in: Living, Podcast, Reading

• Last updated: September 30, 2021

Podcast #430: Why You Need to Join the Great Conversation About the Great Books

There are conversations between friends. Conversations between family. And conversations in the media. But did you know there’s also been a conversation going on between writers, thinkers, and philosophers for a couple thousand years? What’s been called “the Great Conversation” refers to the way the authors of the so-called “Great Books” have for millennia been referencing and riffing on the work of their predecessors, and this dialogue is one you can not only eavesdrop on yourself, but join in.

My guest today founded an online community that helps people take part in the Great Conversation. His name is Scott Hambrick, and he’s both a Starting Strength barbell lifting coach, and the creator of Online Great Books, a program which helps people read and discuss the classic texts of Western literature. Today on the show Scott and I discuss where the idea of the Great Books came from, why they’re worth reading, and how to read them. Along the way, we offer sample questions to think about when you’re reading these texts, as well as mini models of exchanges you can have with others about them. 

This show will likely inspire you to pick up a copy of The Iliad or something by Plato.

Show Highlights

  • What are the “great books”? Who decided on this list? 
  • Why Scott’s program goes through the books in chronological order 
  • Why reading the great books is a lifelong project, and not a bucket list item 
  • What’s the reward in reading this stuff?
  • The trivium model 
  • The genesis of the Online Great Books (OGB) program 
  • The importance of asking questions of the text you’re reading 
  • Examples of questions that might be asked
  • A sample conversation about The Iliad between me and Scott 
  • The various genres that are part of the Western canon (and why OGB doesn’t read the Bible)
  • The role of myth in the canon
  • The difference between facts and truth 
  • How should you read these texts to get the most out of them?
  • How much time should you devote to your reading?
  • Why you should keep reading, even if you don’t understand something 
  • Reading and the good life 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Connect With Scott and Online Great Books

Online Great Books website 

OGB on Instagram 

OGB on Twitter

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. Now, there are conversations between friends, conversations with family, and conversations in the media, but did you know there’s also been a conversation going on between writers, thinkers, and philosophers for a couple thousand years?

What’s been called The Great Conversation refers to the way that the authors of the so-called great books have for millennia been referencing and riffing on the works of their predecessors and this is a dialogue that you can not only eavesdrop in on yourself, but join in.

My guest today founded an online community that helps people take part in the great conversation. His name is Scott Hambrick. He’s both a starting strength barbell lifting coach and the creator of Online Great Books, a program which helps people read and discuss the classic texts of western literature.

Today on the show, Scott and I discuss where the idea of The Great Books came from, why they’re worth reading and how to read them. Along the way, we offer sample questions to think about when you’re reading these texts, as well as mini models of exchanges you can have with others about them. Hopefully by the end of the show, you’ll be inspired to pick up a copy of The Iliad or something by Plato. After it’s over, check out the show notes at

Mr. Scott Hambrick, welcome to the show.

Scott Hambrick: Thank you for having me. I’m so excited.

Brett McKay: Yeah, this is great. This is great. You and I just got finished training in your spectacular garage gym.

Scott Hambrick: Yes.

Brett McKay: It is spectacular. You’ve got two racks.

Scott Hambrick: Thank you.

Brett McKay: Stained platforms. It’s a classy joint.

Scott Hambrick: We try. We try.

Brett McKay: We’re not going to talk about training the body, though.

Scott Hambrick: Right.

Brett McKay: We’re going to talk about training the mind, because you started a little thing, Let’s talk about the great books, for those who aren’t familiar with it. What are the great books and who were the people that got to decide, “These books are great, those books are not great”?

Scott Hambrick: Yeah, that’s the post-modern debate now, what constitutes the great books. Here’s my opinion. The great books, I believe, the list that comprises the great books I believe is an emergent canon. If you pick up one of these books, I don’t know, you could pick up Nietzsche, let’s say, and you’re going to read that for a little bit, and he’s going to mention Descartes, and you’re like, “Gosh, who’s that guy?” Then, you go pick up that book and then he mentions Aristotle. Oh gosh, now I got to go read him.

These books are self-referential and Mortimer Adler called them a great conversation between all these geniuses. The list is self-evident because they refer to each other and answer each other’s questions interim, over time, and different organizations have different lists, but they’re 90%, 95% identical because this list is emergent. These books refer to each other and you really have to read them all to get what all of them are saying to each other.

Brett McKay: Got you. Great. We’re talking classics. You mentioned Nietzsche, Descartes. You’re going all the way back to Plato.

Scott Hambrick: You could drill down and then you end up at The Iliad every time.

Brett McKay: Yeah, pretty much every time, yeah, you end up at The Iliad. You mentioned Mortimer Adler. There was a movement I would say in the middle of the 20th century where intellectuals and scholars decided, “Let’s systemize the great books for a lay audience.” Mortimer Adler, let’s talk about this guy, because he’s an interesting cat.

Scott Hambrick: Super interesting guy. Yeah, in the 1920s, there was a guy, John Erskine, at Columbia, who started doing this great books thing where it was kind of a return to basics idea and a kind of reaction to modern academia, I guess, and one of his students was Mortimer Adler.

Adler was smitten by these great books and the changes he saw in himself, and he ended up not graduating from Columbia because he had to take a physical ed requirement, and he refused to take swimming for physical ed and they didn’t give him the degree. He got one in the ’80s from there as honorary.

He walked away and he went to University of Chicago and ended up founding with Robert Hutchins The Basic Program at University of Chicago, which is based in these great books, and so Adler believed that these books were for everyone and that reading and studying these books was a great democratic project. Not a political project, but a project for everybody, for the demos, to be a good citizen, you needed to know the things in these books to be acclimated to society, to know how to think, to know what’s at stake. It was his life’s work to get more people to read these.

He eventually cut a deal with the Encyclopedia of Britannica company and edited a 54 volume set of what he thought to be the great books of the western world, and they were sold door to door to houses all over America. He was like the Gideons of the great books, and a lot of people, their grandparents may have had a set of those on the bookshelf by the fireplace.

Brett McKay: Yeah, they’re the great books for decoration.

Scott Hambrick: Right, right. Yeah, they’re mostly for decoration. The print’s too small. You can’t write in the margins.

Brett McKay: Yeah, if you see the ones, the encyclopedia kinds, they’re terrible to read. They’re not reader-friendly.

Scott Hambrick: Yeah. I’ve got four sets of them because I love them, but they’re terrible to read. He had a lot of trouble getting permission to use the best translations or copyright issues and stuff, so he ended up using some out of copyright protection editions that are hard to read, but if you find good translations of these books and you read them in a group and take it on systematically, it’s much easier than people think because the books are excellent, and it’s a transformative project I think. Adler did, too.

