The Well-Educated Mind: Autobiographies and Memoirs

I am done (for now) with the list of novels from The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer, although I did not finish two books.  Unfortunately, Possession had been a stumbling block for me; so I put it aside for a later date.  Now I am ready to move on to the next group of books from TWEM: Autobiographies and Memoirs. 

According to Bauer, these are some ideas to think about when reading through a biography:

During the first stage of reading, find out what happened.  

What are the central events in the writer's life?
What historical events coincide-or merge-with these personal events?
Who is the most important person (or people) in the writer's life?
What events form the outline of the story?

In the second stage of reading:

What is the theme that ties the narrative together?
What is the life's turning point?  Is there a conversation?
For what does the writer apologize?  In apologizing, how does the writer justify?
What is the model-the ideal-for this person's life?
What is the end of the life: the place where the writer has arrived, found closure, discovered rest?
Now revisit your first question: What is the theme of this writer's life?

In the final stage of reading:

Is the writer writing for himself, or for a group?
What are the three moments, or time frames, of the autobiography?
Where does the writer's judgment lie?
Do you reach a different conclusion from the writer about the pattern of his life?
Do you agree with what the writer has done?
What have you brought away from this story?

Of course, Bauer does not expect all of us to be able to read through a book three times each, so she suggests that you read it once and mark and note sections that are of importance or difficult to understand. Then in your second and third stage reviews, you return to those marked or noted sections to help you clarify the questions you had.  In addition, if you read TWEM, Bauer goes into detail how to better understand and answer the questions.

These are the books in chronological order:
(Green highlighted titles have already been reviewed.)


Margery Kempe

Michel De Montaigne

Teresa of Àvila

René Descartes

John Bunyan

Mary Rowlandson

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Benjamin Franklin

Henry David Thoreau

Harriet Jacobs

Frederick Douglass

Booker T. Washington

Friedrich Nietzsche

Adolf Hitler

Mohandas Gandhi

Gertrude Stein

Thomas Merton

C.S. Lewis

Malcolm X

May Sarton

Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn

Charles W. Colson

Richard Rodriquez

Jill Ker Conway

Elie Wiesel
All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs

There are several books I am looking forward to rereading, such as Walden, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, and Up From Slavery.  I am not looking forward to Mein Kampf.  Most of all, I do hope to find new favorite authors or books from this list.  

This is a long term reading plan, and I'll be starting June 1st.  If you are interested in reading through all or some of these biographies with Cleo and me, and several others, join us on Goodreads.  We would love to connect with you.

So what do you think?  Want to join us?  


  1. I'm almost ready to move on to the biographies - just need to finish White Noise and Possession. I'm looking forward to it because it's not a genre I'm very familiar with so I will be out of my comfort zone (which can be a good thing!).

    What was it about Possession that made it so difficult for you?

    1. Possession's plot is interesting, but I was not enjoying the characters or the story enough; so to avoid a poor reading job, I stopped where I was. I do want to go back to it, but after a few months. It is not bad. It is like a mystery. I think that may be one of my least favorite genres, too - mysteries.

  2. I adore Walden and Montaigne (though I've only read about half of Montaigne's complete essays. I really want to read the one by Gandhi. Have fun! :-)

    1. Re. Walden: In college, Thoreau was my ideal; anything having to do with living simply and within nature. But it is easy to think that way when one is single and childless. Now I am curious how I will respond this second time around since I am in a completely different place. (But, oh, how I secretly long for solitude some days.)

      P.S. For ten years our homeschool was named: Walden Academy. : )

  3. Can't wait to read your review of Mein Kampf. I looked up Bauer's list of recommended books and when I saw Mein Kampf listed I thought "Really? Why do I need to read him to be well-educated? He is not worth my time. He would want me to read his work and I don't want to give him the pleasure." But I think that reading this work brings a person as close as anyone may come to understanding the mind of a psychopath. I really do look forward to your reactions Ruth.

    1. Even to think of that man makes me sick to my stomach. I have no idea how I am going to get through his personal thoughts. I don't mind reading the works of mad men, but it will not be easy. Again, it would be interesting to understand why Bauer chose some of the works she did, but she does not say in TWEM.

    2. I can guess why she chose some of them, but I think that I'll read them first before offering any opinions.

      I wish she had included My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. ;-) (actually I'm only half-kidding).

  4. A lot of these are ones I'm hoping to read someday, so I'll be interested to see what you think of them. Congratulations for having gotten through the novels list!

    1. Thanks, Emily. (Actually, I cannot say I got through the whole list b/c I stopped reading one after the first chapter, and I still have not completed Possession, but I will return to it. Then I can say I tried to get through the entire list, but for one.)

  5. I'm looking forward to beginning, Ruth. It may be surprising, but I'm actually excited about reading Mein Kampf. Here's a link to my introductory post: http://cleoclassical.blogspot.ca/2014/05/the-well-educated-mind-biographies.html

  6. Wow! That's a list!
    I read Mein Kampf at school (my choice not a curriculum expectation - I just loved all things historical) and found it fascinating.
    Malcolm X was tough going.
    I've read Wiesel too, just can't remember if it was this one or not. Curiously Primo Levi's book are not on the list - as his holocaust memoirs are usually considered some of the most significant in the genre.

    1. Maybe you read Night by Wiesel, a little book about his last days in the Concentration Camp. That was an excellent read. I'll have to look up Levi. I love historical non-fiction, too.