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Books That Changed the World

By Giving Voice to Something New

Informed, smart, and entertaining conversations about books that transform the world.

The human urge for self-expression - to speak on one’s own behalf in one’s own terms, and to be acknowledged and recognized by others, is not a right to be given. It is the most fundamental claim a human being makes besides being a body in space, and it finds its most powerful expression in literature. The Great Books series talks to interesting and informed people about books that added new voices to the world in ways that allowed others to understand and hear these stories as well. It’s not that Zora Neale Hurston was the first African-American woman to tell her story, or that William Wordsworth was the first to speak about his life as a long story, or that nobody before Franz Kafka examined how we include and exclude others by creating communities. But these writers found ways of expressing these human conditions that transformed everyone’s way of speaking and listening. They imposed their words on others so powerfully that their stories now irrevocably mattered, regardless of legal rules, cultural norms, and customs. The greatness of these books is not that they outdo other writers but that they alter the way in which everyone makes sense of the world by adding a startlingly new voice. My canon of Great Books is not defined by aesthetic excellence alone, but by the way a book makes someone’s lived reality suddenly available for others in words that they now use as well.

The Great Books series pairs interesting thinkers with some of the tradition’s greatest books to show how those books shift our perception of the world and provide new paradigms that offer a way out of our current dilemmas. Look for conversations on Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter… Read More

Episodes: Great Books

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GREAT BOOKS 23: The Morality of Climate Action, with Dale Jamieson

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GREAT BOOKS 22: William Wordsworth, with Maureen McLane

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GREAT BOOKS 21: Hannah Arendt is alarmingly relevant, with Richard J. Bernstein

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GREAT BOOKS 20: Phillis Wheatley and the African-American Tradition, with Rowan Ricardo Phillips

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GREAT BOOKS 19: Samuel Beckett, with Nicholas Johnson

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GREAT BOOKS 18: Jessica Benjamin's The Bonds of Love, with Jessica Benjamin

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GREAT BOOKS 17: Claude Lévi-Strauss's Tristes Tropiques, with Denis Hollier

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GREAT BOOKS 16: Paul Celan's Poetry, with Amir Eshel

GREAT BOOKS 15: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, with Julie Carlson

GREAT BOOKS 14: Ralph Waldo Ellison's Invisible Man, with John Callahan

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GREAT BOOKS 13: Art Spiegelman's Maus, with Hilary Chute

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GREAT BOOKS 12: Sigmund Freud's Civilization and its Discontents, with Peter Brooks

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GREAT BOOKS 11: Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, with Deborah Plant

GREAT BOOKS 10: Nella Larsen's Passing, with Emily Bernard

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GREAT BOOKS 9: Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time, with Caroline Weber

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“Our lives are frittered away by detail.” Henry David Thoreau's Walden, with Benjamin Reiss

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“One is not born, but rather becomes a woman.” Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, with Kate Stimpson.

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Find What is Moving in Your Soul: Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, with Glenn Wallis.

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Time for America to Grow Up: James Baldwin’s Another Country, with Rich Blint.

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A Revolutionary “New Truth” for America: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, with Carol Gilligan.

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“On or around December 1910, human character changed.” Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, with Jared Stark.

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“You must not tell anyone…” Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, with Ava Chin

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One of the Great Novels of All Time: Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, with Manthia Diawara.