Great Books of the Western World


Great Books of the Western World

"Great Books of the Western World" is a series of books originally published in the United States in 1952 by Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. to present the western canon in a single package of 54 volumes. The series is now in its second edition and contains 60 volumes. The list of Great Books is maintained by the Great Books Foundation, and is part of the Great Books curriculum.

History

The project got its start at the University of Chicago. University president Robert Hutchins collaborated with Mortimer Adler to develop a course, generally aimed at businessmen, for the purpose of filling in gaps in education, to make one more well-rounded and familiar with the "Great Books" and ideas of the past three millennia. Among the original students was William Benton, future US Senator and later CEO of the "Encyclopædia Britannica". He proposed selecting the greatest books of the canon, complete and unabridged, having Hutchins and Adler edit them for publishing by Encyclopædia Britannica. Hutchins was wary, fearing that the works would be sold and treated as encyclopedias, thereby cheapening them. Nevertheless, he agreed to the project and paid $60,000 for it.

After debates about what to include and how to present it, with an eventual budget of $2,000,000, the project was ready. It was presented at a gala at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City on April 15, 1952. In his speech, Hutchins said "This is more than a set of books, and more than a liberal education. "Great Books of the Western World" is an act of piety. Here are the sources of our being. Here is our heritage. This is the West. This is its meaning for mankind." The first two volumes would be presented to Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and U.S. President Harry S. Truman.

Sales were initially poor. After 1,863 were sold in 1952, less than one-tenth that number were sold the following year. A financial debacle loomed, until Encyclopædia Britannica altered the marketing strategy and sold the set (as Hutchins had feared) through experienced door-to-door encyclopedia salespeople. Through this method 50,000 sets were sold in 1961. In 1963 the editors published "Gateway to the Great Books", a ten-volume set of readings designed as an introduction to the authors and themes in the "Great Books" series. Each year from 1961 to 1998 the editors published "The Great Ideas Today", an annual update on the applicability of the "Great Books" to current issues. [cite web|url=http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft4w10061d/|title="Robert Maynard Hutchins: A Memoir"|author=Mialton Meyer|publisher=University of California Press|date=1993|accessdate=2007-05-30 This biography of Robert M. Hutchins contains an extensive and lively discussion of the Great Books project, although the author burdens it with personal opinions.] [cite web|url=http://chronicle.uchicago.edu/020711/greatbooks.shtml|title=Special Collections tells the story of a cornerstone of American education|author=Carrie Golus|date=2002-07-11|accessdate=2007-05-30|publisher="The University of Chicago Chronicle"]

The works

Originally published in 54 volumes, "The Great Books of the Western World" covers categories including fiction, history, poetry, natural science, mathematics, philosophy, drama, politics, religion, economics, and ethics. Hutchins wrote the first volume, titled "The Great Conversation", as an introduction and discourse on liberal education. Adler sponsored the next two volumes, "The Great Ideas: ", as a way of emphasizing the unity of the set and, by extension, of Western thought in general. A team of indexers spent months compiling references to such topics as "Man's freedom in relation to the will of God" and "The denial of void or vacuum in favor of a plenum". They grouped the topics into 102 chapters, for which Adler wrote 102 introductions. The volumes contained the following works, color-coding the spines to denote the categories::

Volume 1
*The Great Conversation

Volume 2
*Syntopicon I: Angel, Animal, Aristocracy, Art, Astronomy, Beauty, Being, Cause, Chance, Change, Citizen, Constitution, Courage, Custom and Convention, Definition, Democracy, Desire, Dialectic, Duty, Education, Element, Emotion, Eternity, Evolution, Experience, Family, Fate, Form, God, Good and Evil, Government, Habit, Happiness, History, Honor, Hypothesis, Idea, Immortality, Induction, Infinity, Judgment, Justice, Knowledge, Labor, Language, Law, Liberty, Life and Death, Logic, and Love

