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The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  2,977 ratings  ·  331 reviews
Have you lost the art of reading for pleasure? Are there books you know you should read but haven't because they seem too daunting? In The Well-Educated Mind, Susan Wise Bauer provides a welcome and encouraging antidote to the distractions of our age, electronic and otherwise. In her previous book, The Well-Trained Mind, the author provided a road map of classical ...more
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published August 17th 2003 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 2003)
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Sep 03, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-books
Well, no great surprise, but I was not crazy about this book. I love to read books about books, and Bauer had a number of funny lines about graduate students which I appreciated. I love to read and improve myself. But still this book missed the mark by a long, long way, to me. The day I have to make myself progress through a "grammar stage, logic stage, rhetoric stage" to get meaning from a book is the day I hang up my glasses and take up knitting or something instead. Good grief. The endless ...more
Jan 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
I've just finished this on the heels of Mortimer Adler's classic work, "How to Read a Book". Bauer's take on Adler is written for the remedial students who flunked the Adler. For instance, she doesn't casually gloss over the mechanics of reading a book, unlike Adler who assumed that people knew to move your eyes across and down the page. Bauer makes no such assumptions.

Bauer makes shockingly few references to Adler (only one comes to mind) which seems disrespectful given that she co-opted his
Mar 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
You can't pay me enough to take this book from me. It is, in the course of a few hundred pages, a replacement for *all* the time wasted in high school English classes.

This book is a fantastic introduction to the "classical education" method, a steady-as-she-goes education of the self by dipping into the Great Conversation of books and authors and ideas that has been going since the Epic of Gilgamesh.

The first section of the book is entirely dedicated to teaching you the basics of the method,
David Huff
May 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Only when I started reading this one did I realize that it is in fact a fairly deep reference book, and also a tutorial for how to approach reading the Great Books --- characteristics to look for, how to make outlines, analyze the content, how to work through and assess the book through different levels of depth and understanding ... and MUCH more. While some readers may be put off by these more "mechanical" aspects, they still are helpful tools in approaching this sort of reading.

I give it five
Dec 31, 2015 rated it liked it
I think a lot of readers, myself included, have a nagging voice running through their heads - you still haven't read War and Peace. You haven't touched any Greek drama since high school. You always meant to study Shakespeare's sonnets... why aren't you doing that?

The Well-Educated Mind is a starting point for anyone interesting in tackling the "great books" of the Western canon. Bauer breaks the books into five categories - fiction, plays, history, autobiography, and poetry - and provides a
Terri Lynn
Jul 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
I have used Susan Wise Bauer's Well-Trained Mind book (written with her mother Jessie wise) for years as a homeschool mother and in teaching classes of homeschool students of all ages. This book is one that I read to glean ideas about reading classical books as an adult and was somewhat disappointed in that she would have readers essentially read each book three times all while taking notes and doing the same sort of analysis done in grad school.

I don't believe a book requires this much
Jason Pettus
Dec 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I'm a big fan of Susan Wise Bauer's comprehensive 6,000-page history of the human race (in fact, this is a coming reading challenge to myself, to make it through the entire four-book series in a row without stopping); so when the Chicago Public Library recently acquired an ebook copy of this older book of hers, I went ahead and checked it out just out of curiosity. It's essentially a how-to guide for reading books like an academic scholar would, outlining the multiple steps of going through a ...more
Jan 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
A lengthy, jam-packed resource for any layman created by an extremely well-read scholar. This guide could have gone in a very bad direction -- could have been cheesy, shallow, or pretentious -- if written by the wrong person. But I was continually surprised by Bauer's depth of knowledge and genuine attitude. I mean, really, just read her bio -- she seems brilliant. Bauer has even convinced me to start a reading journal someday, which I never have seriously considered before reading this book.

Feb 14, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: format_kindle
Good choice if you're looking to read with more rigor.

Totally impractical process for an adult with a job. Susan Wise Bauer says one needs only 30 minutes a few days a week to get through her list of readings - each book three times.

Never gonna happen!

I mostly liked it anyway. Great survey of the history of different types of writing in the Western canon. Interesting (albeit Euro- and Ameri-centric) lists of must-reads... though, to be fair, SWB's is broader minded than almost every "great
Mar 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2018
Long winded but thorough. Wish I had this book growing up.

Susan Wise Bauer puts pen to paper to expose adults to what Learning looks like and gives hope that one can gain the education they felt they never had. That is why I picked up this book and why many others do too. Bauer does a great job going through history, literature, plays, and poetry in a way that many of us have never been exposed to before. She takes us by the hand and helps us dig deep into the subjects by applying the Classical
Mar 20, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: education
Curses! Goodreads ate my review and I do not want to write another.

