Reading the classics

In a recent biography of Einstein, by Walter Isaacson, I learned about the “Olympia Academy”. During Einstein’s first year as a patent officer in Bern, Switzerland, he founded, together with two friends, what was to become the basis of a reading club. Multiple evenings a week, Einstein, Solovine and Habicht would get together for a wholesome meal to discuss their readings of the classics. They covered books from Hume’s A treatise on human nature to Spinoza’s Ethics, discussing their personal views and critically reflecting on the concepts proposed by the authors.

As I was visiting the Rocky Mountain Institute in Boulder, Colorado last week, a friend kindly showed me around the University of Colorado campus. My eye was caught by the quote on the face of the library. When you think about it, time plays the role of a very strong filter on century-old pieces of literature, art of music that are still recommended.

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As the urgency of books on best-seller lists fades with time, only the truly good, beautiful and truthful books will keep being recommended. That’s the beauty of diving into old books: it takes a lot more effort to read, but you will find very deep sentences on each page, forcing you, the reader, to think about the truth contained in them.

From that perspective, I would like to share with you an index of great books I recently stumbled upon, mentioning some of the best works of the past 2500 years. We should all take more time to actively read these. I have found that the most valuable way of reading the classics is to stop after every other sentence, to try to think of (counter-)examples of your own life that (dis-)prove the truth of the matter. It is slow, but meaningful. If you want to recommend a book, or discuss a certain topic, please do reach out to me.

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