Michael J. Kerrigan

Charles W. Eliot

 

During his days as Harvard’s influential president, Charles W. Eliot made a frequent assertion: If you were to spend just 15 minutes a day reading the right books, a quantity that could fit on a five foot shelf, you could give yourself a proper liberal education.

As Charles W, Eliot approached retirement as President of Harvard, he argued for “great books” as a democratic means of social mobility. Not everyone could go to Harvard, he told a group of working class men, but everyone could read like “ a Harvard man.”

Editors at Collier, one of the largest publishing houses of the day, were moved by Eliot’s crusading. They made this pitch to Eliot: Assemble you have been referencing and we’ll market it.

The result was the Harvard Classics, a fifty-one-volume anthology of works first published in in 1909 that aspired to offer “the progress of man…… Continue reading

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