How To Study The Classics

Classics are a challenge to read. I once had a student admit that he had read one single page for an hour trying to understand what was going on in Cervantes Don Quixote and finally went to google to help him figure it out.  With the obstacles that classical books present us, we need resources that will help us in our quest of not only understanding the book, but coming to enjoy it more by spending time studying it for all its wisdom and worth. Below are a list of resources that should be able to help readers along the way. 

Study Guides
Study guides are great little tools for helping readers get a grip on a text. Often they are concise, easy to read and can summarize a textual problem in a way that helps the reader be able to go back and read a passage again with a sort of confidence of knowing what is actually happening

1. Crossway’s Christian Guides to the classics are limited but they have a great deal of information and wisdom from a Christian worldview provided by a world class professor in Leland Ryken at an affordable cost.

2. Harold Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations can be a bit pricey and offer some sketchy modernized views on classic works, but it gets the job done and can offer great insight if read with a critical mind. These books are expensive to buy so definitely check your library for copies first. 

3. Sparknotes is like a teacher’s worst enemy, right next to Wikipedia, but both are so valuable (and free!) Tread wisely as sometimes it may seem like a good idea to just read the spark notes instead of the book, but it just isn’t the same as reading the actual book and won’t stick to your soul like a classic work.


Textbooks on classics can really help give a broad overview on how they have influenced throughout the ages and how they interact with other classics in the great conversation. Don’t feel the obligation to read these word for word but use them as tools to give you a deeper picture.

1. The Great Books Reader

2. The Book of Great Books

3. The Western Canon

4. The Great Tradition

5. The Great Books: A Journey


One of the things I love most about living in our times is our access to quality education at little to no cost if you are trying to learn without getting a degree. iTunes University has redeemed my morning commute with all the awesome courses they offer from schools like Yale, Westminster and Cambridge for free. Open Culture has a variety of lists such as courses on Literature, History and Philosophy that will get you started! Also, make sure to check out Covenant Seminary, Reformed Theological Seminary or Westminster for solid theology courses. Carl Trueman on The Reformation, Ligon Duncan on Covenant Theology and John Frame on Philosophy have been awesome so if you need recommendations or a place to start, start with those. Enjoy!