So You Wanna Be Cultured?

I thought, as an experiment, I’d put together a quick and dirty list of books that would form a basic library for someone (like me) wanting a broad, liberal arts education at a reasonable cost of time and money. The aim here is to get a general overview of the most important areas of human knowledge, experience, and expression—especially but not exclusively in Western and English-speaking cultures—with enough reference material to guide and support deeper and wider explorations.

Since I only have a few of these books I have chosen them based on reputation, which for most of them is illustrious. Shakespeare and the Bible get special attention because of their profound (but so familiar we hardly notice it) influence on our language and culture. Many of these books have concise versions, and most have earlier editions that can be found used (though they tend to hold their value since they are so good). Some of the editions referred to below (by ISBN) are so new that they aren’t available yet, and some are out of print but are still the superior works in their fields. I have included a couple of writing references since writing is an integral part of learning.

For details, just copy the ISBN into your favourite retailer’s search box. Prices are from amazon.ca.


For Starters

How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading
0671212095
$14.30

Literature

Norton Anthology of World Literature
039392453X & 0393924548
$160.20

Norton Anthology of Western Literature
0393925722 & 0393926168
$160.20

Norton Anthology of English Literature
0393928330 & 0393928349
$160.20

Oxford Companion to Classical Literature
019860081X
$36.05

Oxford Companion to English Literature
0198662440
$59.85

The Norton Shakespeare
0393970876
$55.20

Philosophy

World Philosophy: An East-West Comparative Introduction to Philosophy
0138620121
$88.95

Oxford Companion to Philosophy
0199264791
$51.45

Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy
0192831348
$18.00

Religion

The World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions
0062508113
$18.80

New Oxford Annotated Bible, New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha
019528478X
$45.50

Oxford Companion to the Bible
0195046455
$62.97

Oxford Bible Commentary
0198755007
$109.87

History

The Encyclopedia of World History
0395652375
$62.97

or

The New History of the World
0195219279
$37.40

Fine Arts

Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting (Enhanced and Expanded)
0789468050
$55.00

Oxford Companion to Art (out of print)
019866107X
$87.53

A History of Western Music
0393979911
$89.40

If you read music:
Norton Anthology of Western Music
0393979903 & 0393925625
$121.08

If you’d rather listen:
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music (12 CDs)
0393103668 & 0393103676
$218.16

Oxford Companion to Music
0198662122
$59.85

Dance: Rituals of Experience
0195112059
$28.00

Science & Environment

Integrated Science
(I actually got excited reading the table of contents. Once a scientist…)
0073222739
$128.95

Living in the Environment
0534997295
$148.74

Reference

The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary
0198612710
$165.55

Roget’s International Thesaurus
0060185759
$23.07

Oxford Fowler’s Modern English Usage (out of print)
0192813897
$ cheap used

Oxford Dictionary of Quotations
0198607202
$55.97

Columbia Encyclopedia (out of print)
0787650153
$ ?? (probably not cheap)

National Geographic Atlas of the World
0792275438
$167.27

So what’s the grand total? Are you ready? It’s close to $2500. Plus tax. Gulp.

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2 comments on “So You Wanna Be Cultured?

  1. deb says:

    If you consider the cost of a liberal education these days, that's not bad.

  2. Sylvia says:

    True, and it's not much more than I spend on books in a year anyway. And it would be a library to last a lifetime, I think.

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