The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Study of Core Texts and Ideas

Thomas Jefferson Center: Bookshelf

Welcome to the Thomas Jefferson Center Book Shelf. This web page offers a list of many of the core texts which are read and discussed in Jefferson Center classes, and which can provide the foundation for a serious great books education. We are offering this list, accessible on the left of this page and broken down by four major categories, for two main reasons. First, we want to give students an idea of what works they can expect to study if they decide to pursue our certificate. Second, we want to provide a public resource to help guide people outside the university who are interested in studying the core texts on their own. We hope that this list will help guide you in your own reading.

We have offered a set of readings for each of the four main fields of study that Jefferson Center students pursue. All of the books mentioned below are books taught in Core Texts classes. For the most essential readings, we have said roughly what each book is about, what kinds of questions one might bring to it, and what one might hope to learn from it. These are not meant to be exhaustive in any way, but merely launching pads for your own explorations and discussions.

These are exceptionally deep texts, which can be read repeatedly for added enjoyment and benefit. While it is certainly possible to read them profitably on one’s own, we recommend seeking out other readers and discussing these books in groups. By discussing and debating the texts, it is far easier to unlock their true riches – and more than that, there are few better foundations for good friendships than the shared discussion of the great ideas. In the words of Socrates in Xenophon’s Memorabilia,

“Reading in company with my friends, I go through the treasures of the wise ones of old which they wrote and left behind in their books; and if we see something good, we pick it out; and we hold that it is a great gain if we become friends to one another.”

Other Texts

Though central to our mission, the four categories are only a part of what the Jefferson Center offers. The requirements also include electives, which students can use to study core texts that don’t fit into the rubrics given above. Below is a sampling of important texts which have been taught in other CTI classes, or which have become popular favorites among students to study independently.

Montaigne, Essays, especially “To the Reader;” I.19 (“That our happiness must not be judged until after our death”), I.28 (“On friendship”), I.31 (“Of cannibals”), II.11 (“Of cruelty”), II.12 (“Apology for Raymond Sebond”), II.19 (“Of freedom of conscience”), II.29 (“Of virtue”), III.2 (“Of repentance”), III.13 (“Of experience”)

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Franz Kafka, The Trial

The Arabian Nights

Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy

Shakespeare, HamletKing LearHenry VMacBethA Midsummer Night’s DreamCoriolanus

The Arden Shakespeare is an excellent collection of all of Shakespeare’s plays. The Arden edition of individual plays have much more extensive notes and are worth purchasing in their own right.

Cervantes, Don Quixote

Swift, Gulliver’s Travels

Winston Churchill, Marlborough: His Life and Times

Euclid, Elements

Blaise Pascal, Pensees

Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

John Milton, Paradise Lost