I regret to write that pleasure reading time is scarce during the academic year. I miss the days of summer during which I possessed more time to read. Many books that I have read, including for the purposes of both school and pleasure, have changed my perspective and powered my growth as a college student. What follows is a list of a few of the books that have inspired me and how so:
I read McCullough’s biography of one of the founding fathers of these United States over the summer. The book enlightened my mind towards various moments of history and facets of humanity.
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I recall specific episodes that motivated me to be a better student, that convinced me to embrace the act of learning more passionately, that proved to me that a proper, thorough, enlightening education is a gift to be cherished. Episodes from the young Adams’ own education are an example. His father, through discipline, ensured Adams seriously pursued his education as a boy.
Throughout his childhood and at Harvard, Adams studied the Greek and Latin languages, mathematics, and philosophy, among other subjects as well. Adams—perhaps because of his upbringing—came to have a profound curiosity about the world and human nature that remained with him throughout his life. By reading his own writings about the importance of enlightenment through true education, I was convinced that receiving an education of the highest quality is of preponderant importance.
Adams’ embrace of education was present in his parenting. He made sure his sons, especially John Quincy, learned Greek and Latin, were well-read in literature and well-versed in mathematics, and knowledgeable of modern languages.
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By studying the life of Adams—and the included details of the lives of the other founding fathers—I saw how their knowledge of everything—ranging from mathematics and the then-contemporary sciences to literature and history and philosophy—made them powerful communicators and wise law-makers.
I am currently reading—slowly, in the short spurts of pleasure reading that I can find—a biography of Thomas Jefferson. His educational background was similar to Adams, although I—in my admittedly limited knowledge—believe Jefferson to have had an even greater curiosity about everything and an equally large drive to pursue the acquisition of knowledge.
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Jefferson, like Adams, kept his ability to read Latin and Greek sharp throughout his life. He was always inquiring about the latest advancements in science both in the Old and New Worlds.
While not known for his oratory, he was a persuasive and terrific writer, especially in the political realm. I believe his years spent studying Latin, Greek, and French contributed greatly to his mastery of the English language. (If you have a few moments, look up the last letter Jefferson ever sent. Dated June 24, 1826, it is his denial in response to the invitation to go to the Capitol for the fiftieth anniversary of independence. It’s powerful.)
After just discussing the benefits gained by those who pursued knowledge with an insatiable curiosity, I move on to telling you about a book that warns against strong devotion to such pursuits. I believe this to be one of the warnings or messages in Shelly’s Frankenstein—do not devote yourself fully to the pursuit of knowledge, lest you become vain, self-destructive, and devoid of morals.
The book made me realize I must have the morally right motivations for studying and for fulfilling my vocation as a student. I came to the conclusion that knowledge should be acquired for the purpose of wanting to fight for good causes on behalf of those who cannot or will not and against those who seek to bring wickedness into the world. Learning for nefarious purposes instead of for good causes will lead oneself to destruction, as seen in Frankenstein.
When I recall this theme from Frankenstein, I also recall a speech or an essay by Winston Churchill that I once read in a history course. In it he both laments the rapid advancement of science and technology in the twentieth century as well as recognizes the quality of life improvements it enabled.
He also emphasized the importance of the future generations learning both all about science and technology as well as in subjects that nourishes one's conscience, that allows one to study human nature, that allows one to learn the wickedness of man and the horrors of history, and hopefully instills confidence, a passion for independence, a skillful knowledge of language, and good morals within a person. If only Frankenstein had known this.
There are many avenues one may find themselves driving down that encourages one to pursue knowledge and enlightenment more vehemently than they ever have before. Students with a more exhaustive work ethic and more passion for a class may motivate one to work as hard as they do or have as much passion as they do.
An adult role model may inspire someone to pursue certain subjects. Similarly, a few good books can convince someone of the importance of getting a well-rounded, thorough, and enlightening education.