Our Mission
It was for the sake of others that I first commenced writing biographies; but I find myself proceeding and attaching myself to it for my own; the virtues of these great men serving me as a sort of looking-glass, in which I may see how to adjust and adorn my own life. --Plutarch, Life of Timoleon.
D.W. Bebbington, The mind of Gladstone: religion, Homer, and politics, Oxford University Press, 2004

Gladstone’s intellectual struggles with those three passions --religion, Homer, and politics --are very ably summarized in Babbington’s book on Gladstone’s intellectual development. It speaks well of Gladstone that he took seriously the question of how religion and politics, or church and state ought to be related both culturally and institutionally/legally. Gladstone really did grapple mightily with the issue and his labors did produce fruit it seems to me. In some ways Gladstone was the ideal man to pursue the question of Church and State. He was an able politician and administrator in a country where Church and State issues had been life or death matters for centuries. He was also a deeply religious man who read voraciously in theology and spirituality and who all his life engaged in regular... [MORE].

Chernow, Ron, Alexander Hamilton, The Penguin Press, 2004

This a great biography of one of the greatest Americans who ever lived. Alexander Hamilton’s accomplishments are astonishing: serving brilliantly as General Washington’s Chief aide-de-camp and later bravely in combat near Yorktown; standing up to mobs after the revolutionary war out to lynch and fleece Tories; writing the charter of the Bank of New York; working tirelessly for a stronger central government after the war; writing (with Madison and Jay) the brilliant Federalist papers which became the basis for much of the intellectual and practical content of the Constitution; serving brilliantly under Washington again as Treasury secretary where he almost single handedly forged the modern financial and economic systems that are the basis for American system up to this day. A consistent abolitionist all his life, he alone among all the founding stuck his neck out during his active political career to end slavery... [MORE].

Everitt, Anthony, Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician, Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2003

This well-researched and written one-volume biography presents Cicero as an active politician, seeking the votes and alliances needed to advance specific policies. It is an excellent guide for anyone who wants to understand the motivations and methods of one of the most influential thinkers on philosophical and political problems in the history of the West. Heavy reliance on Cicero's frank private correspondence with his friend Atticus and brother Quintus shows us the private workings of Cicero's mind in a way seldom available for a figure of the ancient world. The author also makes good use of Cicero's public writings and the ancient biographies, including Plutarch's charming Life of Cicero... [MORE].

Hill, Roland, Lord Acton, Yale University Press, 2000

For the great British historian, Lord Acton (1834-1902), study of the great books of the ages was essential in bringing a person to full intellectual and spiritual maturity. Such study was good for a man because it functioned…”to open windows in every direction, to raise him to the level of his age, so that he may know the twenty or thirty forces that have made our world what it is, and still reign over it; to guard him against surprises, and against the constant sources of error within; to supply him both with the strongest stimulants and the surest guides; to give force and fullness and clearness and sincerity and independence and elevation and generosity and serenity to his mind, that he may know the method and law of the process by which error is conquered and truth is won: discerning knowledge from probability and prejudice from belief; that he may learn to master what he rejects as fully as what he adopts; that he may understand the origin as well as the strength and vitality of systems and the better motives of men who are wrong; to steel him against the charm of literary ability and talent, so that each book, thoroughly taken in shall be the beginning of a new life and shall make a new man of him”. Lord Acton; quoted in Hill, p 285-286... [MORE].

Jenkins, Roy, Gladstone, Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2002

William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898), 4 times Prime Minister of Great Britain during the height of Britain’s influence and imperial power, was an extraordinary leader and individual who repays close study. His life, like that of Queen Victoria herself, spanned most of the 19th century. He was perhaps the most eminent of the British Victorians. One can compare him only to Darwin in the extent to which he influenced the culture and lives of his countrymen during that century. He was fourth son of Sir John Gladstone, a wealthy merchant in Liverpool who attained his riches at least partially via his holdings in the slave-worked Carribean cotton and sugar plantations. Like many of the sons of the rich in England during the early Victorian period, William was educated at Eton and Christ College, Oxford. It was at Oxford apparently where the future prime Minister awoke to his three greatest passions: religion, politics and Homer... [MORE].

