A Canon of Non-Fiction discussion

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My Nominations

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message 1: by Muzzy (new)

Muzzy | 5 comments Mod
Eventually I'll try to add several more. But for now, just glancing at my library, here's a short list to get us started:

Classical Antiquity:
The Lives of Plutarch (biographies)
The Histories of Herodotus (yeah)
History of the Peloponnesian War, by Thucydides
Lives of the Caesars, by Seutonius
Natural History, by Pliny the Elder

Renaissance:
Autobiography, by Cellini
The Prince, Discourses on Livy, by Machiavelli
Lives of the Painters, by Vasari

18th Century:
Democracy in America, de Tocqueville

Victorian:
Das Kapital, by Marx
the Origin of the Species, by Darwin
The Education of Henry Adams


message 2: by Alexander (new)

Alexander | 1 comments I agree with The Prince and The Origin of Species. I'm not so sure about Herodotus. He had a major influence on non-fiction, but can his work be considered non-fiction? I will have to look into the other suggestions a little more. My hastily compiled suggestions:


Walden, Henry David Thoreau
The Story of My Experiments With Truth, Mahatma Gandhi
Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith
The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, John Maynard Keynes


message 3: by Muzzy (new)

Muzzy | 5 comments Mod
Yes! All good adds, thank you.

As for Keynes, I accept what he taught. And he's certainly an influential writer. But is his prose beautiful? Is his style even readable?

Which reminds me, I meant to add Hobbes' Leviathan. Not very readable.


message 4: by Muzzy (new)

Muzzy | 5 comments Mod
Is your concern with Herodotus the fact that some invention and falsehood found their way into his text?

If that's a disqualifier, then we'd also have to remove Pliny's Natural History.

And for that matter, how much of Thucydides and Plutarch and Suetonius are made up?


message 5: by Davia (last edited Oct 08, 2013 10:58PM) (new)

Davia Finch | 1 comments I know this is fairly late, but I would be interested in seeing a list like this.

A canon of non-fiction is essentially a canon of ideas, is it not? Those books that are most influential in shaping the ideas of humanity? What people believe to be true? History and biography are what we believe to be true about what happened to us as a species and to individual members of the species. Sociology and psychology what we believe to be true about how we behave as groups and as individuals. Religion and philosophy what we believe to be true about ultimate things, like the nature of the universe and what is right and wrong. The branches of science and mathematics speak for themselves.

If we extend the canon of non-fiction to include all of these things then I would have to add the Bible, Plato's Apology (really all the Socrates stuff), Descartes' Meditations, Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, and Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions to the existing list. (Origin of Species is already on there and my personal favorite.)

I don't think these really need any justification, but here goes: The Bible because most of Western culture is a reaction to it in some way, shape, or form and Christianity has obviously had a huge impact on history. The Apology because it teaches you to think for yourself. The Meditations because it teaches you to doubt your preconceptions. Interpretation of Dreams, because it teaches you to doubt even seemingly rational thought and because it's wonderfully written. And Structure of Scientific Revolutions because it exposes how cultural paradigms work and how progress is made in science and other areas.

If for some reason you don't want to include psychology or philosophy or religious works I'm sure I can come up with other recommendations but I'd be curious to know why you'd exclude them.


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