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The Great Conversation: The Substance Of A Liberal Education (Great Books Of The Western World, #1)

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The Great Conversation is a characterization of references and allusions made by authors in the Western canon to the works of their predecessors. As such it is a name used in the promotion of the Great Books of the Western World published by Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. in 1952. It is also the title of (i) the first volume of the first edition of this set of books, authore The Great Conversation is a characterization of references and allusions made by authors in the Western canon to the works of their predecessors. As such it is a name used in the promotion of the Great Books of the Western World published by Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. in 1952. It is also the title of (i) the first volume of the first edition of this set of books, authored by Robert Maynard Hutchins, and (ii) an accessory volume to the second edition (1990), authored by Mortimer Adler.


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The Great Conversation is a characterization of references and allusions made by authors in the Western canon to the works of their predecessors. As such it is a name used in the promotion of the Great Books of the Western World published by Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. in 1952. It is also the title of (i) the first volume of the first edition of this set of books, authore The Great Conversation is a characterization of references and allusions made by authors in the Western canon to the works of their predecessors. As such it is a name used in the promotion of the Great Books of the Western World published by Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. in 1952. It is also the title of (i) the first volume of the first edition of this set of books, authored by Robert Maynard Hutchins, and (ii) an accessory volume to the second edition (1990), authored by Mortimer Adler.

30 review for The Great Conversation: The Substance Of A Liberal Education (Great Books Of The Western World, #1)

  1. 4 out of 5

    David Withun

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  2. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    I just don't understand why this insightful, intelligent and accurate review of education did not gain more traction. I am baffled that almost 60 years later the situation has worsened rather than improved. I just don't understand why this insightful, intelligent and accurate review of education did not gain more traction. I am baffled that almost 60 years later the situation has worsened rather than improved.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    This is the introductory volume to a set of books entitled The Great Conversation. The set is meant to represent the canon of Western culture (more or less). This introductory volume is the apology for the set itself, and even though it is somewhat dated and certainly specific in its purpose, I believe this book should be read by anyone interested in their own education or the state of education in general. There were so many sections of the book that I wanted to quote, that I eventually gave up This is the introductory volume to a set of books entitled The Great Conversation. The set is meant to represent the canon of Western culture (more or less). This introductory volume is the apology for the set itself, and even though it is somewhat dated and certainly specific in its purpose, I believe this book should be read by anyone interested in their own education or the state of education in general. There were so many sections of the book that I wanted to quote, that I eventually gave up writing them down with the realization that I would simply have to recommend the book as a whole. I definitely found it to be timely. It is full of inciting statements, as well as many that are likely to anger. Hutchins does not mask his frustration with the state of American education nor his disgust at the fruit it bears. (Perhaps I should say that it is the barrenness of the educational system that disgusts him.) Fortunately, he is not limited to mere criticism but goes on to propose a remedy. The remedy is a liberal education for everyone.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Simon Stegall

