When I was growing up all kids had frequent need to refer to an encyclopaedia. At that time the encyclopaedia Britannica was the leading supplier of a comprehensive (and accurate) compendium of its time.
The publishers also released an edition named “The Great Books of the Western World”. As a kid my parents could never afford a copy of the encyclopaedia but as soon as I was working and drawing a reliable salary I invested in a copy of GBWW and put that imposing set of 54 works up on my shelves. At that time in the mid-seventies I honestly did not have the personal tools to do them justice. I later studied a morsel of philosophy and of course grew older.
It wasn’t until about 2014 when I started reading Herodotus that I had actually made inroads into GBWW. Herodotus was great reading, it was me that was rusty. It took me a year to get half-way through his works but even though I was tardy, it had ignited a spark.
Then in 2016 at one of my Philosophy Club meetings I saw a video clip of Winston Churchill describing his personal discovery of Gibbon. Churchill had read a snippet of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and asked his mother to buy him a copy. That recommendation from no-less than Winston Churchill led to me opening volume 1 of Gibbon and voraciously reading the two volumes.
As a student I had read Plato (Socrates) but only ever as a platform for essays I was writing and had never read it as a whole. What a way to fan that initial spark into a ravaging fire was to read my idol Plato through from end to end – finally.
The volume on Herodotus and Thucydides followed and, written in the same style as Gibbon was also rewarding.
A rich tapestry of our human history is wound up in the whole 54 volumes of the GBWW just like a gold mine waiting to be discovered – by you.