Brett McKay: Right. This was in the 1950s when this encyclopedia thing happened, and since then, have they added to the list at all since then, or has it stayed pretty much the same?

Scott Hambrick: Yeah. I think a first edition came out in ’52. It was 54 volumes, and then the second edition came out in ’92 I think or something like that, and it’s now 60 volumes. They added Wittgenstein, Karl Popper, Virginia Wolff. There’s quite a bit added from the 20th century.

Brett McKay: They created the collection of books. This was meant for the lay audience. This was not meant for people who had advanced degrees. He wanted business people in their spare time, housewives.

Scott Hambrick: Everyone.

Brett McKay: Everyone to read this stuff. Did he establish a system, like how you’re supposed to go through these books or was it like you just start chronologically from The Iliad and you work your way through or was there you’re going to do philosophy for a little bit and then you’re going to do history and then you’re going to do English literature? What was the system?

Scott Hambrick: Well, Adler’s system, in the introduction volume to The Great Books of the Western World, there was a reading list. It’s a 10 year reading list and it’s organized what he called syntopically, so you’ll read about a specific issue and what people had to say and write about that over the millennia.

You might read about justice, for example, so you’ll read some excerpts from The Odyssey maybe and then you might read the first book of The Republic, and then you end up reading some John Locke and you see the whole scope of thought around that one topic. That’s a good way to approach it because you move from author to author. You don’t get bogged down on somebody’s crusty style that you don’t like and it helps you move through it.

At, we go through them in chronological order because we believe that they scaffold on each other, and to best understand The Republic, we think that you need to have read The Odyssey, The Iliad, a great number of the tragedies and have worked your way up to that, because that’s what Plato did, right? He was familiar with Odyssey and The Iliad and those tragedies, and that was the milieu that he came out of, and he refers to that stuff all the time. If you’ve read those things, when you come to The Republic, you get all the inside jokes. You’re in on it.

Brett McKay: Right, yeah, a lot more insights, a lot more productive reading when you do it that way. Yeah, the challenge, and I think it’s a good thing to point out, this is a long-term project. A lot of people, when they first hear about The Great Books, they’re like, “Oh yeah, I’m going to put that on my bucket list. I’m going to stat doing that and I’m going to get this done in a year, two years.” That is impossible. You’re in this for the long haul.

Scott Hambrick: Yeah. It’s like the weight training we do. It’s a lifestyle choice that you make that it’s transformative and it’s worth it, but you can’t just go squat a little bit and then be a strong squatter, right? It’s something you commit to and you have to do on a regular basis and commit yourself to it, and I don’t want to scare anybody off with this project. If you’ve got a year you can devote to it before you have to take on this new job or have kids or whatever, then by all means, give it a year, but we’re in it for the long haul, and we love it. It’s not a sacrifice at this point.

Brett McKay: You said it’s transformative. What was Adler’s goal? You said his goal was he wants people to read these great books to create better citizens. Beyond that, what’s the personal reward from reading this stuff? A lot of people think, “Well, what do I get out of reading stuff written by dead guys from ancient Greece?”

Scott Hambrick: Well, for me, I have obtained a liberal education. I have a background in chemistry and microbiology. It’s a very specific, very pointed education that I got, and I had big holes in my education. I didn’t have much humanities work. I wasn’t familiar with schools of psychological thought or philosophical thought, and I get to my mid 30s and start to realize how lopsided I am. Got the mind of an engineer maybe.

Taking on these things, learning how to read fiction, a lot of guys struggle with reading fiction. I learned how to read fiction. Eavesdropping on this great conversation on these big issues has made me a more well-rounded person.

Reading these books, we’ll talk about The Republic again. The Republic starts by asking, “What is justice?” And then they wrestle that out. In reading these geniuses talk about what justice may or may not be, it has broken the script in my head of what I thought justice might be, because we hit 21 years old and you’ve got a toolbox of ideas in your head that your parents gave you and pop culture gave you.

Brett McKay: Pop culture, right.

Scott Hambrick: It’s just there. It’s baked in. By using this material as food for thought, we can break that script we’re handed and refine our tools and refine the way we think about things. Adler believed and we believe that you don’t just read them, you also have to discuss these books as well because that’s where the comprehension of the material goes way, way up and that’s where you take action on what you’ve read is in the discussion.

In having those discussions, I’ve been able to know why I believe something, because when you’re 21, you’re like, “I believe this,” and if somebody holds your feet to the fire and says, “Why?” A lot of times we end up saying, “Well, ’cause, because.” Knowing why I believe something gives me permission, it gives me room to actually change my mind.

Brett McKay: Right.

Scott Hambrick: Which is interesting. Knowing firmly why you believe something will actually let you change some of your presuppositions, change [inaudible 00:12:01] later and then move off of that. Putting a stake in the ground lets you actually be able to change position more easily.

Brett McKay: Yeah. No, I thought about my experience with writing content for the site. I don’t really understand a concept until I write about it, until I’m forced to explain things, and the discussion, I think it’s the same thing with discussion. It’s that whole iron sharpens iron thing.

Scott Hambrick: We are trying to use a trivium model in addition to the great books.

Brett McKay: Yeah, trivium, what is that?

Scott Hambrick: Yeah, so the trivium is the three basic liberal arts, grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Grammar loosely is the bones of the subject, right? It’s the jargon that you use. It’s the vocabulary specific to that subject. Logic is how all of those bones of the subject organize, and then the rhetoric part is teaching, writing, persuading, using your words to get the ideas out of our consciousness into the consciousness of the other.

In our project, the seminar is the main tool we use to execute this rhetoric. We also do some writing. It’s not required, but we have opportunities for people to write and present papers and defend those papers, and they can take that really as far as they want to. In fact, we have a group inside our program who are studying Greek and Latin.

Brett McKay: Oh wow, that’s impressive.

Scott Hambrick: I’ve just extended our platform for those guys to use our accountability tools, use our online classrooms and stuff to meet and work on Greek and Latin. We’ve got some guys, I say guys, it’s men and women, but we’ve got some members that are really taking the trivium piece of this very seriously.

Brett McKay: That’s amazing. Yeah, I think I want to hit on this point of the trivium because I think it’s a very useful way to think about education because you and I probably when we got our education, I remember in history, I had teachers say, “Facts don’t matter. The dates don’t matter.” Well, in a trivium model, they say, “No, that does matter. That’s the grammar part.”

Scott Hambrick: Right.

