New Lifetime Reading Planby Clifton Fadiman, John S. Major
Now in print for the first time in almost 40 years, The New Lifetime Reading Plan provides readers with brief, informative and entertaining introductions to more than 130 classics of world literature. From Homer to Hawthorne, Plato to Pascal, and Shakespeare to Solzhenitsyn, the great writers of Western civilization can be found in its pages. In addition,/b>… See more details below
Now in print for the first time in almost 40 years, The New Lifetime Reading Plan provides readers with brief, informative and entertaining introductions to more than 130 classics of world literature. From Homer to Hawthorne, Plato to Pascal, and Shakespeare to Solzhenitsyn, the great writers of Western civilization can be found in its pages. In addition, this new edition offers a much broader representation of women authors, such as Charlotte Bront%, Emily Dickinson and Edith Wharton, as well as non-Western writers such as Confucius, Sun-Tzu, Chinua Achebe, Mishima Yukio and many others.
This fourth edition also features a simpler format that arranges the works chronologically in five sections (The Ancient World; 300-1600; 1600-1800; and The 20th Century), making them easier to look up than ever before. It deserves a place in the libraries of all lovers of literature.
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ca. 2000 b.c.e. (Scribe Sin-Leqi-Unninni, ca. 700 b.c.e.)
The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Epic of Gilgamesh is without doubt the world's oldest surviving narrative poem, and one of the founding works of Western literature. It has not yet become widely known among general readers because the poem had been lost for many centuries prior to its rediscovery in the nineteenth century (and so played no role in Western literature from the Greeks to the Victorians), and because until recently its translators have tended not to work with the general reader in mind. With several excellent and accessible translations now available, there is no longer any reason to remain unacquainted with this remarkable glimpse into the mind of highest antiquity.
The epic relates a number of myths that attached themselves to the reputation of Gilgamesh, who seems to have been an actual king of the Sumerian city-state of Uruk around 2700 b.c.e. Scattered passages of the earliest version of the epic, in Sumerian, have been dated to around 2000 b.c.e.; the fullest known text, in Babylonian, was written by a scribe named Sin-Leqi-Unninni on tablets deposited in the library of King Ashurbanipal around 700 b.c.e. These and other tablets containing parts of various versions of the epic began turning up in archaeological excavations in Iraq and nearby countries in the nineteenth century; the scholarly work of assembling and collating the texts took many years, with some loose ends still stirring controversy in academic circles. The epic was evidently once much longer than the version that now exists. Its poetic style shows strong traces of oral origins; it is sometimes laconic, often formulaic, evenincantatory, and with a strong narrative pulse.
The epic as we now have it opens with a description of the physical strength and beauty, and the political power, of King Gilgamesh, but then quickly shifts perspective to tell how the people of Uruk feared and resented his arrogance and arbitrary exercise of power. To teach Gilgamesh humility, the gods created Enkidu, a hairy, wild man of the desert, to be Gilgamesh's rival and alter-ego. Gilgamesh sends a temple girl, Shamhat, into the wilderness to seduce Enkidu and so tame him. She does so, and brings him back to Uruk. When he arrives, he and Gilgamesh wrestle each other fiercely but soon realize that neither can overcome the other. Thereafter they become sworn brothers, and decide to embark on an adventure: to find and slay the terrible monster Humbaba. After they do so, the jealous goddess Inanna sends down the Bull of Heaven to destroy Uruk. Gilgamesh and Enkidu succeed in killing the bull also, but at the cost of Enkidu's life. Gilgamesh, disconsolate, goes on a journey to visit the keeper of the Underworld, Utnapishtim; the latter tells him the story of the great world-engulfing Flood, teaches him to accept the lesson of mortality, and allows him to return to Uruk.
It will be obvious to anyone raised in the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam that the Epic of Gilgamesh contains many parallels with the oldest books of the Hebrew Bible: The urbane, handsome Gilgamesh and the wild, hairy Enkidu recall Jacob and Esau, as Enkidu and Shamhat resemble Sampson and Delilah; the havoc wrought by the Bull of Heaven brings to mind the discord created by the casting of the Golden Calf during the years in the Wilderness (and Moses destroys the calf just as Gilgamesh kills the bull). The flood described by Utnapishtim sounds just like the flood of Noah. And so on. One might think at first that these themes in Gilgamesh are echoes of the Bible, but in fact the situation is just the reverse: one of the things that is most fascinating about the Epic of Gilgamesh is that it is a precursor of the Bible (though with no hint of Biblical monotheism). However one feels about the divine inspiration of the Bible itself, it is apparent from Gilgamesh that several key themes of the Hebrew Bible were couched in terms of symbols that had already been current in Mesopotamia for over a thousand years before the Bible began to be written.
Such weighty considerations aside, the Epic of Gilgamesh is well worth reading as a story of love and friendship, of adventure and danger and grief, and of a proud man's humbling encounter with mortality. The epic is now available in several fine English versions; I particularly like the verse translations by Danny P. Jackson and by David Ferry.
Meet the Author
Clifton Fadiman, Ph.D., is an author, teacher, and student of Sufism. He lives in Menlo Park, California.
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A great resource for people who are looking for great books to read. It's a little slight on philosophy books, but it makes up for it with its numerous mentions of authors from the Eastern World. For those into lists like myself, one might also look to HOW TO READ A BOOK or THE WESTERN CANON.
While certainly not a complete list of books one should read in a lifetime, this guide is a wonderful place to start. It gives you enough information to be helpful without leaving you overly prejudiced or influenced, and the author makes it very clear that this list is only an opinion, not the final say in the literary world. I think it's a must for anyone beginning their education.