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The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had Hardcover – August, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bauer's The Well-Trained Mind (which she co-wrote with Jessie Wise) taught parents how to educate kids; her latest is designed for adults seeking self-education in the classical tradition. Reading-sustained, disciplined and structured-is her core methodology, so she starts with tips on improving reading skills and setting up a reading schedule (start with half-hour sessions four mornings a week, with daily journal writing). Reading is a discipline, like meditating or running, she says, and it needs regular exercise. To grow through reading-to reach the "Great Conversation" of ideas-Bauer outlines the three stages of the classical tradition: first, read for facts; then evaluate them; finally, form your own opinions. After explaining the mechanics of each stage (e.g., what type of notes to take in the book itself, or in the journal), Bauer begins the list section of the book, with separate chapters for her five major genres: fiction, autobiography/memoir, history/politics, drama and poetry. She introduces each category with a concise discussion of its historical development and the major scholarly debates, clearly defining all important terms (e.g., postmodernism, metafiction). And then, the piece de resistance: lists, in chronological order, of some 30 major works in each genre, complete with advice on choosing the edition and a one-page synopsis. Bauer has crafted a timeless, intelligent book.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-Written in a straightforward style accessible to most students, this readable book provides solid, step-by-step advice on how to read some of the world's great books with discipline and comprehension. The first four chapters explain the author's well-thought-out three-step program, how and why it works, and how to prepare to use it. The remainder of the volume devotes a chapter each to analysis of novels, autobiography/memoirs, history, drama, and poetry. The system involves reading each book three times: once for the facts, once for analysis, and once for an informed evaluation of the author's ideas. Readers are encouraged during this process to mark up their books with comments and questions in the margins (or use Post-Its), and to keep a journal of quotes, summaries, questions, and ruminations. The genre chapters include some history, a discussion of important terms used, questions about the books that readers will want to ask themselves, a thoughtful pr‚cis of 25 or so important titles presented chronologically (with discussion of the changes in the genre over the centuries), and recommendations for the best and cheapest editions of each title. Works range from the Greeks to Francis Fukuyama, from Cervantes to Don Delillo, from Homer to Rita Dove. Some Web sites are also mentioned as sources for understanding. While few teens will want or have time to read a book three times, most will find much of value in helping them to understand their reading assignments.
Judy McAloon, Potomac Library, Prince William County, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (August 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393050947
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393050943
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #59,977 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Susan was born in 1968, grew up in Virginia, and was educated at home by pioneering parents, back when home education was still unheard of. She worked as a professional musician, wore a costume at Colonial Williamsburg, toured with a travelling drama group, galloped racehorses at a Virginia racetrack, taught horseback riding, worked in radio and newspaper ad sales, learned enough Korean to teach a Korean four-year-old Sunday school, and served as librarian and reading tutor for the Rita Welsh Adult Literacy Center in Williamsburg, Virginia.

In her less haphazard adult life, she earned an M.A., M.Div., and Ph.D. She has taught at the College of William & Mary in Virginia for the last sixteen years. Susan is married and the mother of four.

Susan's most recent book for Norton, The Story of Western Science: From the Writings of Aristotle to the Big Bang Theory (2015), guides us back to the original texts that have changed the way we think about our world, our cosmos, and ourselves.!

Her previous book, The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had (2003), is a guide to reading the classic works of fiction, poetry, history, autobiography, and drama. Norton also published The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (with co-author Jessie Wise); originally published in 1999, this bestselling guide to education in the classical tradition was revised and updated in 2004 and again in 2009.

For Peace Hill Press, Susan has written a four-volume world history series for children, The Story of the World, for Peace Hill Press. Volume 1, Ancient Times, was published in 2002 (revised edition 2006); Volume 2, The Middle Ages, in 2003 (revised edition 2007); and Volume 3, Early Modern Times, in 2004. The final volume, The Modern Age, was published in 2006. She has also written a best-selling elementary writing program, Writing With Ease.

Susan is also the author of The Art of the Public Grovel (Princeton University Press) and many articles and reviews. Visit her blog at

Amazon Author Rankbeta 

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#7 in Books > History
#7 in Books > History

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

732 of 764 people found the following review helpful By Gandalf on August 25, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I typically buy 75-100 books a year through Amazon[.com] and spend hours and hours reading reviews before I ultimately make my purchase. When I [got]Bauer's book, I just couldn't put it down. Not only does she lay out in detail the necessary steps in developing an appreciation and understanding for the "Great Books of Civilization" she actually shows you how to do it and gives you an abundant of resources to aid you if you need more help. Not since Mortimer Adler's book "How to Read a Book" have I ever come across such a lucid approach to raising one's awareness of the world's greatest writers.

