t it taught, David Allen White?
DAW: Because modern universities and colleges are the biggest fraud on the planet.
JMR: Here, here.
DAW: And they continue to get away from it. They loathe Western civilization. They hate Western civilization, and they will do anything to destroy it, which means destroying the canon. If you don’t teach the young where they came from, and the greatness of the past, you can do away with the whole thing. And sadly, I think that’s what’s happening. Hugh, when I started teaching 37 years ago, I could count on my students having read certain books. We had a body of shared knowledge we could begin with. Now, no two students have ever read the same book, they barely read books at all. It is chaos in the classroom, and the price of these phony educations keep going up and up and up.
HH: John Mark Reynolds, 30 seconds to our break.
JMR: Bluntly, most Americans in college get what the Victorians would have called a good women’s junior high education. We dumb down education because it’s easier to be stupid than it is to be smart. These books aren’t immediately fun to read, though they’re fun for the rest of your life in an intellectual sense. And so let’s face it, most college educators and most high school educators in particular are anti-intellectual in an intellectual field.
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HH: I want to thank my guests, John Mark Reynolds, David Allen White, the former of Biola University, where he directs the Torrey Honors program, the latter, long of the United States Naval Academy and of this program, and of the Hugh Cruise IV coming up on June 23rd. Let me ask you both the two questions. Are young people today simply ill…they can’t do it. It’s sort of like asking an illiterate to read the Summa in many respects. And then, too, could adults do it this late in life? Could they begin the list, John Mark Reynolds? I’ll let you go. You’ve got about a minute, and then I’ll give the same to David Allen White.
JMR: With a good leader, students are dying for this, Hugh. We bring in freshmen students, none of whom have read the Iliad and the Odyssey in general, and we begin to work with them in trying to understand how to read great literature. We end up with waiting lists of people begging to get into this kind of thing. You know what? People eventually understand that they’re being defrauded of their roots, they’re being defrauded of a good education. And as you start to help them get a hold of the real thing, they become hungry for it, with a passion that passes anything you’ve ever seen. Our students aren’t worse than they were 100 years ago. The teachers are worse. We’re worse. And if we begin to man up, step up and begin to teach students these things with passion, they can be transformed and do well. I see it every single day.
HH: How about adults, John Mark?
JMR: Adults can do this as well, but you need to find a good guide, you need to find someone who can help you get through things, and you need to understand that being bored is not a sin. Some things are hard to learn, but they’re worth learning. You need to press on and trying to get what you can. Repetitive reading of books is a great idea. If a book’s worth reading once, it’s generally worth reading multiple times.
HH: David Allen White, I’ve sat in your class at the Academy, I’ve seen mid-shipmen respond to Don Quixote. But generally, it’s tough going for them, and they’re the best of the best. What do you think? Are American high school students irredeemable in this regard? And what about adults?
DAW: No, they’re not at all, Hugh, but again, they need guidance, they need some good guidance to get them through. I agree completely with the remarks that were just made. I mean, you know, I always think, and I point to this, in the Divine Comedy, when Dante’s taking his journey, he’s got to have Virgil there to guide him, and then Beatrice and then St. Bernard. You know, you’ve got to have a guide.
HH: You know, I’m going to close by saying if any university system out there with an adult extension had half a brain, they would hire either or both of you to launch an adult great books conference, or study system that would go on for two years and go through these materials. They’d be oversubscribed, they’d make a fortune, because I really do believe there is a dying desire to know this which has not been taught. John Mark Reynolds of Biola, thank you. David Allen White of the United States Naval Academy, thank you. I appreciate you both very much, gentlemen.
JMR: Thank you. It was a great pleasure.
DAW: Oh, any time, Hugh.
HH: Thank you. And I will repeat, because Generalissimo is already hard at work, the transcript of these 38 minutes, and these 65, 67, 69 books will be up.
End of interview.