Brett McKay: I remember my teachers being like, “You just got to be able to make an argument,” but in order to make that argument, you need to know the facts. I think we’ve had, what’s her name, Susan Wise, University of Virginia. She talks a lot about homeschooling and self-education, and she hits this point. It’s super important for you to learn basic facts because you can’t be expected to make a good argument, the rhetoric part. You can’t skip the grammar and go right to rhetoric. You have to go there.

Scott Hambrick: Yeah. Knowing the facts is how you organize yourself in the thought space. It’s how you negotiate in your mind where you are, I’m making air quotes, in an argument. You have to know the basic facts of the matter at hand or your argument is … It could be anything.

Brett McKay: It could be anything. Right, right.

Scott Hambrick: It often is, right?

Brett McKay: Right, yeah. We’re all about opinions, right? I think one of the things I found with the great books that it does for me is I’ve realized I’m just reading it still. It’s been a part of my background. I studied classics at college and I’ve done it on and off reading this stuff.

One of the things I’ve found is these guys have been grappling with these questions, like what is justice, what is courage. They’re still not getting it right. For me, it’s like, “Boy, these guys have had a hard time. They’re really smart. Maybe I should have fewer opinions, not be so certain.” It doesn’t mean you don’t have any certainties, but as you said, once you realize how hard it is to pin this stuff down, there’s a humility that comes with that.

Scott Hambrick: Socrates said that the only thing that he knew was that he didn’t know anything.

Brett McKay: Right.

Scott Hambrick: That’s why he’s probably the best teacher that ever lived, or at least our conception of him is a symbol for what the best teacher that ever lived could be. He called himself a midwife. He called himself a dad fly. He would be in the Agora, the marketplace, and some poor guy would just be trying to buy some pottery or something and he would just accost them. He’s like, “What’s virtue?” And the guy’s like, “I’m trying to buy pots.”

Brett McKay: No. Yeah. It’s funny. I have a love hate relationship with Socrates, or at least how Plato portrayed him because he sounds like an internet troll, right? Sometimes he can call off as kind of trollish.

Scott Hambrick: Oh, well, I think he was, but he’s in Athens. I’m just some redneck from Catoosa, Oklahoma, so there could be errors of fact I’m going to make here, but he’s in Athens. It’s a small town actually, 40000 people there, and not many of the people have the franchise. Not many people can vote, right? He probably knows most of the people who can vote. Actually, they own property, they’re men, they’ve been head military service. There’s not a lot of people that can vote, and he knows a great number of those people. When you read on these dialogues, he just accosts some poor guy at the well trying to get some water, he probably knows that guy and he probably knows how he voted the last time, but that’s the backstory we’re not getting. He’s like, “Hey, can you actually teach virtue?”

Brett McKay: What is virtue?

Scott Hambrick: What is virtue?

Brett McKay: You call yourself a teacher of virtue. Tell me, what is virtue?

Scott Hambrick: Yeah, what is virtue? Yeah, actually, that’s how it starts. Meno asks Socrates, the Meno, which is one of my favorite of the dialogues, Meno says to Socrates, “Hey, can virtue be taught?” Socrates goes, “Oh no, no, timeout. What’s virtue first?”

Brett McKay: Right.

Scott Hambrick: They argue about that and they really never figure it out, and then they talk about whether it can be taught. They talk about virtue, and then they talk about whether it can be taught or not. The consequences of this short little story are enormous. Can you teach something or not? It has consequences for child rearing, criminal justice, public education, everything.

Brett McKay: Epistemology, right?

Scott Hambrick: Right, yeah, where does knowledge come from?

Brett McKay: Where did knowledge come from, right? What is knowledge, right?

Scott Hambrick: What can be known? How do we know it? It’s all in this little 39 page dialogue and you’d have a super rich conversation about a lot of the things that matter. Back to Adler, he loved the idea of people who have the franchise, people who can vote, where essentially because I can vote, I’m responsible for you to some degree or at least responsible to you for some degree.

Brett McKay: Right.

Scott Hambrick: Adler wanted people that were voting to have had civil deep conversations about the things that matter, and using these great books is one way to do that. Me and you talk about utopia a lot. I guess I’m a utopian. I think if everybody did this in each other’s living rooms every other week or once a month and argued about justice, when the stakes are low, we’re reading Meno or we’re reading The Republic and the stakes are low, I think discourse in the public would be more civil. I think voting would be more reliable. I think we’d have a better outcome.

Brett McKay: Right. Well, let’s hit on the symposium part. That was a big part of it. Adler didn’t just want people to read these. You can read these individually and get something out of it, but Adler envisioned, and some of these other proponents of the great books, they wanted people having conversations. They basically wanted people to have a college class philosophy class experience in their homes with their neighbors and friends.

Scott Hambrick: Adler advocated for what he called a shared inquiry model. There’s nobody in charge.

Brett McKay: There’s no teacher.

Scott Hambrick: There’s no teacher.

Brett McKay: Right, okay.

Scott Hambrick: In fact, we hear that, too. I tell the guys that host our seminars, “If you get taught teaching, you’re fired,” because the reading and discussion of these books should be a very personal experience. We’ll go back to that.

It’s a shared inquiry model, so we do have, even if you do a home great books group, you’re going to have somebody that’s nominally in charge. They start the meeting and finish the meeting and keep it on track, but they’re the first among equals and they’re asking questions about the book just like everybody else is.

In asking those questions, you bring the consciousness of the entire group to bear on the idea in the book, and talking to those other consciousnesses about these ideas is very [inaudible 00:20:14]. It helps us round out the trivium and it helps us actually interact in a physical way and mental way with the text. Those two things are necessary I think for the book to actually transform your brain, transform you, make you into the new person.

Brett McKay: No, I totally agree. Well, let’s talk about how your thing started, the online, because I’m a part of a book group, nominally. I’m not as active as I wish I would.

Scott Hambrick: You drop in sometimes.

Brett McKay: I drop in sometimes. I remember when you first were getting this thing going a couple years ago. What prompted you to say, “I want to read these great books, but I don’t want to do this by myself”? How did that whole thing happen and how did your personal experience turn into, “I’m going to offer a service to other people so they can experience this as well”?

Scott Hambrick: Well, it’s a crusade.

Brett McKay: You’re on a mission. You are utopian.

Scott Hambrick: Yes, I am. No. Well, we were sending my kids to a little snotty prep school, private school here in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and I was unsatisfied with the education they were getting. My wife and I decided to home educate the kids.

In doing that, I realized that my education wasn’t as full as it could be and I started figuring about how could I make up for these deficits as a busy guy in his late 30s? How would I do that? I found the great books program and started working on that a little bit, and then I realized that I did lack that group experience, that discussion.

