This month and next, many people will lie on the sand holding "beach reading" -- light fare designed to give brains a rest as bodies bake. But one ambitious vacationer wrote me last month, complaining that he had received only a "feelgood sandbox education" in school and wanted to read some meaty stuff: "Any chance of helping with reading suggestions?"
Sure -- because that victim is not alone. Most of us have come away from a "progressive" education system that gives us a little knowledge and makes us even more dangerous than those who are unschooled and aware of deficiencies. Nevertheless, opportunity waits: Those willing to read long and deep can go far on their own.
What to read? Many recent books are terrific. On American culture, Gertrude Himmelfarb's One Nation, Two Cultures, Tom Wolfe's Hooking Up and Thomas Sowell's The Vision of the Anointed are all good reads from the past few years. On the key question of evolution vs. intelligent design that Texas educational overseers are wrestling with this week, Phillip Johnson's Darwin on Trial and Reason in the Balance or Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box are among the books worth surveying.
But we should also keep in mind the advice of C. S. Lewis ("On the Reading of Old Books"): read at least one classic for every three new books, and in that way "keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds." So here come some suggestions concerning books written before 1700.
Which books? I'd start with the Bible. Unlike the scriptures of other religions, it portrays founders and heroes as real people and (with one exception) sinners all; it mixes theological exposition with realistic history and poetry that shows both ups and downs. Plato's dialogues are also well worth reading; I particularly like "Gorgias," the one in which Socrates uncovers the threat and exposes the pretensions of a sophist who prizes style over substance and seems uncannily like some current politicians.