Volume 3
*Syntopicon II: Man, Mathematics, Matter, Mechanics, Medicine, Memory and Imagination, Metaphysics, Mind, Monarchy, Nature, Necessity and Contingency, Oligarchy, One and Many, Opinion, Opposition, Philosophy, Physics, Pleasure and Pain, Poetry, Principle, Progress, Prophecy, Prudence, Punishment, Quality, Quantity, Reasoning, Relation, Religion, Revolution, Rhetoric, Same and Other, Science, Sense, Sign and Symbol, Sin, Slavery, Soul, Space, State, Temperance, Theology, Time, Truth, Tyranny, Universal and Particular, Virtue and Vice, War and Peace, Wealth, Will, Wisdom, and World

Volume 4
*Homer
**"The Iliad"
**"The Odyssey"

Volume 5
*Aeschylus
**"The Suppliant Maidens"
**"The Persians"
**"Seven Against Thebes"
**"Prometheus Bound"
**"The Oresteia"
***"Agamemnon"
***"Choephoroe"
***"The Eumenides"
*Sophocles
**"The Oedipus Cycle"
***"Oedipus the King"
***"Oedipus at Colonus"
***"Antigone"
**"Ajax"
**"Electra"
**"The Trachiniae"
**"Philoctetes"
*Euripides
**"Rhesus"
**"Medea"
**"Hippolytus"
**"Alcestis"
**"Heracleidae"
**"The Suppliants"
**"Trojan Women"
**"Ion"
**"Helen"
**"Andromache"
**"Electra"
**"Bacchantes"
**"Hecuba"
**"Heracles Mad"
**"Phoenician Women"
**"Orestes"
**"Iphigeneia in Tauris"
**"Iphigeneia at Aulis"
**"Cyclops"
*Aristophanes
**"The Acharnians"
**"The Knights"
**"The Clouds"
**"The Wasps"
**"Peace"
**"The Birds"
**"The Frogs"
**"Lysistrata"
**"Thesmophoriazusae"
**"Ecclesiazousae"
**"Plutus"

Volume 6
*Herodotus
**"The History"
*Thucydides
**"The History of the Peloponnesian War"

Volume 7
*Plato
**"Charmides"
**"Lysis"
**"Laches"
**"Protagoras"
**"Euthydemus"
**"Cratylus"
**"Phaedrus"
**"Ion"
**"Symposium"
**"Meno"
**"Euthyphro"
**"Apology"
**"Crito"
**"Phaedo"
**"Gorgias"
**"The Republic"
**"Timaeus"
**"Critias"
**"Parmenides"
**"Theaetetus"
**"Sophist"
**"Statesman"
**"Philebus"
**"Laws"
**"The Seventh Letter"

Volume 8
*Aristotle
**"Categories"
**"On Interpretation"
**"Prior Analytics"
**"Posterior Analytics"
**"Topics"
**"On Sophistical Refutations"
**"Physics"
**"On Generation and Corruption"
**"Meteorology"
**"Metaphysics"
**"On the Soul"
**Minor biological works

Volume 9
*Aristotle
**"History of Animals"
**"On the Parts of Animals"
**"On the Motion of Animals"
**"On the Gait of Animals"
**"On the Generation of Animals"
**"Nicomachean Ethics"
**"Politics"
**"The Athenian Constitution"
**"Rhetoric"
**"Poetics"

Volume 10
*Hippocrates
**Works
*Galen
**"On the Natural Faculties"

Volume 11
*Euclid
**The Thirteen Books of "Euclid's Elements"
*Archimedes
**"On the Sphere and Cylinder"
**"Measurement of a Circle"
**"On Conoids and Pheroids"
**"On Spirals"
**"On the Equilibrium of Planes"
**"The Sand-Reckoner"
**"The Quadrature of the Parabola"
**"On Floating Bodies"
**"Book of Lemmas"
**"The Method Treating of Mechanical Problems"
*Apollonius of Perga
**"On Conic Sections"
*Nicomachus of Gerasa
**"Introduction to Arithmetic"

