Twelve Great Books: Going Deeper into Classic Literature
Joseph Pearce (Ignatius Press, $17.95, 226 pages)

Joseph Pearce, a well-known literary critic and biographer of Christian novelists, in Twelve Great Books highlights great books as part of our intellectual and spiritual inheritance – in short, part of our civilization. We read these books, says Pearce, to “find ourselves in the presence of Great Minds thinking about Great Things.” Pearce has explained elsewhere that great works of literature “offer a powerful witness to the triune splendour of the good, the true, and the beautiful.” To take just one example, Pearce writes of Shakespeare’s titular character in Macbeth, that as the king’s “pride take pride of place on the throne of his soul, he begins to lose his sense of reality,” and “sin smothers” his reason. The 12 books selected for this volume – all previously published as longer essays or introductions to other books — span nearly a millennium and a half from Augustine’s Confessions to Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, all of which offer some insight into human nature, often in fallen man’s temptation to deny his nature. Some may feel that Pearce over-emphasizes Shakespeare (with fully one-quarter of the books, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Julius Caesar, and Macbeth), but Shakespeare is a passion of Pearce and, as the general editor of the Ignatius Critical Editions series, he has published at least seven essay-length introductions to various Shakespeare plays. Some essays are shorter than others, with the five-page examination of G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Friday perhaps being too slight, although Pearce gets to the heart of Chesterton’s examination of the difference between childlike and childish, the former of which is demanded by Christ and the latter warned against by St. Paul. Pearce says the novel “shows us the paradoxical truth that it takes a big man to know how small he is.”