Short version:
Most of us are "chaos readers" and tend to forget to read with intent. Bauer sings the merits of doing so (and) provides a fantastic, self-study method to being a more serious reader. Great resource for teachers, home schoolers, and those looking to brush up on their critical thinking skills.
May 07, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: textbooks
It was difficult to decide how many stars to give this book; three seemed a bit low, but four definitely seemed too high. The best part of this book is the suggested reading lists, complete with thumbnail descriptions: chronologically ordered lists of some of the most influential novels, autobiographies, histories, dramas, and poetry. I fully intend to use these lists to find future reading material.

Less useful, at least to me, was the "instruction" in how to read "serious literature"; I find
Dec 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is a helpful book about how to read classic English & American Literature to educate yourself, as well as lists and descriptions of representative classic works that are suggested reading. The writing is a bit dry and textbook-ish, but not hard to understand. Susan Wise Bauer starts with a few chapters on technique for understanding and evaluating literature. The technique is basically to focus first on understanding what you are reading, then on understand the arguments or points of ...more
Feb 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is possibly the most oft-referenced book in my library, but I finally sat down and read the whole thing cover to cover. (I refer to it so much, that I have purchased two copies at full price -- one hardback, and one Kindle version so I have access to it electronically on my iPad at all times.) I will slowly, over a life-time likely, read all her recommended classics, but in the meantime, this was a great education in and of itself. I learn so much from Susan Wise Bauer (or SWB, as I like to ...more
Kenia Sedler
Apr 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone looking for how to glean wisdom & enlightenment from books.
I've been at a place where I wanted to take my reading to the next level, but I had no idea how. I was completely unfamiliar with the classical/trivium 3-step process (grammar, logic, rhetoric), and had never known how to approach the journaling process to really get the most out of books. Susan Wise Bauer opened up that door for me, and so perhaps I'm feeling extra excited because of the "newness" of the approach.
Nov 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book so much. Bauer calls for adopting the trivium approach to reading championed by classical education: the grammar stage, the logic stage, and the rhetoric stage. Or rather, memorization and familiarization > critical thinking and analysis > forming and expressing personal opinions about the accumulated facts. Her approach is thorough, and introduces readers to five different literary forms and how to read them: novels, memoirs, history and politics, drama, and poetry. ...more
Sep 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
My senior year of college when I had smaller, discussion based classes, I remember talking with my professor about how I was struggling with truly grasping our readings. She told me most of her current students only scratch the surface of philosophy because we haven’t been ‘classically educated.’ Having the same feeling this year as I started to read through a list of classics, I stumbled across this book.

What I appreciated and found most helpful was Bauer’s brief history of each genre and step
Oct 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
I was somewhat prepared not to like this book since the subtitle "A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had" struck me as rather stuffy and elitist. Classical education proponents tend to be too full of the past to value the present. Such, however, is not the case for this author and this work. She is a clear and gifted writer with a well-educated mind. The breakdown of the tasks involved in reading different genres of literature and her three-stage approach to reading well are very ...more
Megan Larson
Aug 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
For those of us who are interested in classical education for our children, it's important to educate ourselves first! This book is a guide to achieving that, with tips for reading the five important genres of literature (novels, biographies, dramas, histories, and poetry) and analyzing the works in each category by the three phases of the classical education: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Each genre contains a chronological annotated list of great works to go through, as well as how to analyze ...more
Corey Grabar
Feb 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: parents
Recommended to Corey by: sister
What a great read. Indeed, it is the authoritative resource on classical education. I've seen some other reviews that say this book is too ambitious, but the beauty of homeschooling is that you can tailor this style and method to your own circumstances. In fact, any parent who wishes to be involved in their children's education (i.e. all parents, I hope!), would benefit from at least reflecting on the philosophy of this book and incorporating whichever parts work in your particular situation. A ...more
Jacob Aitken
Anyone can become an autodidact. It’s harder today because we don’t always know where to start. Bauer gives good advice.

The Act of Reading

If you’ve read Adler’s How to read a Book then there isn’t much new here. Good stuff, but I didn’t spend too much time on it.

Keeping a Journal

I used to, but when I saw the awesome power of google docs, I moved everything there. Simply no comparison. However, her suggestions on how to reflect on literature are good. The goal is to understand, evaluate, and
I pretty much agree with everything she writes (I think, I actually skimmed through this), but overall I didn’t find the book very useful, because at the end of the day, I did have had a classical education and I do know how to read.

