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Clifton Fadiman's Lifetime Reading Plan
September 13, 2011 7:17 PM   Subscribe

Clifton Fadiman's Lifetime Reading Plan, 3rd Edition (not to be confused with Clifton Fadiman and John S. Major's Lifetime Reading Plan, 4th Edition)

Clifton Fadiman's Reading I've Liked
posted by Trurl (34 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fadiman was a nephew of the Galtian child prodigy William James Sidis.
posted by Trurl at 7:17 PM on September 13, 2011


Done and done. I'm moving on to Garfield Sits Around the House.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:31 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


He also published an odd little collection of essays, Any Number Can Play, that I picked up in awful condition when I was in university. It's quite the slice of 1950s middlebrowism. A few drive-by remarks about Elvis. His opinion on cheese.
posted by maudlin at 7:36 PM on September 13, 2011


Fadiman is also father to Anne Fadiman, author of Ex Libris, which is a bibliophilic ton of fun. Her husband, George Howe Colt, wrote a lovely book about his family summer home called The Big House.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:37 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Since college ended, I've gotten all of my leisure reading from the public library. That means that my (meager) home library is mostly school books, with a few favorites I brought from my parents' house when I moved out. I was talking to my boyfriend today about what book he wanted me to bring him next, since he's almost done with the last one I foisted upon him. As I walked over to browse my bookcase for titles, I realized he had already read all of my leisure reading-type books, and only Serious Books remained. I read out some of the available titles to see if there was any interest.

I'm kind of amazed how much crossover there is. Thucydides, you old rascal, I didn't expect to be confronted by you twice today. I feel like this might give visitors an inaccurate picture into my reading habits of late. *Quietly tucks stack of Crichton books waiting to be returned back under the bed.*

Also, Plato's "Selected Works" was great. I've gotta say, though, I didn't like it nearly as much as his "Selected Works 2: Electric Boogaloo".
posted by phunniemee at 7:39 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not a heap of relaxing reads there, and a whole slew of American bias.
posted by bystander at 7:48 PM on September 13, 2011


I'll get right on that. Shouldn't take more than a few weeks.
posted by zardoz at 7:56 PM on September 13, 2011


Clifton Fadiman put together a book of stories and poems about math called Fantasia Mathematica, which I discovered in my college library and introduced to all my math-y friends. We loved it!

Unfortunately this list looks pretty unremarkable, although it does help with the question "I don't have a lot of time, so which are the best of the famous classics of antiquity to read?" plus (as "bystander" suggests) a guide to being an American well-read in one's established national literature.

I think literary popularizers like Clifton Fadiman -- or scientific ones like Isaac Asimov -- are products of the era just after the New Deal and World War II, when a huge number of Americans of Western European heritage found themselves pushed out of poverty and farming into the middle class or affluent working class. They wanted to learn about Culture and ideas that had formerly belonged to the well-off and college-educated. Nowadays the children and grandchildren of these people have been to college as a matter of course, and instead we're looking for the quirky and diverse. And, in the case of Fantasia Mathematica, Clifton Fadiman can give you that too.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 8:01 PM on September 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


Always love when the complete works of Shakespeare is one entry on these lists. Nice to see they got around to including non-Western stuff in the 4th edition.

Ok, so: Yow. I'd seen his books around forever but had no idea he was such a big presence in mid-20th century culture.
posted by mediareport at 8:01 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


"cheese, milk's leap towards immortality"

On that basis, it is hard for me to dislike this man overmuch.
posted by brennen at 8:05 PM on September 13, 2011 [10 favorites]


In 2010 I read 138 books. This list is just a bare start to a life of reading.
posted by stbalbach at 8:19 PM on September 13, 2011


I don't think Mr. Fadiman was suggesting that people read only these books and then stop. Did you make it to the second link?
posted by IjonTichy at 8:23 PM on September 13, 2011


Not a heap of relaxing reads there, and a whole slew of American bias.

Really? 18 American authors on a list of 103 great books is "a whole slew of bias"?
posted by Cortes at 8:41 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Really? 18 American authors on a list of 103 great books is "a whole slew of bias"?

Nah, dude. I totally found some gold plates in my yard the other day...turns out Aristotle, Euripides, and all those folks were actually our early American ancestors. Never would have guessed it, but there you go. USA! USA!
posted by phunniemee at 8:51 PM on September 13, 2011


Always love when the complete works of Shakespeare is one entry on these lists.

I could read the complete works of Shakespeare five times over in the time it would take me to not finish Ulysses.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:52 PM on September 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Teeter's page of Great Books List of Lists is a lot of fun and I used it as a reference for my currently defunct reading blog. Out of the many lists I used I most enjoyed books from the Utne Loose Canoon and Counterpunch.

I never got past the As in my library system's collection.

I am too busy these days for such an intense reading project, but I'm very glad I did it, if I had started and stopped at How German Is It it would have been worth it for that alone.
posted by bq at 9:03 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I’ve read far less of these than I wish for my age, maybe half a dozen, but most of the ones I have read are some of my favorite books. And then there’s "As I Lay Dying"…

I’ve saved this, I’ve actually been looking for lists like this. You realize at some point that you’re not going to live forever, and you’re simply not going to have time to read all the things you have filed away for "someday".

