Monday, June 14, 2010

A wealth of information

A few years ago I became quietly possessed with an urge to own the entire set of Harvard Classics.

The Harvard Classics are a series of books encapsulating much of the thinking and philosophy of western civilization. How they came to be is, I think, fascinating reading.

However, the likelihood of purchasing a complete set was low. Sets were often in the hundreds of dollars from eBay or other sources. So for the past few years I've been assembling a set piecemeal from various thrift stores or used bookstores as I came across various volumes. So far I'd accumulated about half the set.

To digress momentarily, our local library is being dismantled and will shortly be bulldozed because our town is the proud owner of a brand spanking new library set to open July 5. Last Saturday the library had a salvage auction extraordinaire. (I bid on a bunch of bookshelves but didn't win, darn it.) However the head librarian had called me earlier and said she was selling the entire set of Harvard Classics for - drum roll please - a buck apiece. She knew my interest in the series. Did I want them?

So as of last Saturday I am the proud owner of the entire, complete, matched set of the Harvard Classics! This set was printed in 1910. I've already read a few of the volumes and found them surprisingly readable and unexpectedly interesting. Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations"? Boring as hell. I read fifty pages and put it down. But the Golden Sayings of Epictetus? Fascinating. The Greek dramas? Who'da thunk? (The Greek comedies - I was clueless.)

While we still have to find a suitable place to shelve these beauties, I look forward to many years of edifying - if slow - reading.


  1. Wow! That is really exciting! I love those kinds of things.

    Hey! Wealth of Nations was fascinating and intriguing to no end! I read it from cover to cover and loved it. :D

  2. Library sales are great! When we decided that we would homeschool, we picked out a Great Books based curriculum. I was a little shocked at how expensive a complete set was.

    During a trip to the library, I saw a sign on the book sale shelf saying one was available for the same price as yours, a dollar a book. I got the whole set for 10% of the new set's cost!

    My son was only one at the time, so the librarians were a little shocked when I said I was buying them for him. :)

  3. Wow! A cacophany of canning jars, now a bundle of books. Will wonders never cease?!? The Lord continues to rain blessings upon you!

    Steve Davis
    Anchorage, Alaska

  4. Hi Patrice,

    While I join you in your joy at being able to acquire a whole set of Harvard Classics I also worry about the larger issue in view here.

    We patronize several libraries in our area, and they routinely have similar sales. The trend that we have noticed, and the thing that worries us, is that libraries are purging themselves of the good, clean, wholesome, classics in order to make room for more of the "Johnny Has Two Mommies" kind of books.

    They are purging out their real historical books in order to make room for the revisionist history books.

    We thought that perhaps they were just dumping duplicates. But, when we checked on certain books that were on the sale table, there were no duplicates to be found in the stacks. They are just flat out purging their good old books.

    Maybe it's just the libraries in our area. I hope so. When you think about it, the implications are enormous and very Orwellian.

    Congratulations on your find. Your book collection is to literature comparable to what Seed Savers is to our future food supply.


  5. Those are legitimate concerns, Dave. I'm pleased to report that in our tiny town, no one is likely to find "Johnny Has Two Mommies"-kind of books on the library shelves.

    Nonetheless, I believe our librarian discarded the Harvard Classics for the simple reason that no one was reading them. That is, unfortunately, the sad truth. Many of the classics are being forgotten and replaced with the trendy stuff, which just doesn't have the same lasting "meat" to it.

    I think that's part of the reason my husband and I have over 5000 books. We don't want knowledge forgotten.

    (see this entry:


  6. Wow, a treasured trove indeed. I have been in the process of acquiring the same types of old books for our collection.

    I too have noticed that our library sales cart has more and more of these great classics on it at giveaway prices. Now you have started me thinking and at my next visit I will be asking the head librarian first-hand about this trend.

  7. Can I tell you how envious I am. The great green jealousy monster is sitting with my at my computer and drooling. I have always wanted a complete set but so far have only amassed a few of the books.

  8. This is exactly the ammunition I need to defend my book collection to my husband! He's always trying to get me to "pare down" the number of books we have, and I always refuse, but now I have something better to say than, "I like books."


  9. Save the Canning JarsJune 16, 2010 at 6:36 AM

    This is for Dave:
    When you say "Maybe its just the libraries in our area", let me rain on your optimism and offer that it is not. We noticed the selling off of the classics when my daughter was in the 8th grade (11 years ago). She was snatching up Joseph A. Altsheler, the Mark Twain's, Louisa Mae Alcott and Grace Livingston Hill (30 of Hill's were free because no one wanted them). Ours is an original Carnegie Library and these books were purchased with the original money that got the library going. What a sad time!
    Daughter "rescued" these and we do believe they would have ended up in the trash as no one seemed to understand their quality. Guess our community thinks a glossy bright new book cover contains better info than a dull, boring book cover. It is refreshing to read all of these posts and rejoice that there are bookworms out there in cyberland who still cherish the wholesome classics.

  10. Now that is a story! I would love to own the whole collection too. Been going through Benjamin Franklin's Auto-Biography and it was an unexpected pleasure. He was more than a brave man at a pivotal point in history. This man is fabulous, his thinking, his reasoning, his ingenuity and it reads just a bit like Tom Sawyer.