A friend of mine, Jim Fur and I decided, “We’re going to start a group.” I have a dining room table with eight chairs, and Jim was coming to the meetings, and so I wrote six letters to six men that I knew and invited them to come to the group. All of them came but you.

Brett McKay: I’ll be honest. I was super stoked. I was like, “This is amazing. This is great that someone’s doing this.” I didn’t want to commit and I didn’t have the bandwidth.

Scott Hambrick: I understand, but I knew that you had actually taken up that project on your own, and then I wrote one more letter because you bounced me, and then that guy came and then the group grew and we’ve been meeting on the third Thursday at my house now for almost four years. We’ve read 12000 pages.

Brett McKay: Yeah. Where are we at? We’re doing Aquinas right now, right?

Scott Hambrick: Yes, Thomas Aquinas.

Brett McKay: Thomas Aquinas.

Scott Hambrick: Metaphysical stuff this month.

Brett McKay: It’s four years, and you guys started at The Iliad, and we’re like, what? What century are we in now?

Scott Hambrick: I don’t even know. What is it, 1100?

Brett McKay: 1100. It takes a long time to get through this stuff. There’s the really hard one, Augustine. Augustine was tough.

Scott Hambrick: Yeah, we read all of The City of God.

Brett McKay: The City of God.

Scott Hambrick: It’s 1100 pages, and he’s just everybody’s grumpy grandpa. He’s crusty. He’s kind of funny, though.

Brett McKay: He is funny. He’s kind of snarky about the Romans and their barbaric beliefs.

Scott Hambrick: Yeah. Well, that’s how it started, and I loved the group. I loved what it’s done, the guys that come to the group won’t miss it. It’s a big part of their life now. You and I were talking out in the garage gym one day and you’re like, “You really ought to do that online,” so we did.

January 8th, we kicked the door open at We’ve been open now for six months or whatever it is, and I think we’re at almost a half a million pages collectively. I’ve had several people email me thanking me. I’m going to get choked up. They said that they’d never read a book before and they read The Iliad and they couldn’t have done it without it. We’ve got auto mechanics, HVAC guys, nurses, stay at home moms, all kinds of people doing this, people that have never read a book before. Can you imagine the first book that you’ve ever finished was The Iliad?

Brett McKay: The Iliad, no. The first book I ever finished was like The Boxcar Children.

Scott Hambrick: Which is good, though. I loved that. I love those. Yeah.

Brett McKay: That’s amazing. You’re kind of fulfilling Adler’s dream here. He wanted the everyman, this was supposed to be an education for every free democratic western citizen. They need to know this stuff.

I think one of the reasons I encouraged you to get this online, because we’ve talked about this before on The Barbell Logic Podcast, is that there’s a lot of people, they want that. They want a group of people they can meet with and discuss ideas with, but they don’t have any friends. I think you’ve had that issue. I think you mentioned it one time on your Instagram feed and people were like, “I want to do this, but I only know one guy.”

Scott Hambrick: Yeah. A lot of people don’t know how to host an event.

Brett McKay: They don’t know to host. They don’t know how to host. Right.

Scott Hambrick: Yeah., it’s super awesome. Go signup. It’s way better to do it at home. If you can get five, six, eight people to come to your home on a regular basis, eat some good cheese, and talk about these books, it’s a better experience, but it’s really hard. People in metropolitan areas often don’t have the space to do that. A lot of people don’t know five, six, eight people that’ll read stuff like this. It’s tough.

Brett McKay: You might know 10 people in your social circle, but how many of them want to read The Iliad and discuss it, or read St. Augustine and discuss it? It’s probably not many people. What I think the value that you provide is you’re able to get people who want to do this and give them that symposium. You sign up, and it is a paid service. I know you encourage it. Sign up. It’s fantastic, but if you-

Scott Hambrick: Do it at home.

Brett McKay: Do it at home. The lists are out there. They’re free. Do it on your own.

Scott Hambrick: Yeah. Let me say a little bit about the list.

Brett McKay: Right.

Scott Hambrick: If you just Google Great Books of the Western World list, you’re going to find that. You can go find the St. John’s College reading list. You can find the University of Chicago Basic Program reading list. The lists are out there.

Brett McKay: Yeah, there’s tons of lists.

Scott Hambrick: Yeah. They’re all good.

Brett McKay: Yeah, but if you want that symposium part and you’re having a hard time finding people in your-

Scott Hambrick: Now, wait a minute, the symposium, that’s the drinking.

Brett McKay: Okay, that’s the drinking. Well, there is drinking.

Scott Hambrick: There is drinking at ours.

Brett McKay: At yours. I don’t imbibe. I get the benefit of that because everyone gets loosened up in vino veritas.

Scott Hambrick: Right.

Brett McKay: The seminar aspect, if you want that and you can’t get it where you’re at, Online Great Books can do that for you.

Scott Hambrick: That’s right.

Brett McKay: As you said, there’s no teacher. There’s just a facilitator. There’s midwives of thoughts, right?

Scott Hambrick: Yeah. If you sign up with us, we send you a hard copy text directly to your house. We really think that reading difficult material requires, it’s best, requires a paper book.

Brett McKay: I prefer it. Also, it’s just nice having a collection.

Scott Hambrick: It is. Yeah, when you turn around at the end of the year and you see that stack, that knee high stack of books that you went through, it’s pretty great. We send you that to your home. We’ve got a chat community that’s almost too busy for me to keep up with. They’re talking about the text, talking to other groups. Once a month, we have a two hour online meeting where they have a similar experience and we have one of our trained hosts lead those things.

Brett McKay: And they’re just asking questions.

Scott Hambrick: They’re asking questions. For example, if we were going to talk about The Iliad-

Brett McKay: Let’s kind of give people a sample of what an Adlerian great books seminar, what are the questions? Like I said, we read The Iliad.

Scott Hambrick: Yeah, so if we were going to kick off with an Iliad session right now, and it was just me and you and I’m the seminar leader for the night, I might just open the thing up and say, “So we’ve read The Iliad now. We’ve read the whole thing.” No spoilers, there’s no Trojan horse in this one. “I want to start the discussion tonight by asking you, what is war?”

A good open-ended Socratic question like that will let us ultimately talk about everything in that book almost. It’s about the Trojan War and I ask, “What is war?” Well, Brett, you’ve read The Iliad. What’s war?

Brett McKay: What do you think war is? Well, the ultimate competition.

Scott Hambrick: Would a sporting event then constitute war?

Brett McKay: It is a simulation of war.

Scott Hambrick: We simulate it to make it safer then, so does that imply violence, then? Does it have to be violent to be a war?

