For every important moment and stage in your life, there is a Great Book that can offer you invaluable lessons and place your unique experiences in a larger perspective.
Some of history's greatest authors have written about timeless themes and trying points in our lives. If you're unlucky in love, you can seek sympathy in Goethe's epistolary novel, The Sufferings of Young Werther, and its title character's frustrations with unrequited love. If you're looking to explore new environments, you can follow along with Lewis and Clark in their detailed journals as they journey through the Louisiana Territory. And if you're trying to lead a noble and hard-working life, you can learn from Albert Schweitzer, whose autobiography Out of My Life and Thought details his work providing medical care in a remote African village.
In Life Lessons from the Great Books, Professor J. Rufus Fears of the University of Oklahoma—a marvelous storyteller with deep historical knowledge—shows you how some of Western civilization's greatest literary masterpieces can speak to you and provide guidance in your life across the gulf of time and culture. Rich in historical perspective and infused with layers of meaning, these 36 lectures reveal the wealth of insight these enduring works can provide in your life. You'll come to see that each of these works—whether written 2,000, 200, or 20 years ago—remain relevant to all of us.
What Makes a Book "Great"?
According to Professor Fears, four characteristics define a Great Book:
- Its focus on great themes such as love, courage, and patriotism
- Its composition in a noble language
- Its ability to speak to readers across the ages
- Its ability to speak to readers not as groups, but as individuals
In Life Lessons from the Great Books, you focus on more than three dozen works that span the timeline of Western history, from ancient Greece and Rome to the modern age. Each of these 36 books provides insights not only into the human experience of their particular time and place but also into your own situation.
Great Books are touchstones to history and the story of humanity. Every Great Book you explore in this course—from the Odyssey and the Gospel of John to Hamlet and Animal Farm—is a unique expression of the human spirit and a fountain of advice, from how to conduct yourself in times of trouble to how to better appreciate the simple moments in your life.
In addition to pointing out the merits and virtues of each text in the course, Professor Fears explains how authors learned from and influenced each other, and how certain texts are interrelated.
"We will be very concerned in our course not with just what each one of these books says, but also with how it has built upon the lessons of the books that have come before and how it contributes to an ongoing current of intellectual excitement and dialogue," he notes.
Great Themes, Enduring Life Lessons
The lectures in Life Lessons from the Great Books are grouped into six broad themes that run through history's most compelling stories. Each of these themes is universal—we've all, at some point or another, felt the pangs of love or tried to steel our souls with courage. In exploring these themes within the context of these Great Books, you learn new ideas about both the works themselves and the broad scope of the human condition.
- The Unconquerable Human Spirit: Why can your spirit endure so much hardship without crumbling? Fyodor Dostoevsky displays the inner battle of the human spirit against sensuousness, violence, and mystery in The Brothers Karamazov. Similarly, Elie Wiesel's Night presents a single individual struggling to survive during one of history's darkest moments: the Holocaust.
- Youth and Old Age: How can you cope with the trials and tribulations of youth? Of old age? Goethe's The Sufferings of Young Werther remains an enduring statement about the passions of youth, while Cicero's "On Old Age" counsels us on the importance of old age and the wisdom that comes with it.
- Romance and Love: Why can love bring both pain and pleasure? How can you overcome heartache? Great Books such as Tristan and Isolde (with its depiction of chivalric romance) and Macbeth (with Lady Macbeth's use of love to manipulate her husband) help you understand love in all its complex forms.
- Adventure and Courage: How can you find the strength within yourself to face life's many challenges? T. E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which charts the soldier's experiences in the Middle East during World War I, reveals how one can reinvent oneself in new environments and discover inner strengths.
- Laughter and Irony: How can humor help to console you in times of trouble? How can it offer us unique perspectives on horrible situations? See how George Orwell's Animal Farm uses pointed satire as an opportunity to skewer Communist ideals.
- Patriotism: What is the true meaning of patriotism? President George Washington's farewell address called for the avoidance of savage partisan strife—a message that still rings true in today's world. President Theodore Roosevelt's Autobiography offers you timeless views on patriotic characteristics such as honesty and integrity.
A Storyteller Who Brings Literature to Life
An extraordinary orator, Professor Fears possesses a passion, knowledge, and authority that shine through in each of these inspirational lectures. You quickly understand why he has earned 25 teaching awards in his distinguished career.
His deep knowledge of classical history sheds new light on these literary masterpieces. With each lecture in Life Lessons from the Great Books, you discover fascinating new vantage points from which to view classic works.
Professor Fears's analogies between ancient dilemmas and their modern-day counterparts close the gap between literature and your daily life; they show you how these resonant themes are not new to the modern human condition but instead have been felt throughout history. You take solace in the realization that the ancient Greeks, medieval scholars, and our country's Founding Fathers all experienced social struggles, ethical dilemmas, and personal challenges similar to those we all face.
If you haven't read these Great Books before, the warmth of Professor Fears's storytelling and his insightful approach to literature will have you heading to the library to learn more. And if you've already read these works, you'll discover new themes and ideas that will help you get more out of them.
Regardless of your previous familiarity with these works, you'll come to understand why these masterpieces remain eternal testaments to the variety of human experience and the powerful ways in which literature can guide and inspire us.