These Study Guides are meant to be a companion to the Academy’s Great Books selections [organized in the manner of a four-year, eight-semester program at the secondary or college level]. In putting it together we were guided by two principles: 1) that we approach each work on its own terms in an effort to be faithful to its meaning and 2) that we also be aware of the larger tradition out of which the work came and which sets the terms, methods, and forms of the work. We wanted to avoid inserting any beliefs or opinions of our own on the work. We also wanted to do justice, where we could, to the deeper level of meaning that comes from seeing a work in the context of the tradition—science, philosophy, history, and literature—from which it was produced. Because content, structure, and language are basic to all of the works, we devoted questions to those areas.
There is a brief Summary of each work followed by suggestions of Things to Think About while reading. These suggestions flag some of the important ideas, themes, and images from the work that might be missed when a student encounters it for the first time. The Study Questions are sequenced to move the reader through the work. Some of the questions ask for details as a way of encouraging a close, careful reading while others draw attention to parallels and contrasts, significant shifts, or recurring images. Because language is the medium of books and no author chooses either his words or his form casually, there are specific questions directed to the language and structure of each work. The Reflection Questions assume the work has been read and are meant to help the reader begin to pull it together as a whole. In addition to belonging to the canon of Western thought –the Great Conversation as Robert Hutchins called it – each individual work is a part of a living tradition, so, whenever possible, questions have been included that place the work in its historical context and that look back to the tradition out of which it emerged to help the student recognize the ways in which works speak to each other. The questions are by no means exhaustive and, with the exception of some of the detail questions, they are not asked in a spirit of evoking one-word right or wrong answers. They are intended to enhance an understanding of the work by provoking thoughtful consideration of the text and opening further lines of questioning.