cover image THE WELL-EDUCATED MIND: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had

THE WELL-EDUCATED MIND: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had

Susan Wise Bauer, . . Norton, $27.95 (432pp) ISBN 978-0-393-05094-3

Bauer's The Well-Trained Mind (which she co-wrote with Jessie Wise) taught parents how to educate kids; her latest is designed for adults seeking self-education in the classical tradition. Reading—sustained, disciplined and structured—is her core methodology, so she starts with tips on improving reading skills and setting up a reading schedule (start with half-hour sessions four mornings a week, with daily journal writing). Reading is a discipline, like meditating or running, she says, and it needs regular exercise. To grow through reading—to reach the "Great Conversation" of ideas—Bauer outlines the three stages of the classical tradition: first, read for facts; then evaluate them; finally, form your own opinions. After explaining the mechanics of each stage (e.g., what type of notes to take in the book itself, or in the journal), Bauer begins the list section of the book, with separate chapters for her five major genres: fiction, autobiography/memoir, history/politics, drama and poetry. She introduces each category with a concise discussion of its historical development and the major scholarly debates, clearly defining all important terms (e.g., postmodernism, metafiction). And then, the pièce de résistance: lists, in chronological order, of some 30 major works in each genre, complete with advice on choosing the edition and a one-page synopsis. Bauer has crafted a timeless, intelligent book. (Aug.)

Forecast: Bauer's book has a large potential readership. For serious self-educators, it's a well-balanced, long-lasting reading program. For book-clubbers, it's a brilliant guide on to how to analyze any given literary work—even if it's not on Bauer's list. And for college students in trouble, it's a quick gloss of books there wasn't time to read, plus sound advice on spotting critical fallacies.