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[RD] Which 'Great Works' are low-hanging fruit?

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Mouthwash, Jul 16, 2018.

  1. Mouthwash

    Mouthwash Escaped Lunatic

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    Scott Alexander asked this on his blog and I think it's worth putting the question to folks here (I am still not well-read after years of being around intellectuals).
    If you have a suggestion, a description of what it is and how it should be read would be helpful. Please don't just list off titles.

    Most commonly mentioned books:

    Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
    Ordinary Men - Christopher Browning
    The Art of War - Sun Tzu
    The Prince - Machiavelli
    Dante's Trilogy
    The Odyssey
    1984
    - George Orwell
    Animal Farm - George Orwell
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2018
  2. Zkribbler

    Zkribbler Warlord

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    George Orwell's 1984 [for learning important things] and Animal Farm [for short].
     
  3. Mouthwash

    Mouthwash Escaped Lunatic

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    I would prefer a little more detail than that. Specifically, what important things are in them.
     
  4. Synsensa

    Synsensa Warlord Retired Moderator

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    The pretentiousness of your preferred intellectuals, mostly.
     
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  5. Mouthwash

    Mouthwash Escaped Lunatic

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    What do you even think those are? And I did make this an RD thread.
     
  6. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    Hm, i am not sure if specific books are mentioned like that in "intellectual" discussions.
    Imo it would be more workable to ask which books people identify as important/interesting etc? :)

    Anyway, Animal Farm is a very nice story, though i read it when i was 15 or so...
    If you want something more cerebral, still written in english, try Flowers for Algernon; it is also a short story, and very interesting in my view (but very bleak as well). It has a number of themes, one of which is the way the mind (and mental illness) works. Iirc i also read it at the same time, for english class...

    For another brief and famous work, with cerebral tone:

    Plato's allegory of the cave (often found as stand-alone; it is in book 7 of the Republic)
     
  7. Hehehe

    Hehehe Chieftain

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    Well, just to name a few off the top of my head:

    The Art of War by Sun Tzu: AoW is something of a primer for strategic thinking and military matters. Parts of it have been made hopelessly outdated by modern technology, but parts of it still stand, and the strategic advice is still solid. What I find to be the most interesting about this book is the subtle pro-peace message contained in that book. AoW tells you how to wage war, but it also subtly underscores the point that often it is better to prevent a battle rather than to win one. It's like a subtle anti-war message in a place where many generals are sure to read it. AoW is also a fairly short book, so reading it won't be a big investment time-wise

    The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli: I don't have a fresh opinion to give you since it's been so long since I've read it, but essentially the Prince is one of the early works on political realism. Machiavelli takes a cold hard look at how a prince should rule. It's practical advice at the expense of morality and ideology, which is why Machiavelli gets such a bad rap. I don't think the Prince was a very long book either
     
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  8. Synsensa

    Synsensa Warlord Retired Moderator

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    I mean, you can make any thread an RD thread, but the concept is inherently bankrupt. The "Great Works" of any genre or group are arbitrary, decided upon by the pretentiousness of the elites. Since you're specifically looking to fit in with those elites and their perspectives, you'd be better off investigating their interests instead of asking other lower-rung proles what the elites like.

    This is also problematic if you deviate at all from typical tastes. If you don't align with their perspective, you'll either find their preferred Great Work to be middling or terrible, and a lot of what you learn from a Great Work is ultimately the message that gets propagated afterwards by a biased influence. A book you find bad will never tell you the life-changing meaning others derived from it if they loved it.

    Zkribbler mentioned 1984 and Animal Farm. Those are iconic 40s American (not really American, but pushed to critical acclaim through the American market if I remember right) works by Orwell. There's also War and Peace and Crime and Punishment, both latter 1800s and both by Russian greats. War and Peace was written by Tolstoy and he considers it more of a philosophical analysis than a novel. Crime and Punishment was written by Dostoevsky and focuses almost entirely on psychology.
     
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  9. Ryika

    Ryika Lazy Wannabe Artista

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    Very strange question. I think most of the books that usually come up in debates or discussions are political by nature, but due to being political in nature, entirely unsuited for people who want to "show off". Because without knowledge of the political frameworks that these books are written in, the facade of being cultured breaks down immediately once you're challenged on anything about these books.

    So I would say if it's really just about having read some well-known books, more fitting are controversial books that are controversial due to the different opinions that people have on the ethics behind them.

    For that, I would offer Lolita. Because of course I would. :goodjob:

    A great book, easy to read, kinky as hell mostly during the first half, but at the same time mature enough to be cited as one of the best books that were ever written. Because most of the "meta" of the book revolves around ethical questions, it is possible to use it as a starting point for discussions that are mostly based on ones own ethical sensibilities, without requiring too much background knowledge on anything that surrounds it.
     
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  10. BvBPL

    BvBPL Pour Decision Maker

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    Evaluating art on a yield to time ratio seems so alien as to be absurd. So I reject this premise on its face.

    If you’re looking for a good book to read, I recommend The Master and Margarita. It is an excellent comedy about the Devil coming to Stalinist Russia. It is an absolute joy.

    If you simply must persist in attempting to garner the greatest amount of cultural information with the least amount of effort, then read The Sandman comic series.
     
  11. Mouthwash

    Mouthwash Escaped Lunatic

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    What I'm really looking for are books with a deep cultural influence that are easy to read. It isn't about becoming educated 'like the elite', it's about dipping my toe into their ideological current. I know the generalities of what Marx said, but I don't know what context he said it in.
     
