As some of you know, my wife and I teach our son Wes at home, mostly, which means that each summer we have to spend a good deal of time planning what we’re going to do in the coming year. He’s headed into the eleventh grade, and while his education so far has given him a sound overview of Western cultural history, we’re concerned that he hasn’t had enough experience digging deeply into particular issues, doing wide-ranging research and coming up with sophisticated theses based on what he has learned. So we’ve decided to organize the coming school year around particular topics with interdisciplinary facets to them, starting in each case with one or two books that will in different ways orient him to the issues. Our focus will be on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the West, though any non-Western topics could reach back farther.
So, for instance, one topic will start with Voltaire’s Candide and, probably, Nicholas Shrady’s book on the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755, The Last Day, and will involve philosophical optimism, the “problem of evil” for Christians and other religious believers, and associated topics.
Another unit will involve sanitation and social class in Victorian England. Wes will start by reading Dickens’s Bleak House and Stephen Johnson’s The Ghost Map, and will expand his research from there.
On this side of the Atlantic, we might have Wes read Ellis’s Founding Brothers and Garry Wills’s Cincinnatus — he has already read the Federalist Papers, so it would be interesting to have that in the background.
Or — and? — Uncle Tom’s Cabin coupled with Ann Douglas’s The Feminization of American Culture. Slavery, early feminism — lots of good stuff there.
Ranging further abroad, I am thinking about Simon Winchester’s The Man Who Loved China as an accessible way into both Chinese history and the history of technology, maybe following that up with something on the history of printing and printmaking in China.
All this to say: any thoughts? Recommendations?
UPDATE: Before you ask me about math and science, or upbraid me for my neglect, read this here comment. Sorry for neglecting to mention that in the post itself.