Suggested Literature

Edmond Bordeaux Szekely
The Art of Study
The Art of Study

Also called the Recommended Basic List of Great Masterpieces of Universal Literature (from Edmond Bordeaux Szekely). This list is from his booklet The Art of Study – The Sorbonne Method. This booklet explains a method of study employed by Szekely himself, which he claims to have learned while studying on the Sorbonne, one of the worlds most renowned universities. It contains the list of books, because, as Szekely tells us: “these books contain the wisdom of the ages” and should be read by everyone.

Some of the books are only summarily mentioned (for example: “parts of the Koran”) and the list does not specify which parts.

I am happy to report that most of these “required reading” masterpieces are available on Project Gutenberg for free. I am working on providing the links below.

The books on Project Gutenberg can be read on your iPad or Kindle very conveniently.

For the iPad or iPhone or iPod Touch, I suggest using Stanza, which directly accesses Project Gutenberg from the app.

For the Kindle, currently the best strategy seems to be to use the Kindle web browser and go to to search for the book you want. Make sure you select the mobi format for download (also called “Kindle format”).

An alternative list to consider is the Alan Kay Reading List, quote: The following list was prepared by Alan Kay for his students. We share it for those who want to learn more about some of the writing that influenced him and the creation of Etoys.

This is a quote from the book (page 15):

In common with everything in Nature, books can be our great friends if we utilize them properly, and great enemies if we employ them mistakenly.

Vita brevis, ars longa. Life is short, art eternal. Let us consider this fact as our point of departure. Let us take as our basic principle the limitedness of our life span and the infinite numbers of books at our disposal. Were we able to read a dozen books every second, we could not read more than an insignificant fragment of the existing storehouse of noble and valuable books. This fact cannot be over-emphasized. It postulates that the time wasted in reading an inferior book is lost forever and can never be re-utilized to read a superior work. Therefore, whenever we read a mediocre book we sacrifice a great masterpiece which must remain unread because of the limitedness of our time. Every individual has a great responsibility, both as to choice of books and method of reading.

Everyone conscious of his right and duty to acquire the greatest and finest part of the immense reservoir of knowledge left to us by previous generations should make a list of the most important and basic masterpieces of literature, philosophy, art and science, following two important principles.

The list should be proportionally representative of all cultures and nations so that the cardinal error of one-sided knowledge can be avoided and the stigma of the classic proverb—timeo hominem unius libri—I fear the man of one book—shall not be applicable.

Only the best works in each representative category should be selected, so that optimal use is made of each available moment to enter into possession of our common inheritance, which is universal culture and its masterpieces: the greatest values in life.

Once prepared, this list should not be followed dogmatically, but should be revised constantly by the inclusion of additional masterpieces, until, with the permanent and progressive widening of his intellectual horizon due to optimal reading, the reader is able to construct his list into a foundation and guide to the immense labyrinth of books and libraries and knows what he is doing and where he is going instead of choosing his books in a purely accidental, haphazard manner, which unfortunately, is the case with most people, who read a book simply because they saw it on a shelf, in a book store, or received it from a friend.

