Commissioner’s Classics Corner

Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner R. Jack Cagle is excited to bring Commissioner’s Classics Corner to Barbara Bush Branch Library. Now, visitors will have access to a wider selection of classic books in a prominent section of the library. The collection includes literary works from famous philosophers, political theorists, and novelists throughout recorded history.

Commissioner Cagle selected many books in the collection from President Theodore Roosevelt’s Pigskin Library, Dr. Charles Eliot’s Five-Foot Shelf, and the Encyclopedia Britannica’s Great Books of the Western World. Popularized during the early 20th century, these collections brought literature usually reserved for the college educated to the masses.

In 1909, after ending his term as president, Roosevelt developed a list of books to take with him on a yearlong journey to Africa. The books, bound in durable pigskin covers and packed in an aluminum case, would later become known as the Pigskin Library. News of the Pigskin Library spread quickly, and, due to Roosevelt’s larger-than-life persona, the books were widely circulated.

Not long after, Dr. Charles Eliot, the president of Harvard University, published a series called the Five-Foot Shelf of Books, due to it fitting on a five-foot shelf. Eliot famously said that a working man who read 15 minutes a day from a five-foot shelf of books would possess the basics of a college education. The challenge resonated with the public, many of whom had never had the chance to attend college. Eliot’s Five-Foot Shelf became a commercial success and would eventually become known as the Harvard Classics.

A friendly rivalry between Eliot and Roosevelt erupted after Roosevelt criticized some of Eliot’s choices. Still, the books remained a top seller until 1952, when the Encyclopedia Britannica published a 54-volume set, Great Books of the Western World, and became a staple in many American households.

Today, readers can find selections from all three collections in Commissioner’s Classics Corner. Anyone who would like to check out these books can visit Barbara Bush Library.