Van Loon, Hendrik Willem, Van Loon's Lives: Being a true and faithful account of a number of highly interesting meetings with certain historical personages, from Confucius and Plato to Voltaire and Thomas Jefferson about whom we had always felt a great deal of curiosity and who came to us as our dinner guests in a bygone year, Simon and Schuster, 1942.

For readers of Plutarch’s Lives and lovers of biographies and the stories of the great men and women of the past here is another classic compilation of Lives they (and their children) might enjoy. Because children in the modern age are no longer brought up on the stories of the exploits of the great men and women of classical age modern kids at first find Plutarch difficult going. Thus, they may want to start with a more reader-friendly text. Van Loon’s Lives, is written in a great style with lots of charming character sketches AND lots of superb intellectual content. Hendrik van Loon (1882–1944) won the first John Newbery Medal, for his ‘Story of Mankind’ (1922) written again (mostly) for children but with enough intellectual content to make it superb nourishment for adults as well... [MORE].

Lundberg, David, Olympic Wandering: Time Travel Through Greece, Zante Publishing, 2005

Like the character Homer Thrace, in the classic 1960 movie "Never on a Sunday," the American arm-chair philosopher, enamored of the ancient Athenians, and baptized in the waters of Edith Hamiltonian awe for the Grecian ideal, is, inevitably, in for a bit of a let-down when he finally visits Greece. Rather than the serene beauty and Hellenic rationality of Winckelmann or Keats, he finds Athens, a loud, dirty, overcrowded metropolis and the modern Greek, a vaguely oriental (owing to years of Turkish dominance?) and wildly exotic person of irrepressible passions, more Alcibiades than Agathon it seems. Certainly it is an exciting place and an endearing people, but, he wonders, how does it, and they, relate to the Greece he thought he knew from school-days? David Lundberg draws the connection. Tracing the travels of Ulysses --with some side excursions to the sites and sights made famous in Herodotus and Thucydides-- Lundberg takes us through modern Greece pointing out how the rugged land and never-far-away sea continue to shape the Greek character as much today at in time of Homer. We see that character, as individualistic as the thousand or more Greek isles, in the Homeric heroes, in the inventors of democracy, and in the modern Greek on the street (perhaps driving a taxi) ready to hold forth on his individual pet theories. And we see the modern Greek, like Ulysses, ever restless until he rests in his beloved and incomparable Greece.

McCullough, Colleen, Let the Dice Fly, Harpers paperbacks, 1999.

Novelist Colleen McCullough, like Shakespeare, allows us to see Caesar by observing his impact on others including his allies and enemies. Her novel is set in the tumultuous years of 54 to 48 B.C. when Caesar’s genius was rising to full noon. She covers the uprising of Gaul under Vercingetorix, Pompey's alliance with the reactionary aristocratic party of the boni, Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon and his victory at Pharsalus and she gives us remarkable portraits of Pompey, Cato, Cicero, Brutus, Mark Antony and others as they try to deal with the giant Caesar. We see Caesar mourning the death of his daughter, Julia, who was also Pompey's wife. Entirely plausibly McCullough has Caesar engage in affair with a Helvetian noblewoman who because of her love of the great man is cruelly tortured and put to death. Like his soldiers, she does not complain that she dies for Caesar..

Meier, Christian, Caesar, Basic Books, 1997

Christian Meier’s Caesar attempts to unravel the mystery of Caesar’s character by looking at the context of the crisis of the Roman republic. Meier painstakingly reconstructs the Roman version of classical Greek paideia in hopes that uncovering the education of the man will reveal his character. But the strategy seems misguided at best and hopeless in fact. While the early history of an individual like Caesar may reveal subtle clues to character what really counts is what Caesar himself determined to make of himself. To understand caesar’s character, talents and actions ask yourself what was his goal? His audacity comes from the fact that he thought ‘big’ and wanted to change the world via changing Rome... [MORE].