    Back when I was doin' time at my local university (prison de l'intellect) my roommates and I allowed a nearly-complete set of The Great Books of the Western World to slip through our fingers. I don't remember where it came from, or what we did with it, but I remember flipping through the 50+ volumes, which contained everything from Homer to Aquinas to Cervantes to Freud, and concluding that the dual-columned font was too small for my pathetic eyesight. Plus, I wanted to build my own library and Back when I was doin' time at my local university (prison de l'intellect) my roommates and I allowed a nearly-complete set of The Great Books of the Western World to slip through our fingers. I don't remember where it came from, or what we did with it, but I remember flipping through the 50+ volumes, which contained everything from Homer to Aquinas to Cervantes to Freud, and concluding that the dual-columned font was too small for my pathetic eyesight. Plus, I wanted to build my own library and I preferred to do it with individual volumes rather than furniture-esque anthologies. So to the dustbin they went, all 50. Fast forward to the present day: my wife and I have accrued well over 1100 volumes of our own (our library is beginning to take on the scope and mien of a vice) and I am starting to realize the value of economy. Luckily, the school where I teach has their own nearly-complete set of The Great Books of the Western World (purely for the furniture-esqueness) which I discovered last week with a cry of Lear-like recognition. As I pulled down the introductory volume to caress it lovingly my eyes accidentally fell upon the first page. Before long I was late for class; but unlike Lear, I have no regrets. Robert Hutchins' introduction to the massive anthology ostensibly answers the question: why these books and not others? What, exactly, is so great about this selection? In answering this question Hutchins puts forward a brief theory of education, one which is more germane now than ever. In his view American universities since 1900 have catastrophically failed to instill in its students an intimacy with what he calls "The Great Conversation," or, the 2000+ years of thought beginning in Ancient Greece and continuing through the growth of Europe and its American offspring, the ideals of which were human excellence, proper government, and free inquiry, and which birthed the industrial wealth, rich artistic legacy, and democratic government we now enjoy. In brief the argument goes like this: before the era of democracy, political power in the West and the education that it necessitated were held by a lucky few; these few constituted an aristocracy, which varied in flavor (if not nutrition) from government to government. The education they received (which more or less consisted of studying the Western "canon": Plato, Shakespeare, Dante, etc, as well as math and the natural sciences) was considered to be necessary because 1) in order to understand your government, one must know the history of the ideals and processes on which your government is founded, 2) in order to govern, one must understand mankind, which is best explored in literature and history, and 3) there's an image of cultivation to be maintained for the benefit of the disenfranchised peasants. Doubtless the third point was emphasized to the detriment of the first two; but this is a failure of the aristocrats, not of the curriculum. Ok, so if this is true (and I admit I'm skimming over possible objections to get to the point), and the defining characteristics of an aristocracy are political power and leisure (about 20 hours of free time a week to devote to whatever) then it follows that every person in America today who works under 50 hours a week falls into this category. This is the boon of an industrial democracy. The catch is that it falls to the individual to decide what to do with that time. And here's where Hutchins delivers the clacker: If leisure and political power are a reason for liberal education, then everybody in America now has this reason... If leisure and political power require this education, everybody in America now requires it... If the people are not capable of acquiring this education, they should be deprived of political power and probably of leisure. Their uneducated political power is dangerous, and their uneducated leisure is degrading and will be dangerous. If the people are incapable of achieving the education that responsible democratic citizenship demands, then democracy is doomed, Aristotle rightly condemned the mass of mankind to natural