Italo Calvino was not only a prolific master of fiction, he was also an uncanny reader of literature, a keen critic of astonishing range. Why Read the Classics? is the most comprehensive collection of Calvino's literary criticism available in English, accounting for the enduring importance to our lives of crucial writers of the Western canon. Here--spanning more than two millennia, from antiquity to postmodernism--are thirty-six immediately relevant, elegantly written, accessible ruminations on the writers, poets, and scientists who meant most to Calvino at different stages of his life. Following the title essay, which explores fourteen definitions of "the classic," Calvino offers writings that are at once critical appraisals and personal appreciations of, among others: Homer, Xenophon, Ovid, Pliny, Nezami, Ariosto, Cardano, Galileo, Defoe, Voltaire, Diderot, Ortes, Stendhal, Balzac, Dickens, Flaubert, Tolstoy, Twain, Henry James, Stevenson, Conrad, Pasternak, Gadda, Montale, Hemingway, Ponge, Borges, and Queneau. At a time when the Western canon and the very notion of "literary greatness" have come under increasing disparagement by the vanguard of so-called multiculturalism, Why Read the Classics? gives us an inspiriting corrective.