Michael J. Kerrigan

Charles eliot

My last three posts: I Cannot Live Without Books, Does Our Nation Still Have An Appetite For Great Books, And Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Western Culture’s Go To Go are less about my own reading addiction and more about preparing the next generation of informed citizens. Whether all of us are fit to govern, all of us must be prepared to be making informed judgments about whom “we the people” delegate the daily business of governing.

The next generation of informed citizen might consider accepting one of two challenges. First, we can take a cue from Charles Eliot’s “five feet” of books. That is set aside sixty inches of shelves to build a list that would be limited to about sixty books. It would be fun to learn from readers as to what books they would choose to be on their personal shelves.

Second readers might consider accepting the “Century… Continue reading

 

National leaders other than Charles Eliot have attempted to revive a set of great books that Americans share in common. Most notably, Robert Maynard Hutchins, president of the University of Chicago from 1929 to 1945, and Mortimer Adler, philosopher and popular author, worried that business people were becoming to specialized in their crafts and that they were decreasingly well educated.

So they set out to develop a set of evening classes for adults with the aim of helping thoughtful Americans who wished to fill the gaps in their education with critical reading of important books.

One of their students was an executive at Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. who recognized a business opportunity. He commissioned Hutchins and Adler to identify the most important writings of Western Civilization. The project took eight years and cost Encyclopedia Britannica $2 million, culminating in 1952 with A Syntopicon, a two-volume index of thirty-page articles on… Continue reading

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