The list

  • The Vedas
  • The Upanishads
  • The Egyptian Book of the Dead
  • The Bible
  • The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
  • Epictetus
  • Lao Tsu: The Tao Te Ching
  • The Analects of Confucius
  • The Talmud
  • The Kabala
  • The Essene Gospel of Peace
  • Confessions of St. Augustine
  • portions of the Koran
  • Zarathustra: The Zend Avesta
  • Aknaton: Hymns
  • Aristotle:
    • Ethics
    • Politics
  • Buddha: Sayings
  • Olcott: Buddhist Catechism
  • Thomas a Kempis: Imitation of Christ
  • Renan: The Life of Jesus
  • Spinoza:
  • Pascal: Thoughts
  • Tagore:
  • Gjellerup: The Pilgrim Kamanita
  • Hesse:
  • Tolstoy: On Life.
  • Pythagoras:
  • Plato:
    • Dialogues, principally the Apology, Crito and Phaedo
  • Xenophon: Memorabilia
  • Demosthenes: De Corona
  • Cicero:
    • De Officiis
    • De Amicilia
    • De Senectute
  • Plutarch: Lives
  • Berkeley: Human Knowledge
  • Descartes: Discours sur la Méthode
  • Locke: On the Conduct of the Understanding
  • Bergson: Creative Evolution
  • Stuart Mill: Logic
  • Homer
    • Illiad
    • Odysssee
  • Hesiod: Aesop’s Fables
  • Virgil
  • Maha Bharata
  • Ferdowsi: The Shahnameh
  • The Nibelungenlied
  • The Kalevala
  • Horace
  • Kalidasa: Sakuntala
  • Aeschylus:
    • Prometheus
    • Trilogy of Orestes
  • Sophocles: Oedipus
  • Euripides: Medea
  • Aristophanes:
    • The Knights
    • Clouds
  • Shakespeare
  • Milton:
    • Paradise Lost
    • Poems
  • Dante: Divina Comedia
  • Wordsworth: Poems
  • Burns: Poems
  • Keats: Poems
  • Shelley: Poems
  • Swinburne: Poems
  • Walt Whitman: Poems
  • Edgar Allan Poe: Poems
  • Herodotus
  • Thucydides
  • Livy
  • Xenophon: Anabasis
  • Tacitus: Germania
  • Flavius Josephus: Antiquities
  • Gibbon: Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
  • Hume: History of England
  • Prescott:
    • The Conquest of Mexico
    • The Conquest of Peru
  • Thomas More: Utopia
  • Carlyle: The French Revolution
  • Lewis: History of Philosophy
  • Janet Seailles: History of Philosophy
  • The Arabian Nights
  • Moliëre
  • Jonathan Swift: Gulliver’s Travels
  • Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe
  • Miguel Cervantes: Don Quixote
  • Marco Polo: Travels
  • Schiller: William Tell
  • Heine: Book of Songs
  • Victor Hugo:
    • Les Miserables
    • Poems
  • Baudelaire: The Flowers of Evil
  • Balzac: The Human Comedy
  • Anatole France: Oeuvres
  • Verlaine: Poems
  • Verhaeren: Poems
  • Rimbaud: Poems
  • Carlyle: Past and Present
  • Romain Rolland: Jean Chrislophe
  • Henrik Ibsen: Dramas
  • Friedrich Nietzsche: Thus Spoke Zarathustra
  • Knut Hamsun:
    • Pan
    • Hunger
  • Algernon Blackwood: The Centaur
  • Bacon:
    • Novum Organum
    • Essays
  • Montaigne: Essays
  • Hume: Essays
  • Macaulay: Essays
  • Carlyle: Essays
  • Brandes: Essays
  • Emerson: Essays
  • La Rochefoucauld: Maximes
  • Rousseau:
    • Confessions
    • Emile
  • Henri David Thoreau: Walden
  • Voltaire:
    • Zadig
    • Candide
    • Micromegas
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Faust
  • Byron: Manfred
  • Madach: The Tragedy of Man
  • Thackeray:
  • Charles Dickens:
    • Pickwick Papers
    • David Copperfield
  • Tolstoy: War and Peace
  • Dostoyevsky:
    • The Idiot
    • Crime and Punishment
    • The Brothers Karamazov
  • Bulwer Lytton: Last Days of Pompeii
  • Walter Scott: Novels
  • Gorky: The Mother
  • George Bernard Shaw: Selected Works
  • G.K. Chesterton: St. Francis
  • Hippocrates: Selected Works
  • Galileo Galilei: The Authority of the Scripture
  • Newton: Principles of Philosophy
  • Darwin: The Origin of Species and the Descent of Man
  • August Comte: Positivist Catechism
  • Alexander von Humboldt: Cosmos
  • Thomas Paine:
    • The Age of Reason
    • The Rights of Man
  • Haeckel: The Evolution of Man
  • Spencer: First Principles
  • Karl Marx: Das Kapital
  • Friedrich Engels: Anti-Dührung
  • Sigmund Freud: Psychoanalysis
  • Albert Einstein: The Theory of Relativity
  • Arthur Schopenhauer:  Aphorisms
  • Lubbock:  The Pleasures of Life
  • Maeterlinck:
  • Jules Payot:
    • The Education of the Will
    • Work and Will-Power
    • The Conquest of Happiness
  • Mulford: Essays


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