Great Books Collections
The 51 volumes for the Harvard Classics collection were selected by Harvard President Charles W. Eliot in 1909. The set is often referred to as the “five foot shelf of books,” a tribute to Eliot’s widely-publicized claim that anyone could gain a liberal education by reading a set of books that take up no more than five feet. The Harvard Classics include a variety of full works from the Western tradition including essays, poems, novels, scientific papers, and more.
Great Books of the Western World
Forty-three years after the Harvard Classics were introduced, a new collection was born under the guidance of University of Chicago President Robert Hutchins. The Great Books of the Western World originally offered 54 volumes of chronologically-organized classics.
The majority of volumes in the Great Books set include writings from just one author. The works selected are similar in genre to those in the Harvard Classics. Additionally, the Great Books set includes an introductory volume, “The Great Conversation,” and two in-depth indexes tracing ideas between all of the works in the collection.
In 1990, the collection was updated with some edits and the inclusion of six additional books featuring modern writers. The new set is still published by Encyclopedia Britannica; the older collection is regularly sold at a discount on eBay.