Volume 12
*Lucretius
**"On the Nature of Things"
*Epictetus
**"The Discourses"
*Marcus Aurelius
**"The Meditations"

Volume 13
*Virgil
**"The Eclogues"
**"The Georgics"
**"The Aeneid"

Volume 14
*Plutarch
**"The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans"

Volume 15
*P. Cornelius Tacitus
**"The Annals"
**"The Histories"

Volume 16
*Ptolemy
**"The Almagest"
*Nicolaus Copernicus
**"On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres"
* Johannes Kepler
**"Epitome of Copernican Astronomy" (Books IV - V)
**"The Harmonies of the World" (Book V)

Volume 17
*Plotinus
**"The Six Enneads"

Volume 18
*Augustine of Hippo
**"The Confessions"
**"The City of God"
**"On Christian Doctrine"

Volume 19
*Thomas Aquinas
**"Summa Theologica" (First part complete, selections from second part)

Volume 20
*Thomas Aquinas
**"Summa Theologica" (Selections from second and third parts and supplement)

Volume 21
*Dante Alighieri
**"The Divine Comedy"

Volume 22
*Geoffrey Chaucer
**"Troilus and Criseyde"
**"The Canterbury Tales"

Volume 23
*Niccolò Machiavelli
**"The Prince"
*Thomas Hobbes
**"Leviathan"

Volume 24
*François Rabelais
**"Gargantua and Pantagruel"

Volume 25
*Michel Eyquem de Montaigne
**Essays

Volume 26
*William Shakespeare
**"The First Part of King Henry the Sixth"
**"The Second Part of King Henry the Sixth"
**"The Third Part of King Henry the Sixth"
**"The Tragedy of Richard the Third"
**"The Comedy of Errors"
**"Titus Andronicus"
**"The Taming of the Shrew"
**"The Two Gentlemen of Verona"
**"Love's Labour's Lost"
**"Romeo and Juliet"
**"The Tragedy of King Richard the Second"
**"A Midsummer-Night's Dream"
**"The Life and Death of King John"
**"The Merchant of Venice"
**"The First Part of King Henry the Fourth"
**"The Second Part of King Henry the Fourth"
**"Much Ado About Nothing"
**"The Life of King Henry the Fifth"
**"Julius Caesar"
**"As You Like It"

Volume 27
*William Shakespeare
**"Twelfth Night"; or, "What You Will"
**"The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark"
**"The Merry Wives of Windsor"
**"Troilus and Cressida "
**"All's Well That Ends Well"
**"Measure For Measure"
**"Othello, the Moor of Venice"
**"King Lear"
**"Macbeth"
**"Antony and Cleopatra"
**"Coriolanus"
**"Timon of Athens"
**"Pericles, Prince of Tyre"
**"Cymbeline"
**"The Winter's Tale"
**"The Tempest"
**"The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eighth"
**Sonnets

Volume 28
*William Gilbert
**"On the Loadstone and Magnetic Bodies"
*Galileo Galilei
**"Dialogues Concerning the Two New Sciences"
*William Harvey
**"On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals"
**"On the Circulation of Blood"
**"On the Generation of Animals"

Volume 29
*Miguel de Cervantes
**"The History of Don Quixote de la Mancha"

Volume 30
*Sir Francis Bacon
**"Advancement of Learning"
**"Novum Organum"
**"New Atlantis"

Volume 31
*René Descartes
**"Rules for the Direction of the Mind"
**"Discourse on the Method"
**"Meditations on First Philosophy"
**"Objections Against the Meditations and Replies"
**"The Geometry"
*Benedict de Spinoza
**"Ethics"

Volume 32
*John Milton
**English Minor Poems
**"Paradise Lost"
**"Samson Agonistes"
**"Areopagitica"

Volume 33
*Blaise Pascal
**"The Provincial Letters"
**"Pensées"
**Scientific and mathematical essays

Volume 34
*Sir Isaac Newton
**"Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy"
**"Optics"
*Christian Huygens
**"Treatise on Light"

