Picking the Next Book

It's time to move on to another book discussion.  Here are some possibilities.

Aeschylus, The Seven Against Thebes.

Xenophon's Oeconomicus, which deals with household and family management.

Several of Tennyson's Arthurian Idyls.

Sienkiewicz,  With Fire and Sword, the first volume of the author's masterful trilogy of historical novels on troubled Poland in the 17th century.

For the next few days, I'll listen to other suggestions and seek your opinions.  If response is tepid, then my fall-back is the above list in descending order.


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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

17 Responses

  1. Harry Colin says:

    Would be interested in each of them. For ranking purposes I would list Sienkiewicz’ Fire and Sword, Idylls of the King, and Seven Against Thebes. I might also suggest Scott’s Heart of Midlothian, not least because I put it in my queue to read this month!

  2. theAlabamian says:

    Very interesting Dr. Fleming, As I’ve told you before I have much need of improving my knowledge of the classics, and what I did cover in my youth was not covered well, or without intent, or with any understanding of true connection to any of it. I remember facts on some of the classics, but until recently had no one to marry them to my understanding of my own culture the way I’ve heard you do in your lectures. I am excited to learn from anything you pick out. I am busy taking your advice on Southern authors, and keep telling myself to start learning Latin.

  3. theAlabamian says:

    I will be waiting for choice in books to cover as I will have to get a copy or order it.

  4. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I’ll put the Scott in the line-up since I have a lecture on the subject. This afternoon, with a good cigar, I pulled down a volume of Plutarch and started re-reading his Life of Artaxerxes, and it reminded me of what a great book Xenophon’s Anabasis is. I’ll throw that in the mix. It’s spoiled for Greek students by being required reading, at least in the old days, for second year Greek.

  5. Vince Cornell says:

    What? No Ta-Nehisi Coates! I kid! I kid! And, to defend my reputation, I had to look up how to spell his name and just copied and pasted it. Like the Alabamaian, I’m a babe in the woods. I’m happy with any of the above. For the next round, though, what about something from the comic side, like Aristophanes? The only think I know from him is the attributed quote, “Under every stone lurks a politician.” If true, he seems an apt man for our times.

  6. Ken Rosenberger says:

    Oh, why don’t you lead with Sienkiewicz, With Fire and Sword? I hadn’t heard of it, until you brought it up and had to get a thumbnail of it off the always redoubtable (that means to keep doubting, right?) Wikipedia, but I got the flavor of something that really whetted my appetite for some major literary kielbasa. I forthwith procured a volume on my Kindle, and am anxious to start reading, whatever you should decide. Sounds like it might be the Polish equivalent of another great historical novel you once (or five times) recommended: I Promessi Sposi, and an intriguing departure from your current (seeming) bent. Thanks, as always for the suggestion.

    By the way, do you know anything or have any opinion on The Transylvanian Trilogy (author’s name escapes me now).

  7. Ken Rosenberger says:

    Miklos Banffy, that’s the name of the Transylvania author. Book recommended by, oh, let’s just say an embattled right winger with perhaps not the same stature of highbrow literary acumen as Dr Fleming. It currently sits unread in my always-growing storybook backlog, its thick spine tantalizing me from the bookshelves, whenever I pass by.

    I recently read and enjoyed Only Yesterday, a huge novel of everyday life during the Second Aliyah, by the Israeli Nobel laureate S Y Agnon, another book advocated by another splenetic Deplorable. I liked it enough to order Agnon’s Shira, I confess, I’m a sucker for a good historical door-stopper, from time to time.

  8. Robert Geraci says:

    In a different vein and perhaps to be looked at in some column versus a discussion such as this, are the two works of John Senior, The Death of Christian Culture and The Restoration of Christian Culture which I alluded to in a response to another column in this forum just a bit earlier. I appreciated not only his thesis and ability to argue a point, but in his showing and using those who defined culture and knowledge in the first place – Aristotle, Socrates, Boethius, St. Thomas, St. Benedict and many other saints. His was at least for me, a good historical perspective as to what the human race has done to itself in the modern era, how the degradation was and is so pervasive in affecting all aspects of human life. Such a theme is touched on in so many different ways in most of the columns presented in the FF.