Parenti, Michael, The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Ancient Rome, New Press, 2004

Michael Parenti’s “The assassination of Caesar”, returns to Shakespeare’s strategy for understanding the man. Like Shakespeare, Parenti is riveted on the assassination itself and he portrays it in vivid detail. We once again examine the characters and motives of the people who killed him on March 15, 44 B.C. Parenti attempts to provide a socio-political answer as to why so many people feared Caesar. Parenti, follows Plutarch and claims that Caesar’s murderers were aristocratic senators worried that Caesar's land reforms would upset their own control over the Roman Republic. Parenti gives us the basics of the history of class conflict in the late republic in Rome (100-33 B.C.) and anyone reading Plutarch for the first time might benefit from reading this elementary but valuable history of republican Rome... [MORE].

Plutarch, Lives (vol. I), Modern Library, 2001

The "Dryden Translation" edited, with notes and preface by Arthur Hugh Clough.
Contains Theseus, Romulus, The Comparison of Romulus with Theseus, Lycurgus, Numa Pompilus, The Comparison of Numa with Lycurgus, Solon, Poplicola, The Comparison of Poplicola with Solon, Themistocles, Camillus, Pericles, Fabius, The Comparison of Fabius with Pericles, Alcibiades, Coriolanus, The Comparison of Alcibiades with Coriolanus, Timoleon, Æmilius Paulus, The Comparison of Timeleon with Æmilius Paulus, Pelopidas, Marcellus, The Comparison of Pelopidas with Marcellus, Aristides, Marcus Cato, The Comparison of Aristides with Marcus Cato, Philopœmen, Flaminius, The Comparison of Philopœmen with Flaminius, Pyrrhus, Caius Marius, Lysander, Sylla, The Comparison of Lysander with Sylla, Cimon, Lucullus, The Comparison of Lucullus with Cimon, Nicias, Crassus, and The Comparison of Crassus with Nicias.

Plutarch, Lives (vol. II), Modern Library, 2001

The "Dryden Translation" edited, with notes and preface by Arthur Hugh Clough.
Contains Sertorius, Eumenes, The Comparison of Sertorius with Eumenes, Agesilaus, Pompey, The Comparison of Pompey with Agesilaus, Alexander, Caesar, Phocion, Cate the Younger, Agis, Cleomenes, Tiberius Gracchus, Caius Gracchus, The Comparison of Tiberius and Caius Gracchus with Agis and Cleomenes, Demosthenes, Cicero, The Comparison of Demosthenes and Cicero, Demetrius, Antony, The Comparison of Demetrius and Antony, Dion, Marcus Brutus, The Comparison of Dion and Brutus, Aratus, Artaxerxes, Galba, and Otho.

Plutarch, Lives (in eleven volumes), The Loeb Classical Library, Harvard Univ. Press, 1914-1926.

Complete Greek text of the Lives with literal English translation on facing pages by Bernadotte Perrin. A "must-have" for serious students of the philosopher from Chaeronea.

Volume I.
Theseus and Romulus. Comparison.
Lycurgus and Numa. Comparison.
Solon and Publicola. Comparison.

Volume II.
Themistocles and Camillus.
Aristides and Cato the Elder. Comparison.
Cimon and Lucullus. Comparison.

Volume III.
Pericles and Fabius Maximus. Comparison.
Nicias and Crassus. Comparison.

Volume IV.
Alcibiades and Coriolanus. Comparison.
Lysander and Sulla. Comparison.

Volume V.
Agesilaus and Pompey. Comparison.
Pelopdas and Marcellus. Comparison.

Volume VI.
Dion and Brutus. Comparison.
Timoleon and Aemilius Paulus. Comparison.

Volume VII.
Demosthenes and Cicero. Comparison.
Alexander and Julius Caesar.

Volume VIII.
Sertorius and Eumenes. Comparison.
Phocion and Cato the Younger.

Volume IX.
Demetrius and Antony. Comparison.
Pyrrhus and Caius Marius.

Volume X.
Agis and Cleomenes, and Tiberius and Caius Gracchus. Comparison.
Philopoemen and Flaminius. Comparison.

Volume XI.

