Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was elected Pope Benedict XVI, once said that Steppenwolf is among his favorite books because it "exposes the problem of modernity's isolated and self-isolating man". The protagonist, Harry Haller, goes through his mid-life crisis and must chose between life of action and contemplation. His initials perhaps are not accidentally like the author's.
First published in 1909, the Five-Foot Shelf was conceived by the Harvard president Charles W. Eliot as “a good substitute for a liberal education” for a growing middle class eager for knowledge. All the big names and important ideas were here: Sophocles, Chaucer, the Constitution, three treatises on smallpox for good measure. Ordinary men and women who had never set foot in Harvard Yard could now stake a claim to the peaks of Western civilization.
Mathematics does seem to evoke a feeling of timelessness and certainty. We may not formulate geometry exactly as Euclid did, but none of Euclid’s theorems is now considered false. The proofs given by Apollonius and Archimedes still work as proofs for us, and the theorems they prove are, we say, true, not just agreed upon or universally accepted.
Updates to my recommended reading ... added to posts on these authors:
John C. Briggs on Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln
Joseph M. Bessette on the presidency and Thomas Jefferson