A Great Idea at the Time: The Rise, Fall, and Curious by Alex Beam PDF

By Alex Beam

Today the classics of the western canon, written via the proverbial “dead white men,” are cannon fodder within the tradition wars. yet within the Nineteen Fifties and Nineteen Sixties, they have been a popular culture phenomenon. the nice Books of Western Civilization, fifty-four volumes selected via intellectuals on the college of Chicago, started as a tutorial flow, and developed right into a winning advertising proposal. Why did one million American families purchase books via Hippocrates and Nicomachus from door-to-door salesmen? and the way and why did the nice books fall out of style?

In A nice thought on the Time Alex Beam explores the nice Books mania, in an exciting and unusually poignant portrait of yankee pop culture at the threshold of the tv age. Populated with memorable characters, A nice suggestion on the Time will go away readers asking themselves: Have I learn Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura in recent times? If no longer, why not?

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Extra info for A Great Idea at the Time: The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books

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Then as now, they just wanted to score well on those darned college exams. Well then, said Adler, who was teaching the John Erskine books at Columbia and at the People’s Institute. Have I got a great idea for you. 1586484873_beam 8/22/08 9:26 AM Page 37 THREE THE GREAT BOOKS IN THE GRAY CITY HE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO was unlike anything Robert Hutchins had ever seen. This was not Oberlin College in agrarian Ohio, thirty-five miles from the nearest city, where students and professors dreamed of a more perfect world.

Bellow was more cool-eyed on the subject of Adler: I am grateful also to certain academics whose classrooms anticipated the Theater of the Absurd. Mortimer Adler had much to tell us about Aristotle’s Ethics, but I had only to look at him, even as an undergraduate, to see that he had nothing useful to offer on the conduct of life. He lectured on Prudence, or Magnanimity. It was—well, tomfoolery. Hutchins and Adler were putting on a show, and they were attracting quite an audience. In the 1930s, the nation passed through Chicago in a way it doesn’t anymore.

The future novelist Saul Bellow, who attended U. of C. ” When Bellow and his friend Isaac Rosenfeld arrived in New York as hot-to-succeed young intellectuals, 1586484873_beam 8/22/08 9:26 AM Page 53 T h e G re a t B o o ks i n th e G ra y C i ty [f ]or some reason neither Isaac nor I could think of ourselves as provincials in New York. Possibly the pride of R. M. Hutchins shielded us. For him the U. of C. didn’t have to compete with the Ivy League, it was obviously superior. It never entered our minds that we had lost anything in being deprived of Eastern advantages.

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