slavery, and the sooner we set about reversing the trend toward democracy the better it will be for the world. (p 18) These are "if" statements, because Hutchins' view is that this responsible education is within range of everyone... as long as they have a good teacher and read the right stuff. If this sounds aristocratic and gatekeepy, that's because it is, to a degree. But consider: you are already part of a sort of historical aristocracy, especially if you went to college. Consider further: maybe it sounds gatekeepy because we aren't used to hearing that our citizenship entails responsibilities. In America we tend to think a citizen's responsibilities are: don't break the law, don't hurt other people, and vote occasionally. These responsibilities in no way extend to how we use our free time or how lucidly we understand the ideals of our country, let alone the "Great Conversation" which gave birth to its Constitution. We tend to take enfranchisement and the ability to run for office which every American enjoys for granted, and it rarely crosses our minds that these powers are dangerous in the hands of any person who doesn't know how or why those powers were bequeathed to them. If you think that the reading of great books (including, by the way, the great scientists or mathematicians) is an activity best left to intellectuals and professors, (in short, assholes), you are doing your own abilities a great disservice and, more importantly, you are displaying an ignorance of the books themselves; books which were considered "great" in part because they were written to be understood by any literate person. They are, for the most part, the opposite of gatekeeping. But if you persist in your skepticism I would rejoin that you should read this book, thoughtfully, and then see where you stand. If you reply disdainfully in the negative once more, I would ask this: has 100 years of the leisure-for-entertainment model produced a national consciousness which is historically knowledgeable, individually motivated, patriotically self-critical, and devoted to the realization of their own excellence? It hasn't. We are selfish, entitled, and breathtakingly ignorant, especially if we were educated at college, where ancient ideas are most violently and irresponsibly truncated. We have no sense of personal vision, no concept of the history of ideas, and are pathetically vulnerable to the propaganda wizards which surround us. We swallow the low-protein narratives we are fed and throw ourselves into partisan performance politics, or worse, eschew the world of ideas altogether in favor of amygdala-tickling diversion. We think ourselves as intellectual apexes of civilization, but if we've read Dante, Locke, or Plato's Republic all the way through (rather than just excerpts in a 301 class) we are an exception to the rule. We are addicted to entertainment which serves no purpose but to addict. We are not, perhaps, worthy of our liberties. Hutchins lays out his view: We believe that the reduction of the citizen to an object of propaganda, private and public, is one of the greatest dangers to democracy. A prevalent notion is that the great mass of the people cannot... be educated, in the sense of developing their intellectual powers, but they can be bamboozled. The reiteration of slogans, the distortion of the news, the great storm of propaganda that beats upon the citizen twenty-four hours a day all his life long mean either that democracy must fall prey to the loudest and most persistent propagandists or that the people must save themselves by strengthening their minds so that they can appraise the issues for themselves... Though we do not recommend great books as a panacea for our ills, we must admit that we have an exceedingly high opinion of them as an educational instrument... The aim of liberal education is human excellence... Its object is the excellence of man as man and man as citizen. It regards man as an end, not as a means; and it regards the ends of life, and not the means to it. For this reason it is the education of free men... The liberal arts are not merely indispensable; they are unavoidable. Nobody can decide for himself whether he is going to be a human being. The only question open to him is whether he will be an ignorant, undeveloped one or one who has sought to reach the highest point he is capable of attaining. The question, in short, is whether he will be a poor liberal artist or a good one. Read great books. This country may be doomed, but you can still save your soul.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Krys