Brett McKay: Yeah, I’d say it’s some sort of violence. It doesn’t have to be physical violence necessarily. It could be-

Scott Hambrick: Oh, a trade war.

Brett McKay: It could be a trade war, or it could be, I’m trying to think another type of, psychological.

Scott Hambrick: The war on drugs.

Brett McKay: The war on drugs, right. You’re trying to cause another party to submit or eliminate them completely.

Scott Hambrick: In the instance of a war on drugs, that’s really not nominally at war. Is that a rhetorical thing?

Brett McKay: Yeah, it’s rhetorical because drugs can’t fight back.

Scott Hambrick: Right. Oh, so there has to be an opponent.

Brett McKay: I would say there would have to be-

Scott Hambrick: An active opponent.

Brett McKay: An active opponent. Yeah, when you say war, it’s metaphor.

Scott Hambrick: In that case. For the war on drugs, it’s rhetorical. A real war implies violence and an active opponent.

Brett McKay: I would say so, yes. That’s kind of where I’m at, maybe, but I could be wrong.

Scott Hambrick: Right. Well-

Brett McKay: You have other people chime in.

Scott Hambrick: Yeah, and there’s eight other people in the room or 15 other people in the room and there are groups of people in these seminars that just scratch their chin and listen carefully.

Brett McKay: That’s fine.

Scott Hambrick: That’s great, because the next time they may jump in and somebody else will lay out, and there are people that bring complaints about the books, like, “Oh man, I don’t get it. What the heck.” They bring a complaint, which is legit, because not all of these books, they’re not-

Brett McKay: Some of them are really-

Scott Hambrick: They rub you the wrong way.

Brett McKay: They rub you the wrong way, or you just don’t jive with it.

Scott Hambrick: That’s the other kind of thing, where like, “I read this. I don’t get it.”

Brett McKay: I think there’s value in that.

Scott Hambrick: There is value in that.

Brett McKay: Right.

Scott Hambrick: Like I said, you can bring all these other consciousnesses to bear on that thing that you don’t get, and maybe they can help you in turn get it.

Brett McKay: Right.

Scott Hambrick: What happens more often is the guy says, “I don’t get it,” and somebody who thinks they got it says, “Oh, well, this is the answer,” and then they get disabused of that, which is also pretty interesting. Back to the war thing, we talk about The Iliad, you end up talking about just war [crosstalk 00:30:27] cause, the role of man in the state. There are guys that rode boats that had no skin in this game ultimately, until they were conscripted. There’s so much you can talk about that, and it’s maybe a work of fiction. It’s fictional lives. We don’t even know what the thing is.

Brett McKay: Right. With The Iliad, you could talk about honor. What is honor?

Scott Hambrick: Honor.

Brett McKay: Is honor a good thing? Well, we did the Aeneid. That was one of my favorites that we did here at your place. We spent I don’t know how long discussing what is duty and is duty good.

Scott Hambrick: Right. Yeah. That’s a big problem, actually. Is duty good? Back to Adler. If we have a large, large number of people in our society that develop a complete concept of what duty is, I’m not even dictating what that is, I think that that has good consequences for living amongst each other. That’s going to change your notions about paying taxes.

Brett McKay: Voting.

Scott Hambrick: Voting, war, everything.

Brett McKay: Or even family. In The Aeneid, I think we talked about this, for them, for Aeneas, duty was more about piety to your family. That’s a problem that everyone faces. Well, my family really is bringing me down. They’re kind of toxic. For me, I got to get away from them to be better, but do I have a duty? Do I have a duty as a son to still take care of mom and dad even though they treated me like garbage?

Scott Hambrick: They put cigarettes out on me.

Brett McKay: Right.

Scott Hambrick: Now mom’s sick.

Brett McKay: Yeah. I have a friend, he said these are the Tuesday afternoon questions. It’s the questions that are relevant, not in the big picture, but on Tuesday afternoon, how does this affect your life? I think that’s a great example of that.

Scott Hambrick: Duty. Back to The Iliad. I think it’s book six, I think. Hector, who’s the Trojan hero, goes back to this chambers and his wife’s there and he’s got a baby, and she says, “Hey, we’ve been in the walls for 10 years and it’s been okay. You don’t have to go back out there. Don’t go out there.” He’s like, “I have to.” He goes back out on the field of battle and doesn’t make it. It’s just this heart wrenching scene about his duty to the state, his duty to his wife and his child, honor. He has to go back out because of his honor. It’s crazy. It’s crazy.

Brett McKay: You guys are right now really ancient. When people think of the great books, they often think Plato, Iliad. You said Wittgenstein is the latest addition, but besides philosophy, is there fictional literature in there? Are you going to read Dickens and things like that?

Scott Hambrick: Yeah, there’s Dickens in there, Swift, Shakespeare.

Brett McKay: Shakespeare, I know, yeah.

Scott Hambrick: Twain.

Brett McKay: Yeah, Mark Twain’s in there. They’ve added. I’m curious, are there any religious texts? Do they have the bible, the Quran, the Gita?

Scott Hambrick: Well, it’s of the west.

Brett McKay: Okay, so it’s western.

Scott Hambrick: It’s western. If you go look at Great Books of the Western World or the St. John’s Deal, whatever, you’re going to find the Christian bible in there. We don’t read it, not because I’m against it, I just don’t know how to do it online and do a good job. It’s just so charged.

Brett McKay: It is really charged.

Scott Hambrick: If you have a seminar and you’re talking about the bible and some person says, “This is the inherent word of God,” and the other guy says, “Bible is a myth,” we’re just off the rails.

Brett McKay: Right, or if you’ve got Calvinists and Catholics.

Scott Hambrick: Yeah. I don’t know how to do a good job of that.

Brett McKay: I think it takes a certain kind of yeah, person, to be in there, to intellectually have your beliefs but still be intellectually curious. It definitely takes a certain type, and it’s hard. I admit it’s hard.

Scott Hambrick: The good news is, the bible is probably the most discussed book out there. If you want to get in a discussion group covering that, they’re done at your church or whatever three days a week, that one’s not too hard to cover. We’ve opted to stay away from that, although I think it is foundational. It’s important. The canon references it all the time.

Brett McKay: You’re reading St. Augustine.

Scott Hambrick: We’re reading St. Augustine.

Brett McKay: The bible’s going to be in there, references.

Scott Hambrick: Yeah. Yeah, that’s one of the things that people ask me. They’re like, “Well, how are you reading St. Augustine? How are you eating Aquinas without reading the bible?” Well, first of all, so many of us have read it, but Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, they cite heavily and the material that you need from the bible is cited in their texts. They let you know what you need there. We have opted to not cover it. I think people should do it. I don’t want to be responsible for that one.

