The author engagingly explores some fifty classic works of philosophy, social thought, and literature (mainly but not exclusively from the West) to elucidate their contents and draw out ideas valuable for understanding human life in this world and for living that life well. This book has a distinctly humanistic slant, with a suggestion of a thinker's self-help book. As Allen writes: You don't have to be a philosopher to think about the meaning of life. Everyone does it. Sometimes we think about the meaning of life itself - where it came from, where it is going, what is its purpose, and so on. But more often we think about the many smaller meanings of our lives as we live from day to day...These ideas may not be altogether conscious. And most probably go unstated. But we cannot live without them...There would not be any classic writings, or Great Books, of world civilisation without these ideas either...In one way or another, these writings all deal with how we find meaning in our lives - or how we give meanings to our lives. Classic authors just differ from other people by having more elaborate ideas on this subject, and by articulating their ideas more memorably.
This is how classic writings give us what I will call 'good ideas', and 'useful humanism', and 'worldly wisdom'.