The Well-Educated Mind Reading Challenge: Reading the Histories

Since January 2012, I have been reading through The Well-Educated Mind reading lists - first the novels, then the biographies.  Next, I will begin the histories, which is my most favorite genre.  

In the beginning, I knew of several bloggers reading through the novels; in fact, I was able to catch up to them.  But they have since taken a break in their reading, or I passed them up. When I began the biographies, Cleo at Classical Carousel joined me, and she encouraged a group of readers via Goodreads to join us.

I am hoping to begin the histories in January 2017.  If you would like to read along, I have included Susan Wise Bauers' suggested questions to think about and the book titles (listed in chronological order).  We still have the Goodreads group available, if you would like to follow along or join there.

Maybe you are a history fanatic and need an excuse to read more of it, or you loathe it terribly and need encouragement to exercise that part of your brain.  Either way, we would love to have you join us.  We read about one book a month, but depending on the size, it could take longer.  Consider it a three-year reading challenge, at least, if you choose to read every book.

How to Read History:

According to Susan Wise Bauer, these are questions to consider when reading a historical work.

Level I:
Who is the author, and does he/she state the purpose for writing?
Who is the story about, and what are the major events?
What challenge did this hero/heroine face, and what causes this challenge?  What is the result of the hero/heroine?
Do the characters progress/regress, and why?
Where/when does the story take place?

Level II:
What are the historians' assertions, and what questions is he/she asking?
What sources does the historian use to answer them?
Does the evidence support the connection between questions and answers?
Does the historian list his or her qualifications?

Level III:
What is the purpose of history?
Does this story have a forward motion?
What does it mean to be human?
Why do things go wrong?
What place does free will have?
What relationship does this history have to social problems?
What is the end of history?
How is this history the same as - or different than - the stories of other historians who have come before?

The List:

These are the titles to read in this order:

The Histories (441 B.C.)

The Peloponnesian War (c. 400 B.C.)

The Republic (c. 375 B.C.)

Lives (A.D. 100 - 125)

The City of God (completed 426)

The Ecclesiastical History of the English People (731)

Machiavelli, Niccolo: 
The Prince (1513)

More, Sir Thomas: 
Utopia (1516)

Locke, John: 
The True End of Civil Government (1690)

Hume, David: 
The History of England, Vol. V (1754)

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques: 
The Social Contract (1762)

Paine, Thomas: 
Common Sense (1776)

Gibbon, Edward: 
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776 - 1788)

Wollstonecraft, Mary: 
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

De Tocqueville, Alexis: 
Democracy in America (1835 - 40)

Marx, Karl & Engels, Friedrich: 
The Communist Manifesto (1848)

Burckhardt, Jacob: 
The Civilization of the Renaissance in  Italy (1860)

Du Bois, W.E.B.: 
The Souls of Black Folk (1903)

Weber, Max: 
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904)

Strachey, Lytton: 
Queen Victoria (1921)

Orwell, George: 
The Road to Wigan Pier (1937)

Miller, Perry: 
The New England Mind (1939)

Galbraith, John Kenneth: 
The Great Crash 1929 (1955)

Ryan, Cornelius: 
The Longest Day (1959)

Friedan, Betty: 
The Feminine Mystique (1963)

Genovese, Eugene D.: 
Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (1974)

Tuchman, Barbara: 
A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous  Fourteenth Century (1978)

Woodward, Bob & Bernstein, Carl: 
All the President's Men (1987)

McPherson, James M.: 
Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War  Era (1988)

Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher: 
A Midwife's Tale: 
The Life of  Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary (1990)

Fukuyama, Francis: 
The End of History and the Last Man (1992)


  1. You've certainly passed me - I'm still working on the biographies (just started Mein Kampf). Good luck & happy reading!

    1. Hi, Tonia,

      I'm glad you are reading Hitler. I thought about skipping him, but it is really important to read it once in a lifetime. The good thing is that you only have to read part I b/c he will repeat himself over and over again. (I accidentally read part II.)