Volume 35
*John Locke
**"A Letter Concerning Toleration"
**"Concerning Civil Government, Second Essay"
**"An Essay Concerning Human Understanding"
*George Berkeley
**"The Principles of Human Knowledge"
*David Hume
**"An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding"

Volume 36
*Jonathan Swift
**"Gulliver's Travels"
*Laurence Sterne
**"The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman"

Volume 37
*Henry Fielding
**"The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling"

Volume 38
*Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu
**"The Spirit of the Laws"
*Jean Jacques Rousseau
**"A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality"
**"A Discourse on Political Economy"
**"The Social Contract"

Volume 39
*Adam Smith
**"An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations"

Volume 40
*Edward Gibbon
**"The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" (Part 1)

Volume 41
*Edward Gibbon
**"The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" (Part 2)

Volume 42
*Immanuel Kant
**"The Critique of Pure Reason"
**"Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals"
**"The Critique of Practical Reason"
**Excerpts from "The Metaphysics of Morals"
***"Preface and Introduction to the Metaphysical Elements of Ethics with a note on Conscience"
***"General Introduction to the Metaphysic of Morals"
***"The Science of Right"
**"The Critique of Judgement"

Volume 43
*American State Papers
**"Declaration of Independence"
**"Articles of Confederation"
**The Constitution of the United States of America
*Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay
**"The Federalist"
*John Stuart Mill
**"On Liberty"
**"Considerations on Representative Government"
**"Utilitarianism"

Volume 44
*James Boswell
**"The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D."

Volume 45
*Antoine Laurent Lavoisier
**"Elements of Chemistry"
*Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier
**"Analytical Theory of Heat"
*Michael Faraday
**"Experimental Researches in Electricity"

Volume 46
*Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
**"The Philosophy of Right"
**"The Philosophy of History"

Volume 47
*Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
**"Faust"

Volume 48
*Herman Melville
**"Moby Dick; or, The Whale"

Volume 49
*Charles Darwin
**"The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection"
**"The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex"

Volume 50
*Karl Marx
**"Capital"
*Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
**"Manifesto of the Communist Party"

Volume 51
*Count Leo Tolstoy
**"War and Peace"

Volume 52
*Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky
**"The Brothers Karamazov"

Volume 53
*William James
**"The Principles of Psychology"

Volume 54
*Sigmund Freud
**"The Origin and Development of Psycho-Analysis"
**"Selected Papers on Hysteria"
**"The Sexual Enlightenment of Children"
**"The Future Prospects of Psycho-Analytic Therapy"
**"Observations on "Wild" Psycho-Analysis"
**"The Interpretation of Dreams"
**"On Narcissism"
**"Instincts and Their Vicissitudes"
**"Repression"
**"The Unconscious"
**"A General Introduction to Psycho-Analysis"
**"Beyond the Pleasure Principle"
**"Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego"
**"The Ego and the Id"
**"Inhibitions, Symptoms, and Anxiety"
**"Thoughts for the Times on War and Death"
**"Civilization and Its Discontents"
**"New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis"

econd edition

In 1990 a second edition of "Great Books of the Western World" was published, with updated translations and six more volumes of material covering the 20th century, an era of which the first edition was nearly devoid. A number of pre-20th century books were also added, and four were dropped: Apollonius' "On Conic Sections", Laurence Sterne's "Tristram Shandy", Henry Fielding's "Tom Jones", and Joseph Fourier's "Analytical Theory of Heat". Adler later expressed regret about dropping "On Conic Sections" and "Tom Jones". Adler also voiced disagreement with the addition of Voltaire's "Candide", and said that the Syntopicon should have included references to the Qur'an. He addressed criticisms that the set was too heavily Western European and did not adequately represent women and minority authors.cite web|url=http://books.mirror.org/gb.sel1990.html|title=Selecting works for the 1990 edition of Great Books of the Western World|author=Mortimer Adler|date=September 1997|accessdate=2007-05-29|publisher=Great Books Index|quote=We did not base our selections on an author's nationality, religion, politics, or field of study; nor on an author's race or gender. Great books were not chosen to make up quotas of any kind; there was no "affirmative action" in the process.]