    Not too long ago, in the 20th mid-century, a group of scholars decided to play Sisyphus, championing Galen, Hume, Locke, and Swift, et al as the cornerstone of a complete education. Even if the editors and their selected authors were not all men, all white, or European/American, any task of discrimination and exclusion invites critique and contestation. These taste-makers advocated a flavor of educational philosophy that the civil rights and feminist movements would soon challenge. But in 1952, Not too long ago, in the 20th mid-century, a group of scholars decided to play Sisyphus, championing Galen, Hume, Locke, and Swift, et al as the cornerstone of a complete education. Even if the editors and their selected authors were not all men, all white, or European/American, any task of discrimination and exclusion invites critique and contestation. These taste-makers advocated a flavor of educational philosophy that the civil rights and feminist movements would soon challenge. But in 1952, the editors were preoccupied with a different, pressing problem: to defend the reading of the Great Books, and a liberal education, against a turning cultural tide that questioned its value. In the 131 pages of The Great Conversation: The Substance of a Liberal Arts Education, editor Robert Hutchins proffers an argument in favor of the liberal arts, a rebuke of the waywardness of its scholars, and a counterweight to the cultural supremacy of the scientific method. It has equal value as a practical work that outlines the skills, strategies, and intellectual posture necessary to tackle the Great Books (Chapters I and X). Autodidacts, homeschoolers, and lifelong learners will find affirmation, coaching, and counsel. o any person of any discipline who suspects that their education failed them; to people who fear incompetence in the face of a challenging literary, philosophical, or scientific classic; and to any arts student who reads Forbes and wonders if the destitution predicted for them is idealism’s just dessert. all while levelling a cogent critique against the substandard education to which American students (and students of copycat systems) are unsuspectingly subjected. And even if you were lucky to have had a liberal education par excellence, Hutchins makes a convincing case that you, too, should read these books (again). Education is a lifelong obligation to ourselves and to our communities. An excellent chapter called “The Education of Adults” (Chapter VII) is a salve for those of us cut by the sword of the cult of youth as Hutchins makes the case that the best students of the greatest works are adults. After all, “the great books of ethics, political philosophy, economics, history and literature do not yield up their secrets to the immature.” (p.54) The editor never details what he means by a liberal education other than that students should develop a personal relationship with the classics independent of supporting, secondary source material. We find few answers to questions we might raise about the value of putting Milton, Plato, or Pascal in their historical contexts, or little guidance on negotiating the conflicting claims of a “Great Conversation” spanning millennia. Second, the editors wrote from the legacy of the Machine Age, after the Industrial Revolution had consolidated its transformation of society, but before the Information Age rewired the world in its image to become high-tech, global, and connected. Chapter III, “Education and Economics,” is most aged by the changes of the last few decades. For instance, Hutchins writes that “the constant drive to simplify industrial operations will eventually mean - and means in many industries today - that only a few hours will be required to give the worker all the training he can use.” (p. 21) However, as the economy has shifted from industry to a computerized, information-based society and as technology develops rapidly, frequent technical training and retraining characterizes our age more accurately than contented stasis. A globalized labor market pressures workers to be highly-skilled, and outsourcing and automation means that the middle class must either “move up” to the professions or move down to lower-skilled, service jobs. Hutchins prediction that the average person will have more opportunity to reach into the annals of history for general knowledge has materialized but not his reassurance of more time, and the editors’ confidence in the intelligence of liberal arts students (“we need have few fears that he will not be able to learn to make a living”) says nothing of employers’ desire to hire such graduates. But even if you’re convinced of the virtues of a liberal education, the practical aspects of the book are best viewed as suggestions rather than maxims. You may disagree that Eastern writings are peripheral to a Westerner’s self-understanding or suspect that women have made important contributions to Western thought. You may imagine that there exist books not on the list that will inspire an idiosyncratic illumination. But you may also see value in the editors’ suggestion to “follow the conversation” and read works in a roughly chronological order, or be inspired, even as a student of humanities, to read seminal scientific texts. As practical resources to the independent learner, they offer a a decade-long reading plan, a chronological listing of the authors and their works, and a brief introduction to reading syntopically using the Syntopicon. (The Syntopicon is Mortimer Adler’s incomparable 2-volume contribution to intellectual history: a topography of 102 “Great Ideas” such as memory, citizen, revolution and love across 2,500 years of exceptional thought. Adler’s “How to Read Intelligently offers excellent instruction in reading this way.) But all this advice depends upon the reader’s acceptance that a liberal education is useful today. A society intoxicated with the successes of the scientific method demands specialists, scientists, and technicians. It shouts, to an increasing crescendo, “What has the liberal arts done for us lately?” The editors know that they have to answer this question in order to advance the claim that the Great Books are worth reading. So Hutchins tackles the science question (does the rise of science, and the scientific method, make other ways of knowing obsolete?) and whether the disappearance of the liberal arts has progressive or regressive momentum. He opines the democratic, intellectual, and personal merits of a liberal education, and identifies why they’ve fallen into disrepute. In course, he points fingers at scholars in the humanities and liberal arts themselves, claiming that if fields were wrestling with worthy problems such as those of a good life, a good society, and human destiny, “it would be respectable for intelligent young people, young people with ideas, to devote their lives to the study of these issues.” (p. 56) This accusation seems especially pertinent in an era of post-modern navel-gazing and niche projects like “The Role of the Dash in the Third Paragraph of the 51st Chapter of the Fifth Books of George Eliot’s Middlemarch.” (Search Google for Alain de Botton’s talk “Art as Therapy” for more along these lines.) The Great Conversation is worth reading, if only to inform or sharpen your analysis of the current state of education and how to develop citizens and humans, not just workers. At the foundation of debates regarding liberal “versus” technical education or the scientific method versus the arts lay a supremely important epistemological question of the best method by which to seek truth. Humanities scholars and liberal artists stand as the ever-leaner congregation in a temple erected to Experience, Ambiguity, and Uncertainty. Whether you stand with David Hume, who pronounced that books void of abstract quantified or experimental reason be “committed to the flames” or whether your experience with the arts prods you disagree, Hutchins might say answer that the only way to enter the Great Conversation is to first listen in.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Trace