Brett McKay: Yeah. I think everyone should at least read the bible once all the way through, because it’s a lot of fun. The Old Testament, it’s crazy. It’s interesting.

Scott Hambrick: I said for The Iliad, our kickoff question might be, “What is war?” A good kickoff question can often be, “So you’ve read this book. What is the author’s project?”

Brett McKay: Yeah, what’s he trying to do?

Scott Hambrick: What’s he trying to do? Another good question can be, “What is this book?” What is it? The Iliad, what is that? Is it historical fiction? What is it?

Brett McKay: Is it propaganda or is it maybe a critique? What’s interesting about The Iliad, it was written by Homer. Who is Homer?

Scott Hambrick: Who is Homer?

Brett McKay: That’s another question. Who is Homer?

Scott Hambrick: It’s a great one, especially when you get to The Odyssey. To me, it’s clear they’re not written by the same person.

Brett McKay: Right.

Scott Hambrick: They don’t read alike at all.

Brett McKay: Homer, whoever he was or multiple, there could be multiple people making that. That’s another theory out there. That’s fun to explore. He was Greek, but when he writes The Iliad, he paints the Trojans as the good guys in a way. That’s kind of interesting. Why would Homer, a Greek, do that with the Trojans? That’s a question. Say, “What’s going on there?”

Scott Hambrick: Yeah, and those are the kind of things that we discuss. In your home groups, those are the kind of things that you can discuss and approaches that you can take towards these books. If we were going to do a session on the Old Testament, let’s say, which is a big chunk to cover in a one or two hour seminar and you’re like, “Hey, what’s the project here? What’s the author trying to accomplish? What is this? What is this?” When we’re at our best, we can approach those questions and dig into it and really benefit, and when we’re not at our best, we flip the label over and storm out.

Brett McKay: Right. We had a fun discussion with this on The Aeneid when we were discussing what’s the point of The Aeneid, why was Virgil writing this, what was the point? Because The Aeneid, for those of you that don’t know, basically they took The Odyssey.

Scott Hambrick: It’s fan fiction.

Brett McKay: It’s fan fiction of The Odyssey but made it Roman. It’s about the finding of Rome. Aeneas goes on this adventure. He’s at the Trojan War. He comes home, goes on this crazy adventure, and he ends up founding Rome. It’s fan fiction, but it’s like, but why did he do that? What was his goal in doing that? We had a pretty long discussion about is he creating a founding myth to give the Roman people a sense of who they are.

Scott Hambrick: Yeah. Today, that’s my reading of it, he wrote that to culturize these Romans and to hold them together. We have that. We don’t have one text, but we’ve got stories about-

Brett McKay: George Washington.

Scott Hambrick: George Washington chopping down the cherry tree.

Brett McKay: Ben Franklin with his kite.

Scott Hambrick: Yeah. As Americans, we’re honest. We’re curious. We got Paul Revere and his ride. We’re brave people. We have this. It’s not all in one story but we have this founding myth in that pre-literate, I don’t know, it’s not pre-literate, but in a Roman society at that time, it was probably harder to put that founding myth forward, so he did that.

Brett McKay: Right. We had the discussion, is that useful? Is that good? Is it good to tell people stories that aren’t necessarily factual but are hitting on some important truths? The distinction, Indiana Jones, right? Archeologists look for facts. We’re looking for truth. There’s a difference between facts and truth. That’s a great one. What is the difference between facts and truth?

That’s what I love about the seminar because you start somewhere and you think you’re going to go somewhere else and then you’re like, “Well, what about this?” It’s just so much fun to see where you go.

Scott Hambrick: That is fun. It is fun. You get to tear yourself down and maybe build yourself back up, and it’s really interesting. Yeah, so Plato, he talks about is it okay to lie to get people to do the right thing?

Brett McKay: Right. It’s The Republic, the noble lie.

Scott Hambrick: Yeah. Is it okay?

Brett McKay: Right. Yeah, for those of you who don’t know, I think The Republic, The Republic is a utopian government. It’s this ideal. If you actually read The Republic, you’re like, “This sounds terrible.” You’re born and you’re automatically sorted into one of three-

Scott Hambrick: Gold, bronze, and silver people.

Brett McKay: Right. Whether you have children or not is completely determined by it.

Scott Hambrick: If you do have kids, they take them away from you and raise them in a commune. Crazy. Here, is The Republic satire?

Brett McKay: Yeah, that’s another good question. There’s some people who say Plato is often very satirical and other people say, “No, he’s dead serious. He wanted to do it.” For that republic to start, he had to convince people. Basically he said, “We have to tell people that they are either gold, silver, or bronze.” That’s the noble lie. This is the creation story that we have to make up for people to get onboard with this.

Again, going back to how all these great books are iterative, Republic, you have, what was it, Thomas Moore talking about utopia, and utopianism started with Plato, this idea that you can create a perfect society. You see that with Moore later on. You see it with Marx, that influence in the soviet union, what’s going on there.

Scott Hambrick: Then you end up with dystopia and you end up with 1984 and Brave New World.

Brett McKay: Those things wouldn’t exist. It’s hard to understand that completely what’s going on there if you don’t read The Republic.

Scott Hambrick: Yeah. Today, as Americans especially, we take it for granted or we think it’s a given that you can design the government system that you live under. Plato is the first person that says that maybe that’s possible. Maybe it is possible to sit down with a pencil and paper and figure out the best way to govern people. Up until then, it’d have been pretty much government had been emergent and kind of futile or whatever, tribal and emergent, and he said, “No.”

Whether it’s satire or not, he introduces the idea that we can thoughtfully come up with a way to govern ourselves, and then he passes the baton to Aristotle and he writes the politics and he puts forth how he thinks maybe it should be done and off you go. So interesting.

Brett McKay: Yeah. Well, I’m curious, so let’s say someone wants to take up this baton and they do it themselves. They’re like, “I’m going to start reading the great books.” Do you have any suggestions based on your experience in maybe reading Adler? Because Adler wrote a book called How to Read a Book.

Scott Hambrick: I think you start with How to Read a Book.

Brett McKay: How to Read a Book. Broadly, how does he recommend people read these texts to get the most out of it?

Scott Hambrick: Yeah. He talks about there are four levels of reading. You make an inspectional reading, you pass over the thing, you look at the table of contents, the headings, maybe look through the index a little bit, get an idea of what the thing’s about, and then you do a little closer reading and then eventually, once you’ve read enough and you’re good enough, you can do what he calls syntopical reading where when you read these books, you’re actually reading them in context with all the other things you’ve read. As you read, you can juxtapose them with the other ideas that you hold or other ideas you’ve read. You can do that on the fly. That’s the highest level of reading.