The pre-20th century books added (volume numbering is not strictly compatible with the first edition due to rearrangement of some books—see the complete table of contents [cite web|url=http://www.interleaves.org/%7Erteeter/gbww.html|title=Great Books of the Western World (2nd ed., 1990)|author=Robert Teeter|date=2005-01-04|accessdate=2007-05-30] for the second edition):

Volume 20
*John Calvin
**"Institutes of the Christian Religion" (Selections)

Volume 23
*Erasmus
**"The Praise of Folly"

Volume 31
*Molière
**"The School for Wives"
**"The Critique of the School for Wives"
**"Tartuffe"
**"Don Juan"
**"The Miser"
**"The Would-Be Gentleman"
**"The Would-Be Invalid"
*Jean Racine
**"Bérénice"
**"Phèdre"

Volume 34
*Voltaire
**"Candide"
*Denis Diderot
**"Rameau's Nephew"

Volume 43
*Søren Kierkegaard
**"Fear and Trembling"
*Friedrich Nietzsche
**"Beyond Good and Evil"

Volume 44
*Alexis de Toqueville
**"Democracy in America"

Volume 45
*Honoré de Balzac
**"Cousin Bette"

Volume 46
*Jane Austen
**"Emma"
*George Eliot
**"Middlemarch"

Volume 47
*Charles Dickens
**"Little Dorrit"

Volume 48
*Mark Twain
**"Huckleberry Finn"

Volume 52
*Henrik Ibsen
**"A Doll's House"
**"The Wild Duck"
**"Hedda Gabler"
**"The Master Builder"

The six volumes of 20th century material consisted of the following:

Volume 55
*William James
**"Pragmatism"
*Henri Bergson
**"An Introduction to Metaphysics"
*John Dewey
**"Experience in Education"
*Alfred North Whitehead
**"Science and the Modern World"
*Bertrand Russell
**"The Problems of Philosophy"
*Martin Heidegger
**"What Is Metaphysics?"
*Ludwig Wittgenstein
**"Philosophical Investigations"
*Karl Barth
**"The Word of God and the Word of Man"

Volume 56
*Henri Poincaré
**"Science and Hypothesis"
*Max Planck
**"Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers"
*Alfred North Whitehead
**"An Introduction to Mathematics"
*Albert Einstein
**""
*Arthur Eddington
**"The Expanding Universe"
*Niels Bohr
**"Atomic Theory and the Description of Nature" (selections)
**"Discussion with Einstein on Epistemology"
*G. H. Hardy
**"A Mathematician's Apology"
*Werner Heisenberg
**"Physics and Philosophy"
*Erwin Schrödinger
**"What Is Life?"
*Theodosius Dobzhansky
**"Genetics and the Origin of Species"
*C. H. Waddington
**"The Nature of Life"

Volume 57
*Thorstein Veblen
**"The Theory of the Leisure Class"
*R. H. Tawney
**"The Acquisitive Society"
*John Maynard Keynes
**"The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money"

Volume 58
*Sir James George Frazer
**"The Golden Bough" (selections)
*Max Weber
**"Essays in Sociology" (selections)
*Johan Huizinga
**"The Waning of the Middle Ages"
*Claude Lévi-Strauss
**"Structural Anthropology" (selections)

Volume 59
*Henry James
**"The Beast in the Jungle"
*George Bernard Shaw
**"Saint Joan"
*Joseph Conrad
**"Heart of Darkness"
*Anton Chekhov
**"Uncle Vanya"
*Luigi Pirandello
**"Six Characters in Search of an Author"
*Marcel Proust
**"Remembrance of Things Past": "Swann in Love"
*Willa Cather
**"A Lost Lady"
*Thomas Mann
**"Death in Venice"
*James Joyce
**"A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man"

