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

There are many great books, and then there are books that transform not only how we think but how we live in the world. These books don’t just add new perspectives, voices, and stories to what is already known. These books transform the very paradigms (to use a concept first introduced by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, featured on an upcoming episode) by which we know ourselves and the world we live in.

And, as Catharine Stimpson explains in an upcoming conversation on Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, these books are marked by: cultural influence; mastery of language; scope of the imagination, and (crucially) moral capaciousness. Or, as James Baldwin explained in his lecture, “The Moral Responsibility of the Artist,” these works reimagine that which we habitually accept as real and natural so that we may truly see and grasp reality for the first time, apart from the social conventions that all too often block our perception. A further criterion is added by Chinua Achebe, whose masterpiece Things Fall Apart I talk about with Manthia Diawara: “Art is man’s constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him.” Or her, we gently add.

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, James Baldwin’s Another Country, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, Henri David Thoreau’s Walden, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Paul Celan’s poetry, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Duino Elegies, and more with truly remarkable interlocutors.

Episodes: Great Books

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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.