- Sep 2021
Book review (and cultural commentary) on Alex Beam's A Great Idea at the Time, (Public Affairs, 2008).
Soon enough the Great Books were synonymous with boosterism, Babbittry, and H. L. Mencken’s benighted boobocracy. They were everything that was wrong, unchic and middlebrow about middle America.”
what a lovely sentence
When asked for his views on which classic works to include among the Great Books, the science historian George Sarton pronounced the exercise futile: “Newton’s achievement and personality are immortal; his book is dead except from the archaeological point of view.”
How does one keep the spirit of these older books alive? Is it only by subsuming into and expanding upon a larger body of common knowledge?
What do they still have to teach us?
In “A Great Idea at the Time,” Alex Beam presents Hutchins and Adler as a double act
Just the title "A Great Idea at the Time" makes me wonder if this project didn't help speed along the creation of the dullness of the humanities and thereby attempt to kill it?
What might they have done differently to better highlight the joy and fun of these works to have better encouraged it.
Too often reformers reform all the joy out of things.
In a postwar world in which educational self-improvement seemed within everyone’s reach, the Great Books could be presented as an item of intellectual furniture, rather like their prototype, the Encyclopedia Britannica (which also backed the project).
the phrase "intellectual furniture" is sort of painful here...
- intellectual furniture
- middle America
- Encyclopedia Britannica
- Western culture
- educational reform
- Great Books of the Western World
- Robert Maynard Hutchins
- archaeology of knowledge
- Mortimer J. Adler