Volume 60
*Virginia Woolf
**"To the Lighthouse"
*Franz Kafka
**"The Metamorphosis"
*D. H. Lawrence
**"The Prussian Officer"
*T. S. Eliot
**"The Waste Land"
*Eugene O'Neill
**"Mourning Becomes Electra"
*F. Scott Fitzgerald
**"The Great Gatsby"
*William Faulkner
**"A Rose for Emily"
*Bertolt Brecht
**"Mother Courage and Her Children"
*Ernest Hemingway
**"The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber"
*George Orwell
**"Animal Farm"
*Samuel Beckett
**"Waiting for Godot"

Criticisms and responses

Criticisms of the Authors selected

Criticism has attended "Great Books of the Western World" since publication. The stress Hutchins placed on the monumental importance of these works was an easy target for those who dismissed the project as the work of white males celebrating the work of other dead white males, while ignoring contributions of women and non-white authors. [cite web|url=http://calbears.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4155/is_20010701/ai_n13916438|author=Sabrina Walters|title=Great Books won Adler fame, scorn|publisher="Chicago Sun-Times"|date=2001-07-01|accessdate=2007-07-01] [cite web|url=http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4155/is_20010703/ai_n13917760|author=Peter Temes|title=Death of a Great Reader and Philosopher|publisher="Chicago Sun-Times"|date=2001-07-03|accessdate=2007-07-11] The criticism swelled in tandem with the feminist and civil rights movements. [cite web|url=http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1571/is_32_17/ai_77812349|title=What Happened to the Great Ideas? - Mortimer J. Adler's Great Books programs|author=John Berlau|date=2001-08-27|accessdate=2007-05-29|publisher="Insight on the News"|quote=Harvard University's Henry Louis Gates blasted the Great Books for showing 'profound disrespect for the intellectual capacities of people of color -- red, brown or yellow.']

In his "", Norman Davies criticizes the compilation for overrepresenting selected parts of the western world, especially Britain and the U.S., while ignoring the other, particularly Central and Eastern Europe. According to his calculation, in 151 authors included in both editions, there are 49 English or American authors, 27 Frenchmen, 20 Germans, 15 ancient Greeks, 9 ancient Romans, 6 Russians, 4 Scandinavians, 3 Spaniards, 3 Italians, 3 Irishmen, 3 Scots, and 3 Eastern Europeans. Prejudices and preferences, he concludes, are self-evident.

In response, such criticisms have been derided as "ad hominem" and biased in themselves. The counter-argument maintains that such criticisms discount the importance of books solely because of generic, imprecise and possibly irrelevant characteristics of the books' authors, rather than because of the content of the books themselves.

Also, writers such as Howard Bloom refer to such arguments as the "school of resentment." Bloom doubts that just because women and minorities "resent" being ignored in the past, that this means we should try to hide or obscure the overwhelming importance of white European males throughout history.

Criticisms of the works selected

Others thought that while the selected authors were worthy, too much emphasis was placed on the complete works of a single author (even less notable ones) rather than a wider selection of authors and representative works (for instance, all of Shakespeare's plays are included, but no works by Christopher Marlowe or Ben Jonson). Defenders of the set have pointed out that any reasonable number of volumes cannot possibly represent all authors or works that some readers might find desirable, and that any selection of authors and works is bound to be controversial to some extent. The second edition of the set already contained 130 authors and 517 individual works. Ironically, the inclusion of so many writers and so much material has led to complaints of cramped typography. The editors point out that the guides to additional reading for each topic in the "Syntopicon" refer the interested reader to many more authors (including, incidentally, Marlowe and Jonson). [cite book|author=Mortimer J. Adler|title=The Syntopicon: II|edition=2nd edition|series=Great Books of the Western World, vol. 1-2|publisher=Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.|year=1990|isbn=0-85229-531-6|pages=pp.909-996|chapter=Bibliography of Additional Readings The lists of recommended works by Jonson and Marlowe are on p.952 and p.964, respectively.]

