The First Books

May 22, 2007

Lucy started reading Don Quixote, so we start there.

49. Cervantes: Don Quixote


7. Sophocles: Plays
Women of Trachis

1. Bhagavatgita

6. Herodotus: Histories

29. Gibbon: Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire

40. Dante: Divine Comedy (Tr. By John Ciardi)


The Beginning

May 8, 2007

Lucy and I have been close friends ever since we lived together in the mid-1990s in Vladivostok, Russia – otherwise affectionately known as “the end of the world.” She visited me recently in Los Angeles and asked about the list. All these years we’ve always intended to read all the titles on the list, and now is the time. We thought we would start a blog about it so that anyone can join the Brodsky Reading Group. Read with us! 

The Story

May 8, 2007

In my freshman year at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, I took a poetry class with Joseph Brodsky. Brodksy was a genius. I think he must have had a photographic memory, because, even in English, his common speech was akin to someone reading the dictionary – I took more notes on vocabulary words to look up than I did on poetry. My Russian could never be that good even if I studied every day for the rest of my life. Shortly after the class began, he passed out a handwritten list of books that he said every person should have read in order to have a basic conversation. At the time I was thinking, ‘Conversation about what?’ I knew I’d never be able to have a conversation with him, because I never thought I’d ever get through the list. Now that I’ve had a little living, I understand what he was talking about. Intelligent conversation is good. In fact, maybe we all need a little more.

Joseph Brodsky’s Reading List

May 8, 2007

1. Bhagavatgita
2. Mahabharata
3. Gilgamesh
4. The Old Testament
5. Homer: Iliad, Odyssey
6. Herodotus: Histories
7. Sophocles: Plays
8. Aeschyles: Plays
9. Euripedes: Plays (Hippolytus, Bachants, Electra, The Phornician Women)
10. Thucydides: The Peloponesian War
11. Plato: Dialogues
12. Aristotle: Poetics, Physics, Ethics, De Anima
13. Alexandrian Poetry: The Greek Anthology
14. Lucretius: The Nature of Things
15. Plutarch: Lives
16. Virgil: Aenid, Bucolics, Georgics
17. Tacitus: Annals
18. Ovid: Metamorphoses, Heroides, Ars Amatoria
19. The New Testament
20. Svetonius: Lives of 12 Caesars
21. Marcus Aurelius: Meditations
22. Catullus: Poems
23. Horace: Poems
24. Epictetus: Discourses
25. Aristophanes: Plays
26. Aelian: Historical Miscellanies, Characters of Animals
27. Appololarces (Appololorces?): Argonautica
28. Psellus: Lives of Byzantine Rulers
29. Gibbon: Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire
30. Plotinus: The Enneads
31. Eusebius: The Ecclesiastical History
32. Boethius: Constelationes of Philosophy
33. Pliny the Younger: Letters
34. Byzantine Verse Romances
35. Heraclytus: Fragments
36. Augustine: Confessions
37. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica
38. St. Francis: The Little Flowers
39. Nicolo Machiavelli: The Prince
40. Dante: Divine Comedy (Tr. By John Ciardi)
41. Franko Sachetti: Novellas
42. Icelandic Sagas
43. Shakespeare (Anthony and Cleopatra, Hamlet, Macbeth, Henry 5)
44. Rabelais
45. Bacon
46. Martin Luther: Selected Works
47. Calvin: Institutes
48. Montaigne: Essays
49. Cervantes: Don Quixote
50. Descartes: Discourses
51. Song of Roland
52. Beowulf
53. Belvenuto (?) Cellini
54. Henry Adams: Education of Henry Adams
55. Hobbes: Leviathan
56. Pascal: Pensees
57. Milton: Paradise Lost
58. Jone Donne
59. Andrew Marvell
60. George Herbert
61. Richard Crashaw
62. Spinoza: Treatises
63. Stendhal: Charterhouse of Parma, Red and Black, The Life of Andre Ballard
64. Swift: Gulliver’s Travels
65. Lawrence Sterne: Tristram Shandy
66. Choderlos de Laclois: Les Liaisons Dangereuses
67. Montesqui: The Persian Letters
68. Locke: Second Treatise on Government
69. Adam Smith: Wealth of Nations
70. Leibmitz (?) Leibvitz?: Discourses
71. Hume: Everything
72. The Federalist Papers
73. Kant: Critis of Pure Reason
74. Soren Kierkegaard: Fear and Trembling, Either/Or, Philosophical Fragments
75. Dostoevsky: Notes From the Underground, The Possessed
76. Tocqueville: Democracy in America
77. Goethe: Faust, Italian Journey
78. De Cuistine: Journey for our Time (Empire of the Czar)
79. Eric Auerbach: Mimesis
80. Prescott: Conquest of Mexico
81. Octavio Paz: Labyrinths of Solitude
82. Sir Karl Popper: The Logic of Scientific Discovery, The Open Society and Its Enemies
83. Eliac Canetti: Crowds Are Power