  9. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    We can narrow down a bit further. We are concentrating only on primary texts, not works of analysis or interpretation, which I make a point of avoiding. Aristophanes is an excellent suggestion, but some of his best plays require a bit of historical understanding–The Acharnians and the Peace, for example, which enjoyed a small boom during the Vietnam War. I’d love to lead “with fire and sword,” but the fire burns low and the sword arm is weak. So let’s try Sienkiewicz. There’s a cheap Kindle edition and a more recent translation as well. I don’t know Polish, so we’ll all be amateurs together. I read the first volume 20 years ago, in anticipation of visiting Cracow. It had been recommended to me by Leopold Tyrmand, who was not notably fond of history, much less historical fiction.

    Because none one in this forum knows much about Polish history, and nothing of the language, let’s go through it quickly, noting the big themes.

    After that, I am inclined to the Anabasis, which Gibbon once pronounced the greatest historical narrative ever composed. It also represents a kind of break-through in historical writing, since it is a third person narrative about a first person experience and the narrative is broken up by several extensive biographical sketches. It is a thrilling study of resourcefulness, since 10 thousand Greeks find themselves in the middle of the Persian Empire with their leaders all dead. Too bad they didn’t have have Facebook to whine to.

  10. Robert Reavis says:

    Aeschylus, The Seven Against Thebes.
    Because its a rare opportunity to read these with Dr. Fleming who knows and loves greek tragedy.

    Mr Geraci,
    Mr. Senior would recommend you tear out the introductions and simply read Plato, Boethius and The Rule of St Benedict as best you can. ( As for St. Thomas he would say buy the Summa put it in your library but don’t try to read it. Study some Latin in the mean time and hope for better days when maybe someday on the distant future there will be a teacher come along who really knows and loves St Thomas. )

  11. Robert Reavis says:

    Tom wrote:’ I am inclined to the Anabasis”
    Yes, that would be wonderful too.

  12. Joshua Teske says:

    Dr. Fleming prompted me to do something I have not done in years, comment on a forum. I have a copy of Fire and Sword on my shelf that I’ve been waiting to read based on the admonition of a certain trusted authority who cautioned reading historical fiction until one understands something of the history. To that end, I’d be grateful for recommendations of works in English (secondary or primary). I’ve read Halecki’s general history and just recently considered buying Norman Davies books, but that’s a shot in the dark.

    Since I gravitate naturally to old translations, I have the Little, Brown edition with the Curtin translation. I’ll read that version unless there is good reason not to. I’d also be interested to hear opinions about the Jerzy Hoffman films, which I enjoyed.

    I’ve recently imbibed a lot of anti-Polish sentiment reading Pushkin and Gogol (scheming Jesuits and the like) so I could use a more sympathetic view.

  13. Ken Rosenberger says:

    Sienkiewicz, I’m diving in. In fact, my Kindle edition was $0.00. I guess it’s that 100 year old rule.

  14. Allen Wilson says:

    Sienkewicz is an author I’ve been intending to tackle for several years. I believe I actually have the Loeb Anabasis stuck away somewhere, but that’s like saying that Pluto belongs to our solar system: yes it does, but when’s the last time anyone saw it? Good luck finding it with the naked eye.

  15. Patrick Kinnell says:

    I will take a stab at any of the above. I would second Mr. Colin’s choice of The Heart of Midlothian.

  16. Dom says:

    Scanning through the responses – was a decision made? I vote for the Aeschylus if only because I have heard it referenced from time to time in other places.

  17. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Josh Teske probably knows more Polish history than I do. Polish intellectuals I used to know thought highly of Norman Davies, and I have looked into a little of what he has written. Curtin was an interesting scholar, a folklorist and student of languages, who had begun by studying Irish folklore and ended up being the historian of the Mongols. As luck would have it, I am reading his rather long and detailed book on the Mongols.