Tag Archives: Socrates

2019 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 5 (Greeks and Romans)

Welcome to my favorite reads of 2019…Part 5! I TAed this past semester for a class on early Western political thought which means I finally knocked off a lot of Greek writers from my to-read list! However, I will be the first to say that I only understood most of these books because I was taking a class while I read them. Accordingly, while these hit five stars and were favorites of the year, I don’t necessarily recommend just picking them up for fun.

The Histories by Herodotus

Basically, the book where we get the story of 300. Full of facts and legends, it really was an interesting read and fascinating as the first “history book” as we know the term today. I found it surprisingly fun as well as historically significant. 

Clouds, Frogs, Assemblywomen, Wealth by Aristophanes 

Arisotphanes was an Athenian playwright who lampooned the Iliad-like honor culture of Greek society. I read 4 of his plays. They are extraordinarily vulgar, extremely astute, and quite funny. And considering 2,000 years have passed since he wrote this stuff, it is incredible that his poop jokes are still funny. I think Wealth was my favorite. 

Phaedo by Plato

 Plato’s account of Socrates last hours before his death. It is a final look at his philosophy towards life and the philosopher’s call. Brief but impactful. 

The Republic by Plato

An incredibly important book for Western thought and the more I study it, the more I realize how much it impacted the world we know today. I kept pausing to exclaim, “But that’s something C.S. Lewis says!” or “That’s straight out of Saul Alinsky!” or “This is foundational to a G.K. Chesterton arguments!” But of course, it isn’t a book a book that depends on Lewis or Alinsky or Chesterton, but rather the common background for all them. That said, definitely a philosopher’s book. It begs for debate, discussion, further analysis but it doesn’t entirely satisfy because it leaves much unanswered. 

Ethics by Aristotle

I actually read this one twice: first at the beginning of the year while in Thailand then for my class. It definitely made way more sense the second time through. Context does amazing things for your understanding. I particularly liked the section on Friendship. Quite thought provoking. 

The Aeneid by Virgil

I did not like The Aeneid as much as The Iliad, but it certainly deserves credit for historical significance. The Aeneid follows the fall of Troy through the founding of Rome. Tons of hilariously bad passages foreshadowing the glory of Rome and Caesar and whatnot. But also tons of familiar scenes that are part of our modern mythos. So, worth a read. 


Grading Papers

I dislike grading papers because most aren’t very good but I feel bad every time I give someone less than an A. Mostly because I cannot imagine anyone would be satisfied with less than an A. It is like I am dealing the ultimate humiliation….a B. Or, gasp, a C

But some of the papers need serious work. Like, the-5-page-paper-consists-of-4-paragraphs kind of work.

And some of these sentences…just…well…see for yourself. 

  • “Being true to his evasive nature, Socrates’ loose construction of metaphors lays the groundwork for this definition of justice without any hard evidence.”
  • “The squirrel eats when it’s hungry, drinks when it’s thirsty, and procreates, well, whenever. It very much does not write essays or study geometry, as far as we know at least.”
  • “As the group became dissatisfied with these definitions, Socrates conjured his own. He meandered around the question, elaborately constructing the ideal City.”
  • “Say a man was preparing to steal a pig from his neighbor. A rational man will see that this will take a food source away from his pig, as well as make him a criminal.”
  • “To conclude: the term “soul’s eye” has two parts, the soul and the eye.” 
  • [And my personal favorite] “Despite what it might seem like, Plato’s Republic is not an early version of The Hunger Games.”

Forget Plato, though. The next discussion group we’re going to have a long talk about the proper use of semi colons. (Hint: when in doubt, don’t.) 


The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt

I rated this one 5 stars so you will probably see it pop up again in my end-of-the-year 5 star reviews. 

Image result for the happiness hypothesis

In The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt draws on his understanding of philosophy and psychology to define happiness and how to achieve it. He quotes from the Bhagavad Gita, Confucius, and the Bible. He mentions Maslow, Adler, Kant, and Socrates. The book covers a wide range of philosophies, religions, and worldviews. It is no lighthearted self-help book designed to help you achieve maximization in five easy steps. And for that I truly liked it. 

Mr. Haidt and I approach the world from two very distinctive worldviews but I think that only added to my enjoyment of the book. It made me think more deeply. I am familiar with all the studies and philosophers quoted – as I think anyone with a recent liberal arts degree should be – but I’d never thought to combine them the way he does. It was quite interesting. There is a lot of intellectual thought here made understandable but not overly simplified. 

Mr. Haidt is an atheist but he does his best to fairly present religion and spiritual experiences and their importance for happiness. (Of course, he considers it mostly biology and sensory experiences but he is up front with his biases.) He also holds an appreciation for wonder and awe that I appreciated. I’d love to see how he squares his atheism with the writings of C.S. Lewis or G.K. Chesterton…

Overall, quite an enjoyable and worthy read. While it didn’t “teach” me anything new, it had me thinking about old things in new ways. In that sense, the subtitle “Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom” is pretty spot on.