He talks about how to do that in that book. He talks about how to make notes. I think it’s really important. I was a school kid in the ’70s and ’80s and they taught me to skim and scan. They taught me to speed read. That’s not how you do it when the stakes are high. That’s the way you read the newspaper, but that’s not the way you read difficult important material. A lot of us have that sort of a training, and Adler gives you permission to go slow, to not understand, tells you it’s okay to struggle. If you start with How to Read a Book, that will set you up for I think more success in reading these important books.

Brett McKay: You can’t speed read through this stuff.

Scott Hambrick: You can’t speed read through it.

Brett McKay: You have to make time to read. How much time does someone have to devote a day to reading? Does it take an hour? Is it just 30 minutes?

Scott Hambrick: Well, we’ll take what we can get, right? Don’t strive for perfection. Do what you can, but the and in my home group, we try to pick chunks, reading chunks that we can get done in three one hour sessions a week. We think that that’s not too much to ask from busy people.

I do think if you’ve only got 15 minutes, it takes a little while to get in the groove, and sometimes I have to reread that first page or two that I picked up in the session, the reading session. 15 minutes is really nothing. An hour’s a pretty good chunk, so three one hour chunks a day, you’re going to read 3000 pages a year, an average person. Sometimes the material is really, really difficult and we end up reading maybe six, eight pages an hour, like Plato’s Protagoras. Some of this stuff’s tough. Other times, it’s light and it’s airy and it’s fun and you just fly through it and you read all of Prometheus Bound in an hour.

Brett McKay: Yeah, tragedies you can read and they’re fun to read.

Scott Hambrick: I say it’s fun. It’s dreary stuff, but the doing is fun.

Brett McKay: Right, right, right. Yeah, for me, one tip I have for people, this is just my personal experience, yeah, whenever you read something and you don’t understand it, don’t stop.

Scott Hambrick: That’s right.

Brett McKay: Just keep reading. Make a mark so you know I’m going to go back here and hit this part a little bit harder, but just keep reading, because if you let yourself get bogged down, you’re never going to make any progress.

Scott Hambrick: Aquinas is doing this to me on every single page. I read a paragraph and I’m like, “I don’t get it,” and then he explains it. Two paragraphs later, he ties all the loose ends up. I’m like, “Oh, I get it.” Also, I think I’m a pretty good reader. I’ve got some reps in. I’ve got some experience. Some of these books, I’m really lucky if I squeeze 8% or 10% out of them. That’s okay. That’s okay.

I tell people all the time, The Iliad, all of these books, one of the reasons they’re great books is because they will meet you where you are. If you’re a 14 year old kid and you want to read The Aeneid, it’s a great action adventure story. You don’t have to deal with issues of duty and founding myths. It’s a great action adventure story.

Brett McKay: Just enjoy it for that.

Scott Hambrick: Enjoy it, and then when you’re an older person and you read that, it can be about legacy. It can be about your grandkids. It can be about posterity. These books, all of them will meet you where you are.

Brett McKay: That’s why sometimes you have to reread them at different times in your life. The Odyssey is that for me. When I first read The Odyssey, it was just a fun read. It’s an adventure story, the first adventure story, but then I had Dan Mendelson on my podcast. He’s a classics professor. He wrote a book. It was a memoir about his dad taking his Odyssey seminar and that was crazy because it opened up an idea that no, this is a story about fathers and sons, what war did to that family. It’s about marriage, Penelope and Odysseus.

Scott Hambrick: That’s my favorite part.

Brett McKay: It’s the best part.

Scott Hambrick: Odysseus is gone for 20 years and he comes home and his wife doesn’t recognize him and he says, “Oh, I know about your bed.”

Brett McKay: Right.

Scott Hambrick: Beautiful symbolism. He found this giant tree and he cut this thing up and he made their bed out of the trunk of this tree. It was on the second floor. He built their home around this bed that was rooted in the ground, and it was secret. She knew that only he knew about her bed.

Brett McKay: Right.

Scott Hambrick: I just cried like a baby.

Brett McKay: Right.

Scott Hambrick: It’s marriage.

Brett McKay: Marriage, it’s those secrets that only you and your wife know.

Scott Hambrick: Yeah, yeah, and the conversations that you have.

Brett McKay: The inside jokes, the pet names.

Scott Hambrick: So good.

Brett McKay: That’s how you develop a strong relationship. This project has just started. With a lot of your groups, you’re with Plato. Personally, you’re on Aquinas. Are there books that you’re really looking forward to getting into?

Scott Hambrick: The people that signed up in January are now digging into Plato, and I’m super excited for those people. Nobody reads Plato and says, “Boy, that was a waste of time.” I’m super excited for those people. I’m always excited for the next book, man. I really am. We’ve got some Dante coming up in our home group. Come Thanksgiving time, we’ll hit Dante. I’m excited about that. I’m always excited about the next one. I really am. Let me take that back. I was not excited about City of God.

Brett McKay: Yeah. I remember when you sent the email out. It was like, “Guys, this is not going to be fun.”

Scott Hambrick: Oh, it’s a giant brick of a book, but it’s worth doing.

Brett McKay: It’s worth doing.

Scott Hambrick: Here’s the thing about that thing, the thing about that thing. It’s 1200 pages depending on what edition you get, but it was so important that people hand copied that at night by candlelight on dead sheepskins so that we could get it. It was so important to them that they copied that by hand for centuries.

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about that. What are the big ideas that it hits that we’re still grappling with today?

Scott Hambrick: In the City of God?

Brett McKay: Yeah, City of God.

Scott Hambrick: Oh, the nature of God, the nature of man and society, what’s right, what’s wrong, where do ethics come from, what is the role of morality in the state.

Brett McKay: Yeah. He was a neo-Platonist, right, correct?

Scott Hambrick: Sort of, neo-Platonist, yeah, yeah. He’s very influenced by the Platonists. He was for a minute. I don’t know a great deal about them, but he was not Christian.

Brett McKay: Right.

Scott Hambrick: Underwent this conversion experience and then his mother was a Christian, Monica. That was her name. She prayed and prayed and prayed that he would have a conversion experience.

Brett McKay: He was a rightist.

Scott Hambrick: Yeah, he had a concubine and a kid by this concubine and then he ended up having this conversion experience and ended up being the bishop of Hippo and then he wrote confessions. Actually, I may have that out of order, but he wrote his confessions where he pretty much, he’s like a 12 step person. He takes his personal inventory, all of his character defects and flaws, everything he’s done wrong and he writes it up.

