The Bookshelf: The Trivium

I finished the Trivium, part of the Free Man’s Reading List, after a couple of months(with interruptions for other reading), so let’s get to the review.

Now, your first question, valued reader, might be, “why did a book of little more than 250 pages take months to finish?

To which there are two equally correct answers; First, I fall asleep on the bus, my primary reading time, a lot and, second, and far more applicable to this particular book, this is probably the most dense book I have read. There is more information/word in this book than anything I ever read in university or high school.

I learned from the bibliographical notes at the back that it was actually written as a college textbook for a course on the Trivium of logic, grammar, and rhetoric back in the 1930’s for a freshman course that “met five days a week for two semesters.” And this was in the days when a college education actually meant something. So you know there is a lot of information packed in this book.

That this book was a product of a different time shows clearly throughout the book. There is no coddling or hand-holding of the reader/student here; the text is simply ‘this is what is, here’s a couple of examples, you now know the concept’. A concept or word is defined or explained once, then you are expected to know it throughout the rest of the book. There are no gentle reminders: if the word ‘syncategoramic’ was defined in chapter 3, then you damn well better know what it means when used in chapter 6. (There is also no glossary, which would have been amazingly useful in trying to remember what exactly “a distributed term”, for example, refers to; the lack of a glossary would be my biggest criticism on the book).

If this book was written today, I’m sure it would be padded to a good 500 pages (at least) with examples, hand-holding, and explanation and still contain less information. This is not a ‘friendly’ book. Simply following along and understanding the book requires a lot of mental effort. Retaining the terms and concepts requires a lot more more. To get the most out of this book, would require serious study (such as a 5-day, 2-semester course), which I did not do.

I am almost certain I am not going to retain a lot of the information presented, and I will not remember a lot of the terms; I’ve already forgotten what an enthymeme refers to.

That being said, the concepts are far more important than the terms. I might not remember the term that refers to a particular concept, but next time I see the concept being symbolized in words, it will likely get me to think deeper about what I am reading, and I can always look up the term or concept for further clarification.

I found interesting about the book is how it flowed together and built off itself. The book starts with the function of language and moves onto grammar. From there is moves seemlessly into logic, which makes up the bulk of the book. I found it fascinating how the discussion of logic itself is naturally built within and on grammar. The book ends with a small section outlining the basics of rhetoric, composition, and reading.

At the same time I was fascinated, I was also saddened. This book revealed to me just how ruined our education system currently is. I took “English” throughout school, like most did where I learned grammar. I took a logic course in university (although, the isntructor never did teach any formal logic for some idiotic reason). I am highly educated, intelligent, and my writing has always been better than average, yet no one has ever, through my 18 years of education (18? ouch), pointed out the connection between grammar and logic and how the latter is rooted in the former.

This whole book was a walking indictment of our modern education system. These are the very basics of language and thinking, yet little of it is taught in school. I am familiar with most of the concepts in the book, if not the terms and formal laws, yet this I’ve never seen it so systematized and logically presented anywhere throughout the almost two decades I spent being “educated”. Some rules of grammar are drilled into our heads in grade school, and there are logic courses that are offered, but I’ve seen nothing like this.

This book should be foundational to education. They should start teaching this systematically in grade school. Hell, if all six years of grade school focused solely on the Trivium, ignoring everything else to get kids to fundamentally understand it, it would be a vast improvement to our education system. When my future children are homeschooled, this book will be a major component of the curriculum.

As for the writing style, it is clear, analytical, and precise, if rather stark, exactly what you should looking for in a book like this. You are not going to be entertained, but the writing does the job it is intended to do transmit information, even if it gives you absolutely no slack or mercy.

Anyway, to get the most out of the Trivium would require a commitment to comprehensively study it over a decent period of time. Simply reading it through like I did, will help introduce many concepts or solidify concepts you may be familiar with, but you will know that you are missing a lot. You will get out of this book in relation to the time and effort put into it.

Recommendation:

If you want to learn the basics of grammar and formal logic and/or you are looking to better develop clear thinking and clear language, the Trivium will help you understand these concepts directly in relation to how much effort you’re willing to put in.

So, if you are interested in this and willing to put in at least some effort, I recommend the book. Be warned, even if you are not studying it in-depth, it is still a dense read.

If you are planning to homeschool, I would recommend making the Trivium a foundational text of your curriculum.

8 comments

  1. I will have to check it out thanks!

    First, I fall asleep on the bus, my primary reading time, a lot

    That is your major reading time? Do you work very long hours or something?

    Reading in the peace of your own home beats the loud crowded bus any day particularly for a very dense book.

  2. I’d been hearing about “The Trivium” for years, and was glad to see a Kindle version come out late last year.

    You’re right about how the book builds on itself. Supposedly, this is how children used to be taught. If you read books from 40-50 years ago, you can see how even authors you disagreed with could present a coherent argument rather than the fallacy laden stuff we get today.

    http://www.triviumeducation.com/ is a site that was set up to help people learn the Trivium. He has interviews with people and some graphical material. He goes into areas some people might consider weird, but I’ve been listening to him and other people in his circle for years and have learned a lot from them.

  3. @ lolz: I spend about 1.5-2 hours on the bus a day. I get home, eat, and then most day go do something. Usually I fill the in-between time with internet surfing or gaming. As for reading on the bus, I don’t mind it; I wear headphones to block out the noise of the bus.

  4. An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a friend who has been conducting
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