For those too old, it is perhaps too late. And for those too young, maybe too soon to appreciate. Yet in that ‘efficient frontier between age 24 or 25, and 39, there is some measure of time within which to figure out not just what to do, that is to say, but develop a compass as to what is worthwhile and WHY, based on some of the best expressions of mind and soul, in the last thousand or two-thousand years.
Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji. The first true novel. Why this was so, is easy to find out. Of course, writing by a woman, not a man, unencumbered by Kanji or sophisticated Chinese Characters in Japan, not unlike in Quattrocento Italy in the early Renaissance, unencumbered by Latin and Greek but unfettered Italian, Shikibut wrote in Katakana (alternate, Hiragana et al). My god. Read the epic Edwin Seidensticker translation. If you read this thick book in under six months, you very likely are doing it wrong. Trust me on this. Go slow.
C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. The core of what it is, to inquire as to the journey of the true self. A true education, at a soul level.
Thoreau, Walden. Sometimes you like the person but not the work (mythographer and sinologist Marcia Eliade), but far more rare, when you assuredly would not like the person, but love the work. Read chapters one and two, slowly and carefully).
Kenneth Boulding, The Meaning of the Twentieth Century. Reality, as it is. Clear explication of mankind’s transition from Neolithic, to Paleolithic, to energy accumulators and extractors, that is to say, surplus food turned into productive assets and structures, aka technology, industrialization, and urbanization.
Sophocles, The Oedipus Cycle: Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone. What can I say? The best of the best. Of course, the Dudley Fitts translation. Epic. Read it slowly. Do not gorge.
Fernand Braudel, Capitalism and Material Life. Explication of the cross between society, agriculture, monetization, and the transition from animal husbandry and the division of labor. I much prefer the earlier renditions of his work, by Miriam Kocham, well before he became big time.
Homer, Odyssey (recommendation, is very conditional on single, specific recommendation. Rieu. This is the one.
Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams. Henry Adams, besides obvious erudition and relation to President John Quincy Adams, stood between two worlds, energized and awake. This is a report and a snapshot between the horse and mule and the railway, forcing its way into the night, just before nature was annihilated. We are now living, what was just seen as emergent then.
OPTIONAL BUT WORTH THE EFFORT
Johann Peter Eckermann, Goethe Conversations with Eckermann
Harris, Cannibals and Kings. Any Harris book!
PD Ouspensky, A Guide to Man’s Possible Evolutions
Gustafson, Dr. James, Self Delight in a Harsh World
The Writings of Chuang Tzu, translated by Burt Watson (of Columbia).
Ezra Pound, The ABC’s of Reading
Gary Snyder, Earth, House, Hold
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, The Bhagavad-Gita, Commentaries on books One to Six
Irving Chernev, The Greatest Chess Games Every Played.