Here’s a list of books on her list that are also on my to-read list:
• Greek Lyricists
• Lucretius, De Rerum Natura
• Robert Frost, The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems (ed. Lathem)
• Christina Rossetti, Rossetti: Poems
• Emily Dickinson, Dickinson: Poems
Anna Mussmann
Feb 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Note: I read only parts of this book. I appreciate Bauer's goal but found her summaries and directives a bit simplistic and overly prescriptive. Someday I may try it again, but with a paper copy instead of a Kindle version.

I did find her explanation for why "the novel" was originally received with such suspicion and condescension to be interesting.

My personal take-away: Like Thomas Jefferson, Bauer is a big believer in a systematic, disciplined system of reading. She urges readers to peruse
Jul 25, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ginib
Again, I need that 3.5 star rating. I have retired this book and have called it read. Given it's nature, a reader can choose the areas that she feels are deficient in her educational experience and focus on them. That is what I have done. This is not the same as a DNF, at least in my opinion.
Bauer reviews an area and recommends readings to her readers. The areas I chose to work through did indeed help fill some gaps and I feel the mission of her work has been achieved in my particular instance.
Mar 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
In the Well-Educated Mind, Mrs. Bauer discusses the importance of learning by reading for study not only entertainment. In the introductory chapters (1-4), she advises scheduling a regular reading time, practicing the mechanics of reading, keeping a reading journal and how to read a book using this method. In the chapters that follow (5-9), Mrs. Bauer covers the different ways to read the genre of literature as well as providing a list of recommended reading.

Chapters 5-9 are set up in the same
Feb 06, 2018 rated it it was ok
A friend told me about this book and asked for comments/ opinions, so I got one from the library and read through it in two days.

I have some anxieties about what social media is doing to my reading habits and attention span. I can get behind this kind of “self-help” for readers in troubles.

But I’ve also read a lot of books and essays (JSTOR, Project MUSE, CUP, OUP, PUP, Routledge) about literature — Bloom, Kermode, Frye, Kenner, Rorty, Cleanth Brooks, Perloff, TS Eliot, JS Brooker... and this
Dec 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
My friend Betsy is the one who told me about this book a while back because a book club she was in was using it. I bought it a few months ago and just read it in December as I was preparing for the upcoming year's book club. This is the first I have ever read from Susan Wise Bauer who seems to be a very accomplished super woman of sorts. This book is about applying the methods of classical education to reading, in particular ways in particular genres. This book had me at page one and held me ...more
Mar 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book was in my library's carousel entitled "Books on Books".

Bauer is a professor of American Literature at the College of William and Mary in my home state of Virginia. This paragraph of the jacket insert intrigued me:
"..offers brief, entertaining histories of five literary genres - fiction, autobiography, history, drama and poetry - accompanied by detailed instructions on how to read each type."

More specifically, the chapter called "Keeping the Journal: A Written Record of New Ideas" is
Feb 16, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: classics
I have been going through the lists in this book for the last couple of years. I am through approximately half of them. There are a few amazing gems on this list that really made me think and enriched my life. Unfortunately the vast majority of the 'classics' are painfully boring, cliched crap that are nothing but 'purple prose' IMO. Literary snobs will love most of these classics but for us unwashed masses, these books will be only suitable for putting us to sleep. I will finish the literature ...more
Peter Mcloughlin
Western Civ. Yes it is a particular Civ among various Civs. It is the culture I have been immersed in and instilled at my High School and College (I went a long time ago when the canon dominated the curriculum). This book is about that canon it covers most of the ideas you might get in a great books oriented education back in the day. It covers this long line of thought and distills the best part of the tradition one among many these days. I like reading books like this not because I am ignoring ...more
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Reading Classics,...: The Book List 57 276 Apr 26, 2019 01:36PM  
The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had 1 11 Jul 21, 2017 02:44AM  
Well Trained Mind...: * The New Well Educated Mind 36 107 Jun 11, 2016 12:25PM  
I Love My Anythink: Tackling the classics 1 20 Oct 21, 2014 10:47AM  

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From the author's website:

Susan’s newest book for Norton, The Story of Western Science: From the Writings of Aristotle to the Big Bang Theory, was published in May 2015. The History of the Renaissance World: From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Conquest of Constantinople (2013), is the third in a multi-volume series providing a narrative world history; the first volume, The History
“The initial small step is simple: Rather than making a sweeping determination to tackle the Great Books (all of them), decide to begin on one of the reading lists in Part II. As you read each book, you’ll follow the pattern of the trivium. First you’ll try to understand the book’s basic structure and argument; next, you’ll evaluate the book’s assertions; finally, you’ll form an opinion about the book’s ideas. You’ll have to exercise these three skills of reading—understanding, analysis, and evaluation—differently for each kind of book.” 3 likes
“The idea that fast reading is good reading is a twentieth-century weed, springing out of the stony farmland cultivated by the computer manufacturers.” 1 likes
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