    Such a great case for a liberal arts education. I've underlined much in this book. One of my favorite passages - and a strong argument for continuing your education as an adult: "I must reiterate that you can set no store by your education in childhood and youth, no matter how good it was. Childhood and youth are no time to get an education. They are the time to get ready for an education. The most that we can hope for from these uninteresting and chaotic periods of life is that during them we s Such a great case for a liberal arts education. I've underlined much in this book. One of my favorite passages - and a strong argument for continuing your education as an adult: "I must reiterate that you can set no store by your education in childhood and youth, no matter how good it was. Childhood and youth are no time to get an education. They are the time to get ready for an education. The most that we can hope for from these uninteresting and chaotic periods of life is that during them we shall be set on the right path, the path of realizing our human possibilities through intellectual effort and aesthetic appreciation. The great issues, now issues of life and death for civilization, call for mature minds.... We can understand Macbeth as Shakespeare meant us to understand it only when we have had some experience, vicarious or otherwise, of marriage and ambition. To read great books, if we read them at all, in childhood and youth and never read them again is never to understand them. Can you ever understand them? There is a sens in which nobody can. That is they the Great Conversation never ends. "

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kristen

    This is a beautiful explanation of the importance of education. I unexpectedly inherited the 54 Great Books of the Western World from my grandfather and begun with the first book of the collection. This was a delightful treat, and I'm excited to spend the next few years working my way through this wonderful collection. This is a beautiful explanation of the importance of education. I unexpectedly inherited the 54 Great Books of the Western World from my grandfather and begun with the first book of the collection. This was a delightful treat, and I'm excited to spend the next few years working my way through this wonderful collection.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Baylor Heath

