Book Review – The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer

When you gather data, you become informed. When you read, you develop wisdom.

The Well-Educated Mind

With The Well-Educated Mind, Susan Wise Bauer gracefully takes up the torch long held by Mortimer J. Adler, and becomes the modern advocate for purposeful reading.

She gives us her own interpretation of what it means to “read well” and, thankfully, holds our hand a little more than Adler does in How to Read a Book. You can think of their two works as a pair of college textbooks–Adler’s is for general instruction while Bauer’s contains the detailed steps and procedures use for lab work.

Her book begins with a general overview of the “whats, whys, and hows” of classical education and then subsequent chapters dive into medium-specific analysis–novels, autobiographies, history, drama, and poetry. It’s obviously not an end-all-be-all list of classical education material, but enough to cover the literary bases (as Bauer states, “List making is a dangerous occupation.”)

Within each of those chapters is an outline of questions we should ask ourselves, specific to that medium. Then we’re given a list of recommended books at the end of each section, each book having its own synopsis.

The one notion I disagree with Bauer on is sticking to one medium at a time in order to grasp the chronological flow of work. In my opinion, many of these classics reference stories outside of their own medium, so I personally feel a wider breadth of reading is more beneficial. For example, if you don’t familiarize yourself with the poetic and historical books of the Bible, you’re going to miss references in all sorts of novels and plays.

But I do agree with the overall message put out by Bauer (and Adler): You get out what you put in. It’s slow going at first, sometimes mind-numbingly so, but like anything worth doing, it takes practice. And like anything you practice, the more you work at it, the faster and more natural it becomes (the fact that I’m typing up my notes more regularly is a good example. 🙂 )

Though both Bauer and Adler admit that not all books require the same level of thought, only by working through the various stages of what classical education calls the trivium–grammar, logic, rhetoric–can the reader be sure they’re getting the most out of books that do matter.

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0 thoughts on “Book Review – The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer

  1. Once again you impress me with your reading choices, Phillip. I won’t mention I’m currently reading a Nordic thriller. After just having finished another thriller…

    1. Bah, don’t let some of my recent reviews fool you. I’m just trying to make up for all those years I decided to skip the “hard” stuff. 🙂 I still curl up at night with Stephen King or Terry Pratchett books.

      1. Phew. Good to know. 😉

  2. Your teachers must have loved you, Phillip. I’m with Carrie…very impressive and your notes! Do you sleep?

    1. Haha, thank you Jill. As I mentioned to Carrie, I think I’m doing penance for those school years where I could barely make it through the first page of the classics without falling asleep or reaching for the Cliff Notes. And sleep? Gotta do something while carrying and soothing Angus. 😉

  3. Wow. Like everyone else, I’m impressed.
    A friend works for a school which has the classical methodology. The kids learn everything you mentioned: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. I’m sure Bauer’s book is a staple.

    1. Wow, that’s awesome Linda. In fact, Bauer has written a very popular book on home-schooling that likely impresses that method. Thanks for the comment!

  4. […] but I never lost faith. The week has been busy (what’s new?), but I managed to squeeze in a book review. I’ve also been reading Wild Things, a book on nurturing boys into adulthood which pulls its […]

  5. Well, I’ll echo what the others have said above — you continue to impress with the number of “smart people” books you read and review. I have to agree with you, reading a variety is beneficial, and it keeps life interesting. I’ve just finished a mystery/thriller; I’m now reading a YA. Something I’ve been trying to do as I read is identify the major plot points–the inciting event; the first plot point, the midpoint, the climax, etc. I record these in a spiral notebook (nerdy, yes), but I’m hoping it will help me with my writing. And like you wrote above, the more often I do this, hopefully, the easier it will come. Great post.

    1. Thank you Gwen! I hope I’m not coming off like a smarty pants. Just trying to improve myself here and there and want to share what I’ve read. 🙂

      And I LOVE that you’re studying all of those things and recording them in a notebook (welcome to the nerd club!). I think you’ll find it will pay off in spades with your writing. I’ve been doing the same thing and find it easier to outline stories now, having a better idea of what works and what doesn’t.

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