2020 Great Books Bonanza, part 2


What a contest this year’s tournament was! Thanks to David Conway’s expertise in seeding the event, we had some really interesting match offs and the end result was much different (and in some ways, the same) as our first bonanza last year. Let’s take a look at all of the winners in Round 1, first and foremost:

Round 1 Winners:

Plato, Aristotle, Augustine,Aquinas, Machiavelli, Kant, Locke, Thucydides, Goethe, Twain, Dubois, Eliot, Woolf, Homer, Chaucer, Tolstoy, Einstein, Faraday, Galileo, Darwin, Ptolemy, Euclid, Appollonius, Copernicus, Shakespeare, Sophocles, Aeschylus, Tocqueville, Dante, Baudelaire, Mozart, Bach

Like last year, this was the round to really see how the tournament was going to take shape. Lots of similar writers compared to last year made it through this round. Some power-players, such as Shakespeare and Euclid, I assumed were shoe-ins. Some others surprised me, such as Faraday, having beaten out his contemporary Maxwell. For round 2, I was really interested in seeing who would win between Mozart and Bach, Galileo and Darwin, and Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.

Round 2 Winners

Plato, Augustine, Kant , Locke, Goethe, Eliot, Homer, Tolstoy, Einstein, Darwin, Euclid, Copernicus, Shakespeare, Tocqueville, Dante, Bach

Bach beat Mozart! Now things were starting to get interesting. Euclid vs. Copernicus, Einstein vs. Darwin, Kant vs. Locke. Lots of very interesting match-ups. And Shakespeare, last year’s winner, was making his way for the final round once again. I was nervous and hoping that we’d get a different winner this year. I wasn’t sure who would be able to take him on – last year, it was Flannery O’Connor, and she is already out of the tournament at this point, defeated by Chaucer in the first round.

Round 3 winners

Plato, Kant, Eliot, Homer, Einstein, Euclid, Shakespeare , Bach

Shakespeare made his way through once again, along with a number of other interesting writers and thinkers. He would have to go against Bach in this round, with Einstein and Euclid battling it out to see who would be the greatest mathematician of them all. Another interesting match-up was George Eliot and Homer – while Homer definitely wins in the scope of his work, in this humble admissions counselor’s opinion, I would love to see a conversation happen between the two of them.

Round 5 winners (final four)

Plato, Homer, Einstein, Shakespeare

Two Greeks, one American, and one Brit in this final round. At this point, I was expecting Shakespeare to make it to the final round, by beating Einstein. The question for me was who, out of Homer and Plato, would be the one to take on the reigning champion?

Final Round



I felt that Plato was a worthy opponent of Shakespeare. He appeared to be popular with our current group of admitted students as well, and so I thought that this would be an interesting match up! Until noon on April 29, the two were pretty much neck and neck, with about a 50-50 split of the votes (about 40 in total). By the time that I closed the poll, the results were clear:

Plato just narrowly wins out! Such a close match, but the Bard has been topped this year by one of the programs most cherished philosophers. Such an interesting match up, and it was so fun to see how this unfolded by including our admitted students in the mix. Let us know if there are any other fun ways that we could play this out next year. And for now, for some sober post-tourney reflection, I will leave you with a victory quote from the 2020 St. John’s College Great Books Bonanza Champion:

“…there is a victory and defeat—the best and the worst—which each man sustains, not at the hands of another, but of himself.”

Plato, “Laws, Book I”

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