A STROKE OF LUCK AND A MOMENT OF IRONY
Some of my older readers may be familiar with the late Mortimer J. Adler
of the University of Chicago, a "popular" philosopher and lifelong advocate of "Great Books" and "Western Canon" programs of liberal education. One of Adler's many efforts in this regard was his editorship of The Encyclopedia Britannica 's 53 volume "Great Books of the Western World" series, which the public could buy on subscription, one volume at a time.
It seems quaint now, in the Google age, to recall buying sets of encyclopedias or series like Great Books but as a product line, it had a definite market appeal for the GI generation that had suffered through depression and world war and only about half of whom had managed to graduate high school. I suspect they liked seeing the rows of "serious", leather-bound books on a shelf and took some pride in the fact that their children, the Boomers, had access to them for school work ( though they were probably used with as little enthusiasm as encyclopedias are used by students now).
I mention this because earlier today, I picked up Adler's entire 53 volume Great Books set from a library for free, saving it from the discard pile when the librarian was kind enough to let me cart them away. Between forty and fifty years old, aside from a little dust, they are essentially brand new books of the highest quality. Few of them were ever opened and they will look quite handsome on my shelf, as I'm sure they once did on someone else's. Running from Homer to Freud they include about every "deep" book that we generally feel guilty that we never read yet. I've read quite a few ( though less than I imagined) and look forward to reading more and I am generally, quite pleased with myself for snagging them.
Part of me though, suspects that Adler would have been chagrined to learn that in 2007 a library had no room or interest in his beloved canon. Or that college students could conceivably graduate from a university without ever having read, cover to cover, any "great book" whatsoever. Times change of course but some things have a lasting value and the Net generation is missing out on some of them.
Labels: adler, book, culture, education, intellectuals, personal, reading