Saturday Blueprint on Great Books
The timeless knowledge of truly great books
Hi 👋. Here is this week's Saturday Blueprint.
🤔 Quote I’m thinking about
Solvitur Ambulando – It is solved by walking
Walking is one of those things that you’re never worse off having done it. It always helps. What are some other things that always help? For me a few others would be:
- cold therapy
- journalling / writing
What about you?
📚 Great books
Reading is an incredible method for acquiring knowledge, and I’ve been reflecting that I don’t read enough of the truly great books. That’s those books that have been around for hundreds or even thousands of years and have stood the test of time as valuable and beneficial.
But what are the best books? Clearly this is a matter of subjectivity, but luckily others have already done this. In 1952 the Encyclopedia Britannica published a Great Books of the Western World list. This list covers great works of literature, like Tolstoy’s War and Peace and the works of Shakespeare, but also works of philosophy from Plato and Aristotle, and landmark scientific works from the likes of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.
It’s an incredible list and I’ve read perhaps just 1%, and that force-fed at school.
As an engineer I’ve never read Newton’s Principia Mathematica. This is something I intend to address. Having spent years performing dynamic analyses of structures in my day job, Newton’s laws of motion have been ever-present. Yet I’ve never read Newton’s great work. What an impostor I am!
So I’m starting a project to read a book a month from the Great Books list. I won’t read in any particular order, I’ll just go where my curiosity takes me.
I’ve also been wondering why I haven’t I read these books. Is it laziness? The perceived impenetrability of old writings? Both of these things truly. There is also an element of reading easy things because it’s relaxing. But that’s as poor an argument as justifying watching crap telly because I need to numb my brain for a bit.
So I’ll take a bit of discipline and learn what I can in the conversations of the truly great men and women that have come before.
As a bonus to subscribers I’ll be sharing a Google Sheet shortly which contains a consolidated list of Great Books, from various sources. The 1952 Encyclopedia Britannica list isn’t the only list of great books, there is also the Western Canon by Harold Bloom, the Thomas Aquinas College syllabus, Farnham Street’s Great Books list, and the Harvard Classics set.
🗝 Lindy effect
Rather than ask an intractable question like “what makes great books great?”, we can use something called the Lindy effect as the measure of the staying power of something. The Lindy Effect simply asserts that things that have been around for a long time, like for example wine, pens, shoes, whatever, as more like to stay around longer than something that is new.
Learning is valuable, but only if you learn about things that are actually worth learning.
The Lindy effect is one way to determine what is actually worth learning about. Timeless and immutable lessons are more worth learning.
I’d assert that the lessons found in the Great Books are worth learning. Some of these lessons were true 2000 years ago (Stoic philosophy anyone?!) and will be just as true in 2000 years time.
The corollary is that newer writings are much more likely to a flash-in-the-pan fad or a fiddling-in-the-margins distraction. Why am I reading transitory Twitter posts when I could sit down and listen to the advice of Seneca, or Epictetus, or Descartes, or Nietzsche? I want to favour the effort that has a long-term payback as opposed to a short term dopamine hit.
So I’d better get reading! And deleting Twitter from my phone!
💍 Cool finds
A quick list of things I've read or found this week that I want to share.
- Cyclic sighing breathing from Dr Huberman on the Rich Roll podcast. This technique is simply two inhales, through your nose, followed by a long, slow ‘sigh’ through an open mouth. Of all the breathing techniques Dr Huberman has found that this one is one with the best efficacy.
- This podcast by Chris Kresser on the optimal human diet. Spoiler: 65% of calories from animal foods, 35% of calories from plant foods. Focusing on the most nutrient-dense foods like organ meat, meats, fish, shellfish, eggs, fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts, and seeds and starchy plants.
It’s a pleasure writing to you. Have a great week. 😊
About the Saturday Blueprint
The Saturday Blueprint is a weekly newsletter every Saturday on health, vitality and philosophy by Nick Stevens.
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