Friday, November 14, 2008

For A Brief Moment, Robert Hutchins & Mortimer Adler Were America's White, Male, Oprah Winfreys

The Great Books of the Western World. What a title! What a marketing concept! What hubris! Everybody's grandparents had at least a couple of copies. They were lined up proudly on the top shelf of the living room library, a dusty row of pleather bound volumes that nobody ever did get around to reading. So why did they sell so well? In A Great Idea At The Time: The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books, author Alex Beam examines this weird, post war phenomenon. And in today's NYTimes, James Campbell reviews this examination.
An excerpt:
In the middle of the last century, a committee of commercially minded academics came up with its own strategy to undermine the enjoyment of reading. With the backing of the University of Chicago, Robert Maynard Hutchins, Mortimer Adler and a few others whittled the literary, scientific and philosophical canon down to 443 exemplary works. They had them bound in 54 black leatherette volumes, with the overall designation Great Books of the Western World, then hired genial salesmen to knock on suburban doors and make promises of fulfillment through knowledge...Each was a small library in its own right, with slabs of text arranged in monumental double columns. The Great Books of the Western World were what books should not be: an antidote to pleasure.
To read the entire review, click here.