That said, I’ve bought a few hundred books at the various Borders closings in my area in the last few weeks, just trying to squeeze them in the house somewhere. I’m not in danger of running out of things to read.
posted by bongo_x at 9:15 PM on September 13, 2011


bystander: “Not a heap of relaxing reads there, and a whole slew of American bias.”

Yeah, 5/103 is way too high a proportion of American authors. It's ridiculous.
posted by koeselitz at 10:43 PM on September 13, 2011


Good lord, the selections here, though. The Faulkner selection alone is unconscionable. Everyone should know that Absalom, Absalom! is William Faulkner's greatest novel.
posted by koeselitz at 10:44 PM on September 13, 2011


Okay, on actually looking through the list, it is remarkably biased toward Americans, with far more than five of the 103 being American authors. Sorry, bystander. Seriously, how anyone can claim that Dewey and William James are essential classics is beyond me entirely.
posted by koeselitz at 10:46 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Obiwanwasabi's Lifetime Reading List

The complete Adventures of Tintin
The complete Adventures of Asterix
The Phantom Tollbooth
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:24 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Clifton Fadiman put together a book of stories and poems about math called Fantasia Mathematica, which I discovered in my college library and introduced to all my math-y friends. We loved it!

I may have good news for you, Harvey: The Mathematical Magpie.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:46 AM on September 14, 2011


I know it's silly to complain about omissions in lists like this, but there is a somewhat weird lack of science. The Origin of Species in particular should really be on any list like this that's any longer than about ten books.
posted by IjonTichy at 6:23 AM on September 14, 2011


Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. Thus Spake Zarathustra

Ah, one of his worst books. Great job, Cliff.
posted by goethean at 7:33 AM on September 14, 2011


Interesting list, but it reads more like "a list of books that it will be presumably impressive to have read" than a list of books you should read to be a better person, enjoy yourself, etc.

These lists always need to be updated to include more recent books, but that's not Clifford's fault.

Too much Nabokov. Four of his novels? Make it two and squeeze in two works by someone else. I suggest the short stories of Chekhov and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man.

Too much William James. Replace at least three of those books with Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach, Foucault's Discipline and Punish, and Becker's The Denial of Death.

Pretty weird to suggest Freud without going further into psychology. That's like if all science was reduced to Aristotle.

There's not nearly enough science in general, as noted above.

Also pretty weird to reduce Marx to just The Communist Manifesto, although I'm sure that editing (and the mindset behind it) was a product of its time.

Too many of these selections are dense works which won't make enough sense without some extra guidance or editing. Reading all of, say, Leviathan by yourself will not be nearly as useful as a broader survey which explains Leviathan's context in history, governance, and the story of philosophy.

Replacing some of the longer philosophy entries with a book like Russell's History of Western Philosophy might not be as "cool" as lugging around the Discourses, but it'd be more useful as a means to actually learn the subject and frame later study.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:49 AM on September 14, 2011


Sticherbeast: “Replacing some of the longer philosophy entries with a book like Russell's History of Western Philosophy might not be as "cool" as lugging around the Discourses, but it'd be more useful as a means to actually learn the subject and frame later study.”

Whatever else one may think of Russell's History of Western Philosophy – a book written outside his subject of expertise, it should be noted – it's simplistic, reductive, and not at all an adequate overview of the subject. Whole centuries are dismissed without much thought at all, and moreover I don't know of any epoch that Russell actually gets right. Even if you agree with his beliefs, it's hard to avoid the sense that that book is more a statement of position than a useful overview.
posted by koeselitz at 8:23 AM on September 14, 2011


obiwanwasabi: “Obiwanwasabi's Lifetime Reading List: The complete Adventures of Tintin; The complete Adventures of Asterix; The Phantom Tollbooth”

Well, it takes a lot of gaul to write a "Lifetime Reading List," but I can see that you've got that covered.
posted by koeselitz at 8:41 AM on September 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well, it takes a lot of gaul

Maybe even all three parts.
posted by Cortes at 9:05 AM on September 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Pretty weird to suggest Freud without going further into psychology.

To be fair, I think that's why there's so much William James there.
posted by IjonTichy at 9:23 AM on September 14, 2011


Well, it takes a lot of gaul

Maybe even all three parts.


Three parts?
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 9:24 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you don't like Russell's book, there's always Durant's, which I hear is very good, but I haven't read it.

Either way, while Plato reads okay enough by itself, a large survey book is a better introduction to the rest of philosophy than simply trying to bore through the Great Thinkers' big tomes by your lonesome, without guidance or framing.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:55 AM on September 14, 2011


Seems like the last entry, "Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren. How to Read a Book," would be more useful at the top of the list.
posted by vytae at 3:01 PM on September 14, 2011



Seems like the last entry, "Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren. How to Read a Book," would be more useful at the top of the list.
posted by vytae at 3:01 PM on September 14 [+] [!]

No, it really wouldn't. Trust me. (Adler starts with A)
posted by bq at 3:08 PM on September 14, 2011


obiwanwasabi: “Obiwanwasabi's Lifetime Reading List: The complete Adventures of Tintin; The complete Adventures of Asterix; The Phantom Tollbooth”

That's a whole slew of Belgian bias.
posted by bq at 3:11 PM on September 14, 2011


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