      You, Adrianna, and the ladies at Classic Case of Madness were my inspiration when I started reading through TWEM, and it has changed my reading life. : ) Thanks!

      ~ Ruth

  2. Wow, the early bird gets the worm! I'm impressed that you thought of posting this now; it's a great idea and hopefully others will join in.

    Yes, I rather messed up the biographies at the end, but I'll blame it on my library. However, by sprinting ahead, hopefully I'll have time to clear my slate before starting the histories.

    Yes, I can see a few of these taking longer than a month, especially if you want to read them properly. The good news is that the extra time could be caught up when we get to the plays.

    While I'm feeling overloaded at the moment, I'm still really looking forward to leaving the biographies and starting the histories!

    1. I'll repost this toward the end of the year b/c it is six months out; however, this is not something to jump into, if you want to read most of them. People can THINK about it.

  3. I had read couple of these works during my Grad school days and I love history and political history! So I am in...only thing and this is only my perspective...the list focuses a lot on the Western world and while the east had plenty of history happening through the ages and this list while very comprehensive is only giving a slightly isolated view. However these are great books and some of the most brilliant minds of the world....and I am absolutely in!

    1. I found the biographies list very U.S.-centric at times, but perhaps that's not surprising.

      Cirtnecce, I would be very interested in a list of Eastern books that you think would be "classics" to add to the above list. Just from reading some of the Desert Fathers, the eastern mindset interests me. I'm all ears! ;-)

    2. Yeah, if I remember correctly, Bauer specifically focuses on Western Civ. She does this in The Well-Trained Mind for homeschoolers,too. I haven't read any of them, so they'll be new to me; and when I'm done, I may want to venture into an Eastern histories reading challenge. Are you volunteering to put something together for us??? : D

    3. Hahhhaaaaaa.....I knew the moment I hit the submit button that I was kind of falling in my own trap! LOL! But seriously ladies, if you are interested, I will be happy to share a reading list for the East....Let me put something together and i will get back to you both! Also Ruth, Cleo is joining me in August for a Read Along - Home and The World....it was written in the backdrop of the Indian independence movement, and I plan to share some background historical insights of what happened and how .....you can use it as a teaser for your future Eastern Histories plan!:)

    4. Madcap, I will check it out (Home and the World). Sounds interesting.

  4. Some of these were powerful, some a slog. The City of God took me 4 months consistently reading 30 pages a week. My biggest problem was that at times I didn't have the background to really understand the book! The New England Mind is a slog times 2, but The Souls of Black Folk was a favorite pick of the year. I learned so much! Maybe I'll join you on the ones I didn't finished or missed--maybe 4 or 5 selections.

    1. Oh, I bet. I know I have to prepare for some difficult works, too.

      Well, it would be wonderful to have you join us when we read those that are new to you, too. : )

  5. This list will take forever! Whew!
    Read 3: McPherson - Woodward&Bernstien - Plato.
    In progress: Histories (ch 1-5...I need to keep on reading but have gotten sidetracked)
    Histories on the WEM list appeal more to me than the biographies. No rational reason...just my preference. I'll keep following in your footsteps (reading history) at a snails pace! Great post to get me motivated!

    1. You can say that again.

      Some of these biographies on TWEM list seem like histories to me; but that's ok bc I like both.

      And hey, that's great if you choose to read what you want and when. We can share reviews. : )

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  7. What a great list! I've only read three of these ("The Longest Day" and "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman" and "Common Sense"), but so many of them are on my "read these one day" list. Can't wait to read your thoughts on them!

    1. Cool! It will take me a few years, I know that. : )

  8. I am a history student and absolutely love this list! I recently read A Midwife's Tale and found it fascinating. I still have yet to read the classic histories like Herodotus and Plutarch, but I really should soon. Thanks for sharing this!