Criticisms of difficulty

The scientific and mathematical selections also came under criticism for being incomprehensible to the average reader, especially with the absence of any sort of critical apparatus. The second edition did drop two scientific works, by Apollonius and Fourier, in part because of their perceived difficulty for the average reader. Nevertheless, the editors steadfastly maintain that average readers are capable of understanding far more than the critics deem possible. Robert Hutchins stated this view in the introduction to the first edition:

:Because the great bulk of mankind have never had the chance to get a liberal education, it cannot be "proved" that they can get it. Neither can it be "proved" that they cannot. The statement of the ideal, however, is of value in indicating the direction that education should take. [cite book|author=Robert M. Hutchins|title=The Great Conversation|year=1952|publisher=Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.|pages=p.44|chapter=Chapter VI: Education for All]

tyle over Substance

Yet another criticism was that the series was in reality more for show than for substance. Many dismissed Adler's Syntopicon as unwieldy and useless. Since the great majority of the works were still in print, some critics noted that the company could have saved 2 million dollars and simply written a list. Encyclopædia Britannica's aggressive promotion produced solid sales, but the fraction that were actually read appeared to be rather small. Some argued that their main use was to create the illusion of culture without any real substance behind it. Furthermore the inexpensive but dated, mostly public domain translations used were generally seen to be poor. Dense formatting also did not help readability. [cite web|url=http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/50s/macdonald-great-books.html|title=The Book-of-the-Millennium Club|author=Dwight Macdonald|date=1952-11-29 with later appendix|accessdate=2007-05-29|publisher="The New Yorker"|quote=I also wonder how many of the over 100,000 customers who have by now caved in under the pressure of Mr. Harden and his banner-bearing colleagues are doing much browsing in these upland pastures?]

The second edition selected translations that were generally considered an improvement, though the cramped typography remained. As for the charge that many sets go unread, the same can be said for many of the other books on buyers' bookshelves. Through reading plans and the "Syntopicon", the editors have attempted to guide readers through the set. [cite book|author=Mortimer J. Adler|title=The Great Conversation|edition=2nd edition|publisher=Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.|year=1990|isbn=0-85229-531-6|pages=pp.33-34 for discussion of new translations, pp.74-98 for reading plans and guides]

Criticism of the ideas

Robert M. Pirsig, in "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", has his main character Phædrus criticize the Great Books project radically for misestimating the value of the books:

:"He came to hate them vehemently, and to assail them with every kind of invective he could think of, not because they were irrelevant but for exactly the opposite reason. The more he studied, the more convinced he became that no one had yet told the damage to this world that had resulted from our unconscious acceptance of their thought."

The editors respond that the set contains wide-ranging debates representing many viewpoints on significant issues, not a monolithic school of thought. Mortimer Adler argued in the introduction to the second edition:

:Presenting a wide variety and divergence of views or opinions, among which there is likely to be some truth but also much more error, the "Syntopicon" [and by extension the larger set itself] invites readers to think for themselves and make up their own minds on every topic under consideration. [cite book|author=Mortimer J. Adler|year=1990|title=The Great Conversation|edition=2nd edition|publisher=Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.|isbn=0-85229-531-6|pages=p.27|chapter=Section 1: The Great Books and the Great Ideas]

References

External links

* [http://store.britannica.com/jump.jsp?itemID=344&itemType=PRODUCT&path=1%2C2%2C22%2C94%2C128 Official Britannica web page for the Great Books]
* [http://www.thegreatideas.org/index.html Center for the Study of the Great Ideas] Mortimer Adler web pages with extensive discussion of the Great Books
* [http://www.shimer.edu/ Shimer College] The Great Books College of Chicago
* [http://www.stjohnscollege.edu/ St. John's College] in Annapolis, MD and Santa Fe, NM - a "Great Books" college
* [http://www.thomasaquinas.edu/ Thomas Aquinas College] in Santa Paula, CA - Roman Catholic Great Books college with an emphasis on Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas


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