It’s the first autobiography that we read, autobiographical work, and he tells the story of the pear tree. He’s like, “The worst thing I’ve ever done was I stole this pear not because I wanted to eat it, not because it tasted good, but just to steal it. The stakes were low and I did it because it was naughty.” He’s like, “It’s the worst thing I’ve ever done.” You could talk about that for hours.

Brett McKay: Right. Now, he’s got some great stuff in the confessions about unordered loves or disordered loves. The turmoil in your life is often caused by not “loving” the right things or putting in the right priorities. Whether you’re Christian or not, that gives you something to think about. It’s like, “How am I prioritizing my life that will allow me to flourish?” Not necessarily be happy, but flourish, live a good life.

Scott Hambrick: Right. Adler says, and I believe, and so many of us believe that reading these books sets us up to have the good life.

Brett McKay: Right. That’s the whole point of it.

Scott Hambrick: That’s the whole point.

Brett McKay: That’s the whole point of this conversation. That’s the whole point of philosophy.

Scott Hambrick: It’s about that. Reading these things is about that. It’s why we read about Penelope and that marriage. We realize how much it meant to Odysseus. We read about justice and virtue in Plato, and then we read about stealing those pears and the ultimate misery it caused him. The guy he stole them from probably never knew it disappeared, but he talks about what it did to him. Aristotle before him talks about continence and incontinence. He talks about knowing what’s right but not doing it anyway and knowing what’s wrong and knowing that it’s wrong and doing the wrong thing anyway. We start to put our personal decisions into a more orderly context. It does make for a better life. It also makes you miserable, too. It feels like you’re part of a secret club, like you’ve got the owner’s manual and you’re like, “Why is nobody else reading this? Why did they not know these things?”

Brett McKay: Yeah. What’s great, too, we’ve been discussing a lot of philosophy, but you get to literature and the literature can be really just as impactful and thought-provoking compared to the philosophy because it takes those ideas. It takes the grammar, recall like Plato and Aquinas, the grammar, the ideas, and then puts them in a story which allows you to play with those ideas in a different way. I think whenever you put something into a narrative it helps you remember it better. That gets fun. You get to talk about or think about that, as well.

Scott Hambrick: Yeah. You get to think about it and not actually have to do all of it.

Brett McKay: Right.

Scott Hambrick: Isn’t that the mark of the wise person is they don’t have to make all the mistakes themselves? It’s wonderful. The people that are reading this with us seem to be having a wonderful time. I get very, very kind emails. They get me all choked up about these people that are reading these books. Guys are taking breaks. They’re working the autobody shop and on their smoke break they’re reading Sophocles.

Brett McKay: That’s awesome.

Scott Hambrick: It is.

Brett McKay: That’s how it should be. That’s how it should be.

Scott Hambrick: My dream is that we’ve just got electricians apprentices and just regular folks all over the country that are working all day, applying their trade, and then come home, and they don’t watch Netflix. They’re cracking one of these books, and then they do it for years and the next thing you know, they’re 40, they’re 50, they’re 60 and they’re the kind of people that we all want to be. We all want to be the kind of person that knows this stuff, that’s been through it.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Scott Hambrick: I think we can do it. The thing is, you ask how long does it take to read these books, what’s the time commitment. Does it even matter? Five years from now you’re going to be five years older. If you spent the time on this over those five years, you’ll have been through that material, you’ll know it, and you’ll be changed by it.

Brett McKay: Right.

Scott Hambrick: If you binge watch whatever show it is, five years from now, will you be changed by that?

Brett McKay: I was changed by Cobra Kai. That was pretty good. No, but you’re right. Going back, the connection with weight training, which you’re also a starting strength coach, that’s the same thing. It’s never too late. You might not get through all of it. You might die. You might never reach a 600 pound deadlift but you’re better for just getting started and doing it now.

Scott Hambrick: That’s right. You start where you are and you do better. That’s all we do.

Brett McKay: That’s all you can do.

Scott Hambrick: I have a 16 year old and I have a gentleman in his 80s and then everybody in between. You’re talking about Mendelson’s discussion about The Odyssey. He leads some of our seminars, he has a philosophy PhD and he’s been a big help to me in getting this started, his dad’s taking this too.

Brett McKay: That’s awesome.

Scott Hambrick: Yeah. He’s awesome. I’m going to tear up again.

Brett McKay: No, that’s a great experience to have.

Scott Hambrick: Yeah.

Brett McKay: Well, Scott, this has been a good conversation. Where can people go to learn more about what you’re doing?

Scott Hambrick: Go to You can go sign up there. If you give the coupon code AOM, you get 25% off your first three months, and it helps support Brett’s show, too. We will send you a couple books right off the bat. We’ll send you How to Read a Book and The Iliad and the next book you go into is The Odyssey and then after that, we read Prometheus Bound and The Oresteia. This is the book about Agamemnon’s family.

Brett McKay: That’s great stuff.

Scott Hambrick: It’s crazy.

Brett McKay: No, it’s really good. I’m curious, if someone’s listening to this right now and they want to get started, they want to get a taste of what it’s like reading the great books, is there one that you’d recommend that this is a good one to cut your teeth on? It’s not super intimidating. You just do it in a week or two.

Scott Hambrick: Yeah. Well, I love The Iliad. I don’t know if that’s a week or two. I love The Iliad, but if you just want to see what the heck all of this is about, Prometheus Bound is wonderful. It’s a very short little Greek tragedy. Plato’s dialogue, The Meno, I think is a wonderful place to start because it’s about learning. It’s about education. It’s about virtue. You can go get it. You can go to and get the Benjamin Jowett translation for free there. It’s pretty good. It’s not the best one, but it’s a pretty good translation. I don’t know, 39 pages, something like that. You can get the beats, you can get the feel of what Plato’s like, what Greek philosophy is like and get your feet wet.

Brett McKay: That’s awesome. That’s great. Well, Scott, thanks so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Scott Hambrick: Yeah, it’s been wonderful. Thanks man.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Scott Hambrick. He’s the founder of Online Great Books. You can find out more information about his program at As Scott himself even said, you don’t need to sign up for his program to do the great books. There’s plenty of lists online we’ve linked to in our show notes. If you got some people who want to discuss this stuff, start one in your living room today, but if you’re having trouble finding people to discuss the great books with, it’s definitely a great service to check out. If you do decide to use it, use code AOM at checkout for 25% off your first three months.

Also, check out our show notes at, where you’ll find links to different great books lists that are out there, as well as links to resources that we discussed in this conversation.

Well, that wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out The Art of Manliness website at and if you enjoyed the podcast, you got something out of it, I appreciate if you could take one minute to give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher. It helps out a lot. As always, thank you for your continued support. Until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.

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