Plutarch, Makers of Rome, Penguin Classics, 1965

Translated and with an introduction by Scott-Kilvert, the nine lives in this volume --Coriolanus, Fabius Maximus, Marcellus, Cato the Elder, Tiberius Gracchus, Caius Gracchus, Sertorius, Brutus, Mark Antony-- were chosen as examples of how "two themes dominate the cycle of Plutarch's Roman Lives, the valour and tenacity of the Roman people in war, and their genius for political compromise." Scott-Kilvert's translation, in straight-forward comtemporary English, makes for pleasurable reading. His appendix "Antony and Cleopatra: Plutarch and Shakespeare: Myth and History" attempts to bring the methods and findings of modern historical inquiry into service in our understanding of the men and women of Plutarch's Lives. Four pages of maps help guide the modern reader through the landscape which would have been so familiar to Plutarch and his first readers.

Plutarch, Fall of the Roman Republic, Penguin Classics, 1958 & 1972

This selection of six of Plutarch's Lives includes Marius, Sulla, Crassus, Pompey, Caesar, and Cicero. Translation by Rex Warner (copyright 1958) is clear and very readable. Each live has a short introduction by Robin Seager (copyright 1972) points out the shortcomings and strengths of Plutarch as an historian of the period and as a commentator on the political scene.

Pressfield, Steven, Gates of Fire, Bantam Books, 1998

It is no exaggeration to say that the Battles of Marathon and of Thermopylae between the invading Persian armies and small Greek forces were of world historical importance as they preserved for the West and the rest of the world Greek political ideals and Greek traditions of intellectual liberty and inquiry. In the battle of Thermopylae an invading Persian army of about 500,000 (the ancient sources claim the Persian army was greater than one million soldiers!) and a small Greek force of no more than 7,000, fought at a very narrow mountain pass (chosen by the Spartan commander Leonidas to at least partially neutralize the Persian numerical strength). Amazingly the Greeks held off the Persians for several days before being annihilated. Because the small Greek force held off the massive Persian armies for several days, the battle fired the courage of the Greeks to resist and ultimately to defeat the Persian invaders. Thus, it is worthwhile remembering and honoring the warriors who fought at Thermopylae... [MORE].

Pressfield, Steven, Tides of War: A novel of Alcibiades and the Peloponnesian War, Bantam Books, 2000

Not only was Alcibiades lucky in his education, he turned out to be brilliant himself. It seemed his tutors sensed that the boy was worthy of the best they had to offer. Socrates was no slouch when it came to judging character and he counted Alcibiades one of his friends. The gods not content with giving Alcibiades the best in political and philosophical educations also gave Alcibiades physical beauty-a beauty that astonished all and that never left him even in his later years. In short, Alcibiades was rich, brilliant, politically astute and connected and beautiful. He was a fabulously gifted man. As he grew into manhood it soon became clear to all that he was a political genius. He was able to outwit opponents, form coalitions and get things done in a polis that, for all its glory was chaotic and ruthless when it came to politics. When war came he distinguished himself on the battlefield and when he was given military command his true genius revealed itself: he was a master battlefield commander! Did this guy have any faults you ask? During the early part of his life only one fault revealed itself: he liked to womanize. He took numerous lovers and women (and men) through themselves at him. [MORE].

Rose, Michael S., Ugly as Sin: Why They Changed Our Churches from Sacred Places to Meeting Spaces and How We Can Change Then Back Again., Sophia Institute Press, 2001

In this book—“more about architectural theology than it is about church architecture per se”--Rose sets forth his Three Natural Laws of Church Architecture, stating that Catholic church buildings should be: (1) veritical, (2) permanent, and (3) iconographic. The three-fold canon corresponds to and is based on that of Vitruvius, the first century B.C. Roman architect whose rules for buildings were utilitas, firmitas, and venustas—utility, strength, and beauty. Verticality corresponds to the utility of the church building a domus dei (house of God) and porta coeli (door of heaven). It is a tenet found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1180) “These visible churches are not simply gathering places but signify and make visible the Church living in this place, the dwelling of God with men reconciled and united in Christ.”

