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Saturday, January 16, 2010

My Desert Island Books

Suppose you were to spend ten years on a desert island, with no access to TV or the internet. All of your physical needs are taken care of: you have food, clothing, and shelter. But you are allowed to take only 10 books with you. These 10 books would have to sustain you for ten years.

What 10 books would you take?

Here are ones I would take:

1. Shakespeare
2. The Bible
3. The Catechism of the Catholic Church
4. The Imitation of Christ
5. Jane Austen
6. An anthology of poetry, e.g., The New Penguin Book of English Verse

As for the remainder, I’m not sure. Here are some possibilities:
  • Plato? I need to read some more of his books before I decide.
  • Aristotle? I’ve read Categories and De Interpretatione and they were dry as dust.
  • Homer? I enjoyed The Odyssey and am making my way through The Iliad. But I’m not sure if I would read them multiple times.
  • St. Teresa of Avila? Haven’t read very much from her yet, so the jury’s out.
  • Aquinas? Haven’t started reading him yet. May turn out to be too dry for me.
  • Augustine? I’m a third of the way through his De Civitate Dei. It hasn’t been too enjoyable. We’ll see.
  • Dante? I read the Inferno. It was alright.
I received the "How To Read A Book" DVD for Christmas, and it was interesting to hear Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren list their top 10 desert island books:

Mortimer Adler’s Desert Island Books

1. Thucydides: History of the Peloponnesian War
2. Aristotle: Ethics, Politics
3. Plato
4. Plutarch: Lives
5. Augustine: Confessions
6. Aquinas: Summa Theologica
7. Montaigne: Essays
8. Shakespeare
9. Locke: Of Civil Government, Essay Concerning Human Understanding
10. Tolstoy: War and Peace

Charles Van Doren’s Desert Island Books

1. Montaigne: Essays
2. Shakespeare
3. Plutarch: Lives
4. Homer: Iliad, Odyssey
5. Dante: Complete Works
6. Cervantes: Don Quixote
7. Freud
8. The Bible
9. An anthology of poetry
10. Collected Poems of Mark Van Doren

What would your 10 desert island books be?


  • Wow, this is really hard. I'm not sure "Jane Austen" or "Collected Blah" isn't cheating. I'd take the collected works of each of the following authors (main reason in brackets). Most of them have pretty decent-sized oeuvres.

    1. Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy)
    2. Joseph Heller (Catch-22)
    3. Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse V)
    4. P.G. Wodehouse (Jeeves and Wooster)
    5. George Orwell (1984)
    6. Quentin Crisp (The Naked Civil Servant)
    7. Agota Kristof (The Notebook)
    8. Ian McEwan (Atonement)
    9. Jeanette Winterson (Oranges are Not the Only Fruit)
    10. Encyclopedia Britannica (or, possibly better, a complete printout of Wikipedia).

    By Blogger Thomas David Baker, at 1/16/2010 10:50 p.m.  

  • Nice one, Tom. I'll need to look some of those up.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 1/17/2010 12:01 a.m.  

  • I'm going to go with these 10 for now:

    1. Shakespeare
    2. Jane Austen
    3. An anthology of poetry, e.g., The New Penguin Book of English Verse

    4. The Bible
    5. The Catechism of the Catholic Church
    6. The Imitation of Christ

    7. Plato
    8. Aristotle
    9. Augustine
    10. Aquinas

    Those last 4 aren't my favourite reading, but they should help to keep me busy for 10 years.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 1/18/2010 12:07 a.m.  

  • Bonus track:

    11. Plutarch: Lives

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 1/18/2010 8:17 p.m.  

  • How to build a boat! (Well, I think this was what Chesterton said answering such inquire)

    By Blogger Emilio Palma, at 1/28/2010 4:24 p.m.  

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