In addition to laying out the groundwork for setting up a self-study program, Bauer provides a detailed approach to each of her recommended readings, from "The Epic of Gilgamesh, c. 2000 B.C. to Elie Wiesel's "All Rivers Run to the Sea", 1995.

A warning however for the "undisciplined mind". Unless you are prepared to commit the necessary time (Bauer recommends 30 minutes a day, 4 days a week) to do some "really serious reading" using a personalized "commonplace book" (which she describes in detail) to record your learnings and critiques -- you are wasting your time. It's akin to losing 25 pounds through disciplined dieting or getting out of debt in 12 months through focused efforts. You either commit yourself to a life-long learning plan to raise your consciousness and self-awarness or simply go back and waste away by watching T.V. and munching on your doritos. The choice is yours.
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374 of 388 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Being a student of the public school system while growing up, I always thought that when you were told to read a book, you read the words on the pages, grasped the gist of the story, and that was that. I got the shock of my life when I hit high school and suddenly the teachers were discussing the symbolism and messages behind what the author wrote. But no one bothered to explain to me HOW to do that. College was a disaster because I had no idea how to do the things my literature professors required.
Now, FINALLY, thanks to this book, I am learning how to read a book and analyze it using the 3 stages of the Trivium (grammar stage, logic stage, rhetoric stage) -- Classical Education. My friend and I are having a ball learing how to do this, taking notes, analyzing things logically, asking questions and discussing the finer points that the author makes.
For anyone who is homeschooling (as my friend and I are), or for anyone who feels like their understanding of fine literature is lacking, this book is wonderful!! I highly recommend it! It has an easily readable style, (not dry as wood chips like some books I have attempted), has a sprinkling of humor here and there, and best of all, it respects that fact that the majority of people who would be reading it are busy adults with PLENTY to do each day, and is therefore not demanding; it only requires 30 min. of reading a day 4 times a week, thus making an allowance for those days that "life" happens to you.
Side note: between my friend and I, the oldest homeschool child we have is approximately 7th grade. Therefore, we did not begin by reading the books that the author recommends. We chose classical literature that was closer to the level that the oldest child was reading and books that we knew we would have our children read on their own at some point. We both plan to use what we learn from this book to help show our own children how to read and evaluate good literature.
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67 of 70 people found the following review helpful By CarefulReader on January 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I have two graduate degrees, but despite that I've always felt undereducated. I've read quite a few "important books," but they never fit together in my mind into any sort of logical progression. This book has finally made sense of the pattern! Bauer begins with a brief examination of the reading process, and then explains, clearly and intelligently, how five different genres developed, from ancient times up until the present. She also shows how the genres relate to each other. She starts with the novel, from Don Quixote to magic realism, and follows that up with autobiography because (like novelists) autobiographists are telling a story; she then goes on to history (because historians also tell a story, but have a different relationship to the "facts") and finishes up with plays and poetry. Along the way, she defines all the important literary terms you've heard floating around, and slots them neatly into their place. One of the best guides to self education I've read, and one that finally got me back on the path to serious reading. (Incidentally, what is the reviewer talking about below, when he says "the author admits she hasn't read the books"? Totally untrue--no such statement. Ms. Bauer says that she has always had trouble getting through Moby Dick, but apart from that demonstrates a great mastery of the material, and the annotations are amazingly helpful--they highlight the themes of the books and show, briefly, how the terms and developments covered in the "history of the genre" sections play into each.)

Highly recommended for any serious reader.
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109 of 119 people found the following review helpful By S. Scott on October 25, 2003
Format: Hardcover
When I found out the Susan Bauer had put this book together for adults, I purchased it immediately. I am quite a fan of her texts for children and of the educational plan she co-write with her mother for homeschoolers. Because of this, I think I expected it "The Well-Educated Mind" to be organized along the same chronological framework.
However, this new reading plan for adults breaks literature into categories: novels, autobiography, history, plays, poetry, etc. and then approaches each category with an annotated list of suggested works to read. While I have no serious complaints about the works chosen (no list will be perfect), I really miss the integration of literature, biography, history, science, etc. as proposed in "The Well-Trained Mind". I have begun reading from the first list of novels in "The Well-Educated Mind", but I am considering delving into the reading lists from the last four years of "The Well-Trained Mind".
If I had to purchase only one of the books, it would definately be the first - the curriculum text for homeschoolers. This book could be tailored for adult reading and is an great curriculum for homeschooling, or as we do, a supplement for a public education.
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