Rose prescription for now and the future? It’s four-fold,

    1) Restore churches that were marred by fashionable renovations;
    2) Salvage and renovate the modernist churches by reorienting them and endowing them with verticality, iconography, and permanence;
    3) Transform ugly modernist churches into parish halls or school buildings and build replacement churches; and
    4) Build beautiful churches anew when parishes are established.

Rose thoughtfully provides a list of architects and artists who understand the history and tradition of Catholic church architecture. As he points out, America is wealthy nation; we have the financial resources to recover our heritage of church architecture. His charges is to the bishops, priest, and laymen to learn the principles of traditional Catholic church architecture and hire the men and women who can implement a plan of restoration of sacred places. [MORE].

Strauss, Barry, The Battle of Salamis: The Naval Encounter That Saved Greece--and Western Civilization, Simon & Schuster, 2004

Drawing on Herodotus, Aechylus, Plutarch, and other ancient authors as well as modern scholarship, this book for the general reader reconstructs the Battle of Salamis in 480 B.C. the greatest navel battle--perhaps the greatest of all battles--of the ancient world. Professor Strauss argues that the legacy of Salamis is our Western tradition of democracy and dissent, for it was out of the contradictory nature of a victorious and ascendant Athens--a democracy at home and a stern enforcer of her hegemony over the other Greek states--that arose Socrates, Plato, Aristotle--democracy's discontents who invented philosophy and critical inquiry. That victory over the Persian fleet would not have happened without a plan and without a leader who could persuade the many jealous Greek city-states to unite behind that plan. Professor Strauss writes:" Themistocles was that rare thing in a democracy, leader." At the Battle of Salamis, "[Themistocles] has created a clash of a thousand warships precisely where he wanted it, and precisely when." Now that's leadership!

Stadler, Philip A., Plutarch's Historical Methods: An Analysis of the Mulierum Virtutes, Harvard University Press, 1965.

Author analyzes GUNAIKWN ARETAI "Of the Virtues/Bravery of Women" for evidence of Plutarch's sources and compares Plutarch's use of sources in this work with his use of sources in the Lives; concluding that Plutarch did not rely on earlier anthologies but was well-read in many ancient Greek historians.

Vincent, Phil, A Guy's Guide to Being a Man's Man, Berkley Books, 2006.

Vincent, familiar to HBO subscribers as the character Phil Leotardo, New York mob capo, in The Sopranos, is a veteran of an impressive list of tough guy films. His prescription for "guys" seeking to become men? Learn to be a man by emulating men. Vincent was fortunate that he had an excellent example in his own father. For guys seeking guidance in becoming men, Vincent offers for quadrivium of

  • loyalty,
  • integrity,
  • honor, and
  • respect (especially toward women).

With a breezy style, Vincent takes us jauntily through an early twenty-first century man's guide to dating, the talkies, cigar smoking, food and wine, popular music, and gambling ... [MORE].

Zuckoff, Mitchell, Ponzi's Scheme: The True Story of a Financial Legend, Random House, 2005.

The folly of the get-rich-quick formula was already a familiar story in 1920 when Charles Ponzi's descent into financial criminality forever connected his name with the pyramid scheme. The smart talker and smart dresser --one Boston newspaper dubbed him the man who put the "crease" in Croesus-- had tremendous powers of salesmanship and a quick mind for seeing monetary gain where others saw merely mundane transactions. His abilities, channeled into legitimate finance would likely have made him rich and respected. Tragically, those assets --his smooth tongue and quick mind-- were the very instruments of his degradation and destruction. Zuckoff parallels the life of Ponzi, the fatherless and penniless immigrant, with Ponzi's nemesis, Boston Post publisher Richard Grozier. Grozier was born with every advantage of wealth and position; yet he struggled under the crippling burden of a larger-than-life father. The early life of Grozier --he was suspended from Harvard College several times due to his lack of focus on his studies-- suggested a young man on the way to a life of no distinction. But just as Ponzi makes his fateful choice for quick money and illegality, Grozier decides to accept his destiny to be the man to expose Ponzi's fraud to the people of New England who are recklessly investing in the 50 percent in 90 days scheme.