About 3 years ago, I read / heard about the “Great Books” – a 54-volume set of books chosen by, besides others, Mortimer Adler. Published originally in 1952, presumably at a time of intense fascination in the “intellectual circles” about the East, the idea was to have an education of the ideas that the Western Civilization has been built upon, an education that seemed to be fast disappearing.
At the same time, I also read the various criticisms leveled against the set, about it not representing the East, no authors in the collection being women, & dozens others.
I”ve been looking for these books since then. Of course, skinflint that I am, I wasn’t willing to spend $1500+ for a brand new set, knowing very well, from my own experience that books are sometimes an on-the-spur-of-the-moment investment, never to be looked at again, unless it’s time to move houses. I did find a few copies available on e-bay, but never managed to bid on time, so it was another item on my “I must do this someday” list.
Perchance, two weeks ago, a google search brought up a listing on gumtree about a set of books available, for a knockout price of $100. I wasted no time, made a call, promised to pick it up at their earliest convenience, got help from my most helpful colleagues (colleges, as they like to call themselves!), & they’re home now, occupying prime real estate in the limited shelving space we’ve got at home.
I started with Volume 1, simply because I had no idea where else to begin. & as promised, it turned out to be a voice of reason: as pertinent for today as it was when written half a century ago. Two questions that stand out for me (phrased in my, not the articulate authors, words):
1. What is the point of an education, sending a child to “school” for 16 years?
2. What’s the point of vocational specialization, without any consideration to the hundreds of closely intertwined issues that are required to get a full appreciation of the problems that surround us?
The authors recommend several reading plans. I’ve chosen is the plan which selects works from various volumes, in increasing levels of difficulty, taking about 10 years to read & comprehend the whole set. Pages 200-219 of Plato is the first of this journey. I’ve just finished reading those 20 pages, & am still recovering from the brilliance & simplicity of the ideas put forth.
I think I might get the best out of my investment of time if in addition to reading it, I can write a synopsis for my own sake. I’ll give it a shot during this weekend.