Get the Harvard Classics, Free

The Harvard Classics, also known as  “Dr. Eliot’s/The Five Foot Shelf of Books,”  are available as a free download.

From a time when university presidents actually cared what people read, as opposed to just the size of their donations:

What does the massive collection preserve? For one thing . . .  it’s “a record of what President Eliot’s America, and his Harvard, thought best in their own heritage.” Eliot’s intentions for his work differed somewhat from those of his English peers. Rather than simply curating for posterity “the best that has been thought and said” (in the words of Matthew Arnold), Eliot meant his anthology as a “portable university”—a pragmatic set of tools, to be sure, and also, of course, a product. He suggested that the full set of texts might be divided into a set of six courses on such conservative themes as “The History of Civilization” and “Religion and Philosophy,” and yet, writes Kirsch, “in a more profound sense, the lesson taught by the Harvard Classics is ‘Progress.’” “Eliot’s [1910] introduction expresses complete faith in the ‘intermittent and irregular progress from barbarism to civilization.’”

These books were in the public library of the Colorado town where I went to most of high school. The one that I checked out over and over, of course, was the mythology volume: Beowulf, The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel — tales like that. Over and over.