The Well-Educated Mind
Susan Wise Bauer
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The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had* online

The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had
Susan Wise Bauer
W.W. Norton
384 pages
August 2003
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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For anyone who wants to challenge their reading level and improve comprehension, as well as increase powers of critical judgment, Susan Wise Bauer has written a thorough and informative "guide to the classical education you never had." Bauer tackles various disciplines, outlining techniques for adults who wish to improve the quality of their deductive reasoning.

In this context, Bauer offers the histories of five genres - fiction, autobiography, history, drama and poetry. Within each discipline, she suggests techniques for improvement in critical thinking and interpreting the intent of the author. For example, under the chapter on autobiography, one begins with a first read-through, or grammar-stage reading, followed by the second level, logic-stage reading, and finally, the third level, rhetoric-stage reading. Bauer explains the purpose of each stage toward the reader’s increasing levels of perception. The section is followed by a selection of specially chosen annotated works, such as The Confession of Augustine and The Meditations of Rene Descartes.

Each section contains these annotated examples, and I consider this feature one of the attractions of The Well-Educated Mind. The readings are specifically applicable to each genre and provide helpful insights into the nature of each discipline. The sources are wide-ranging and include many well-known authors, from Machiavelli to Emily Dickinson. For instance, in Chapter Eight, “Reading Through History with Drama,” sub-topic “The Triumph of Ideas,” Bauer discusses the Romantics and their revolt against the Age of Enlightenment, replacing humans as thinking machines with emotional perception and creativity. In this manner, playwrights were artists uninhibited by the rules of convention, shaking off Aristotelian ideals and becoming freer in expression, albeit angst-ridden.

Many of us have a stack of books on our nightstands, the “must-read” novels and self-improvement titles to broaden our interests. The Well-Educated Mind is a book that will remain in my intended-reading stack for a number of months, every few evenings offering a few hours of enlightenment, as I delve into chapters on history, autobiography or poetry. Any such venture into the world of literature offers an opportunity to broaden my ideas and indulge my curiosity.

Using the same technique as for her previous book, The Well-Trained Mind, now a staple of parents homeschooling their children, Bauer introduces readers to the pleasure of education in the classical tradition. Erudite and accessible, I find Bauer’s efforts exceptionally appealing in its manner of presentation and choice of annotated works. The author misses nothing, including inconsistencies in translation and divergent historical perspectives. The Well-Educated Mind is a welcome addition to any personal library.

© 2003 by Luan Gaines for Curled Up With a Good Book

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