  12. Dachs

    Dachs Emissary of Hell

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    Ordinary Men by Christopher Browning is not a "Great Work" for the general public, which seems to forget that anybody has written history books in the last several decades. However, it is, in my opinion, one of the most important history books, and I would say that most of academia agrees with me. I routinely recommend it to students interested in the Holocaust. Browning, who participated in the writing of Yad Vashem's monumental history of the Shoah, examines a specific German unit of policemen serving as reservists that shot Jews by the thousands in the initial phases of the mass killing. Using the reserve policemen, Browning gets at the heart of human psychology and how many of the men who committed mass murder were able to do it.

    Browning's text and analysis still hold up after two decades. He uses the Stanford prison experiment as an entry point into certain discussions about psychology, and recently more information about the experiment was made public that if anything strengthens his use of the example.

    Ordinary Men itself doesn't come up often in conversation, but the Holocaust does. It is a relatively short book. It is readable, although the subject matter sometimes makes it difficult to get through due to its gruesome nature. You will undoubtedly learn things in the book that would not come up in a one-page summary. I don't know if it would be educational to you, personally, but if you haven't read it yet, I suggest that you do.
    Both of these are indeed short books, but I don't think that they're very "high-yield" because most people who read them misunderstand them to some extent.

    Books on strategy are usually frustrating, though.
     
  13. Hrothbern

    Hrothbern Warlord

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    Marx wrote in a time where the only sure moment of peace & no worries for a laborer was when that laborer was dead. And when it had been a life long enough, the people following the coffin a mixed bag of sorrow and a bit jealous.
    You need the context indeed, not intellectually but empathic.

    And that means that it is only productive to read books that you are ready for in your own development and experiences.
    If that is the case a book can be full of depth and eyeopeners. It will hook you.
    If that is not the case the book is like abstract math that you cannot ground, and a useless exercise to read or to discuss with.
     
  14. Synsensa

    Synsensa Warlord Retired Moderator

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    Okay. This can depend on the field. What kind of conversations are you most looking to get involved with/understand the context of? Psychology? Economics? Niche Swiss history?
     
  15. Moriarte

    Moriarte Immortal

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    At some point in the past I’ve encountered Tao-Te-Ching, by Lao Tzu, I do tend to come back to it once and again, take it off the shelve, read a few lines and contemplate. I am still to this day amazed how principles laid out there are universally applicable, even though they possibly date thousands of years back. But then again, it is no surprise, the book is about what drives us, how exactly it is in our nature to conflict with ourselves and others, and find common ground. What mechanisms are there at the very foundation, which nature and men share.

    Chapter 23 - Economizing Effort (my imperfect adaptation)

    An effort too strong
    Can not last long.
    A hurricane wind, a showering rain
    Are but a passing

    Nature can’t prolong substantial effort,
    Even less is expected of men.

    A huge problem with this piece of literature is that there are myriad of translations with olny a handful, which are any good. I did find Russian translation once, which was very precise, as it was done by a man with life-long obsession with Chinese culture and Lao Tzu specifically. Perhaps the situation is better with English adaptations, I don’t know.
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2018
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  16. Mouthwash

    Mouthwash Escaped Lunatic

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    This is exactly what I'm looking for. Not household names, but the books that everybody in a particular field reads.

    What I want personally? I know very little about economics. I could also use some help in nutrition (although I'm wary of it; most books on the subject have got to be pseudoscience). And I'm also looking to get into Wittgenstein, but I doubt I'm competent to read his original work.

    As for history, I think going through old book threads on the CFC history forums has got me covered. :)
     
  17. Owen Glyndwr

    Owen Glyndwr La Femme Moderne

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    Some Fiction Ideas:
    Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees
    Montesquieu, The Persian Letters, and The Spirit of the Laws
    Goethe's Faust
    Flaubert, Madame Bovary

    Voltaire, Candide
    The Odyssey/Illiad
    The Aeneid

    Some Nonfiction Ideas:
    Albert Hirschman, Exit, Voice, Loyalty
    Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, and The History of Sexuality
    Jürgen Habermas, The Social Transformation of the Public Sphere, Legitimation Crisis, (maybe: Between Facts and Norms)
    Roland Barthes's "The Death of the Author"
    Claude Lévi-Strauss, Mythologiques I-IV or Myth and Meaning
    Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics
    Heiko Oberman, The Harvest of Medieval Theology
    Jan Goldstein, Console and Classify
    Leora Auslander, Cultural Revolutions or Taste and Power
    Leopold von Ranke: Histories of the Romanic and German Peoples from 1494-1514
    If you haven't read Marx or Hegel yet, those would also be worthwhile to look at, though they aren't authors I would recommend lightly to anybody, so, at your discretion.



    If you're purely looking to comprehend and riff on Western Cultural memes, then the best bang-for-your-buck would probably be in reading The Canterbury Tales, Beowulf, and working your way through Shakespeare's, Austen's, Dickens's, and Dostoyevsky's respective corpora. And then some other bits and bobs like The Fable of the Bees, Faust, Dante's Trilogy, Voltaire, Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain, Das Niebelunglied, etc.

    May be worthwhile to read through some Christian writers too if you're really interested in getting a good grounding. Augustine's Confessiones and De civitate dei, Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica or De Anima. Also Aristotle's Organon and Plato's Republic if you haven't read those before.


     
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  18. Owen Glyndwr

    Owen Glyndwr La Femme Moderne

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    It's widely considered the single greatest work of fiction in the German language, so, y'know, there's that.
     
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  19. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    NM, false post about Goethe - i was noting something about Werther, not Faust (i found Werther to be rather boring).

    Damn it, Owen; that post was only there for like a second :p
     
  20. Owen Glyndwr

    Owen Glyndwr La Femme Moderne

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    Another one that isn't really going to be of interest to anybody, unless they're hard into Reformation Historiography, but Bernd Moeller's Imperial Cities and the Reformation: Three Essays, is one of the single most significant works in Reformation history, and an enjoyable read to boot.
     

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