The Whole Five Feet: What the Great Books Taught Me About Life, Death, and Pretty Much Everything Else

Christopher R. Beha, Author . Grove $25 (258p) ISBN 978-0-8021-1884-4

At first glance, Beha’s situation is enviable: the 27-year-old Princeton graduate quits his job and is welcomed back into his parents’ Manhattan apartment, where he decides to dedicate himself to reading all 51 volumes of the Harvard Classics Library, a “five-foot shelf” of (mostly) Western literature from Plato to Darwin. If only it were that easy: he must come to terms with the death of a beloved aunt early in the year, then is himself afflicted with a torn meniscus and a serious case of Lyme disease. With so much personal drama, the classics frequently take a back seat, and several volumes go completely unremarked. Beha spends the most time on those books that spoke most keenly to his personal circumstances; not only does he discuss John Stuart Mill’s existential crisis at length, for example, he compares his own reaction to reading Wordsworth to the philosopher’s. The broader conclusions Beha (now an assistant editor at Harper’s ) reaches about cultural values and the meaning of life are disappointingly pat; even the young memoirist concedes, “I haven’t written the book I set out to write.” (May)

Reviewed on: 02/16/2009
Release date: 05/01/2009
Genre: Nonfiction
MP3 CD - 978-1-5226-6157-3
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