    This is the beginning of my journey through the Great Books of the Western World. This was a fantastic introductory volume making a case for reading these books. It didn't earn the last star for the below reasons Two Criticisms from a Christian Perspective: 1. Western Supremacy Robert Hutchins makes a convincing case why anyone should read the Great Books of the Western World, but at times with concerning reasoning. For Hutchins, the Great Conversation, liberal education, and the Western Traditio This is the beginning of my journey through the Great Books of the Western World. This was a fantastic introductory volume making a case for reading these books. It didn't earn the last star for the below reasons Two Criticisms from a Christian Perspective: 1. Western Supremacy Robert Hutchins makes a convincing case why anyone should read the Great Books of the Western World, but at times with concerning reasoning. For Hutchins, the Great Conversation, liberal education, and the Western Tradition are synonymous. He begins the book with this outsized claim: “The tradition of the West is embodied in the Great Conversation that began in the dawn of history and that continues to the present day.” Right out of the gate Hutchins seems to be implying that the story of human history is the story of Western civilization, where all other civilizations are, at best, subplots to the larger narrative. He continues on explicitly arguing that the West’s literary tradition is unmatched. He is right to applaud this impressive centuries-long tradition of dialogue, but why should he pit it against the written traditions of other civilizations? Does it not stand to be boasted about on its own merit? Even more concerning is when he refers to the West as a “race”, as in this sentence for example: “the exchange of ideas is held to be the path to the realization of the potentialities of the race.” What race does Hutchins have in mind when he says this? It is impossible to say for sure, but white supremacy has a legacy of being intertwined with western supremacy. From a Christian perspective, Jesus’ Gospel and teachings are a trans-cultural message and therefore have no allegiance to any culture or civilization except that of Christ’s Kingdom. From that view, any culture or civilization which lauds itself above others is something to revile and resist. This collection of books will serve as an excellent collection of Western thoughts and ideas to be contrasted against the trans-cultural Gospel message, but never to be excelled in with some nationalist or traditionalist zeal for the Christian. Additionally, Hutchins goes on to make a compelling arguments for reading these books, but they always rest problematically upon the idea that the highest good a human can attain to is obtaining a Western education. These writers and books from across several times and cultures (Russia, Middle East, Latin America) should rightfully be extolled and engaged with but not because of a falsely constructed identity as superior Western voices. 2. Liberal Education as the Common Language The great problem that Hutchins is out to solve is the disappearance of liberal education, which he attributes to worse problems like passive democratic citizenship, the over-specilzation of occupations, and ultimately the loss of a common language. These problems ring ever truer in 2020 than they did in 1952! His solution to all these problems, and even crazier ones like preventing wars, is the reinstating of liberal education (all adults reading great books all their lives). No doubt, this would help some of these areas to varying degrees, but this ends up being a classic “education will fix everything” kind of argument. As compelling as his argument often was, as a Christian I can’t rightfully believe that the common language everyone needs is that of liberal education. If I were to a chose the best common language for secular culture, it may very well be in the running, but I can’t believe at the end of the day that liberal education for all would bring real unity and restoration amongst people to the extent that Hutchins is claiming.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    This slim opening volume of the Britannica Great Books of the Western World contends that liberal education, an unquestioned necessity for the civilized Westerner until the 19th century, though now all but dead, is not only worth reviving but is indispensable for every free citizen of our shrunken, technologized, and heavily armed world. Robert M. Hutchins, editor of the Britannica Great Books, delivers the keynote address in this essay, called "The Great Conversation". In it he seeks to fight of This slim opening volume of the Britannica Great Books of the Western World contends that liberal education, an unquestioned necessity for the civilized Westerner until the 19th century, though now all but dead, is not only worth reviving but is indispensable for every free citizen of our shrunken, technologized, and heavily armed world. Robert M. Hutchins, editor of the Britannica Great Books, delivers the keynote address in this essay, called "The Great Conversation". In it he seeks to fight off the various criticisms of liberal education and establish why its disappearance in the wake of other, more "modern" educational ideas is a near-disaster for humanity, certainly for the West, even if an invisible and slow-motion one. A liberal education boils down to studying and contemplating the Great Ideas contained in the Great Books of this series. "We think that these books show the origins of many of our most serious difficulties," he says. "We think that the spirit they represent and the habit of mind they teach are more necessary today than ever before." He makes the case that these books, far from containing fusty, outmoded ideas fit only for the deliberation of academic specialists, actually set forth, in the most cogent way yet developed, the most important and controversial problems that beset humanity. With few exceptions the Great Books were written not for specialists, but for the interested and intelligent lay reader. Hutchins deplores the descent of 20th-century education into academic specialization, physical science, and vocational training. According to him, such training in no way prepares us to deal with the deepest problems of modern life: how to coexist nonviolently, even when we cannot agree on things. As far as I can tell, all the criticisms that have been leveled against the Britannica Great Books series--that it is elitist, patriarchal, Western-biased--are answered in this essay, and answered well. Ideas don't care who has them or who talks about them. Our biggest danger is that we don't talk about them, don't think about them, and are mostly unaware of them. We can certainly debate whether these particular books are exactly the right set for such a series, but if not, they're pretty close, and they make a great place to start. I myself have no university education, and have been skeptical of the value of the old-fashioned "liberal education". Having read Ludwig von Mises' "Human Action", I've been persuaded that state education can only mean indoctrination, since, in Mises' view, no government will fund a curriculum that it perceives as being counter to its interests. Hutchins here delivers a powerful counterstroke to that thought, siding with Thomas Jefferson in the belief that the only way to preserve a free society is through universal education. I have to admit that for myself, the jury is back out. It's no coincidence, Hutchins would say: Education is one of the 102 Great Ideas discussed in the Great Books. This book challenged my beliefs and assumptions, made me think deeply, and did so in a very short space. What more recommendation can I give?

  10. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Taylor

    Why read the great books that have shaped Western thought? In this introduction to the set, Hutchins points out the limitations of modern school-based education and presses for a renaissance of liberal education. Such an education does not teach a man what to think, or give him the answers, instead it teaches him how to think and what questions to ask. While I haven't yet read enough of the Great Books to know if my education was lacking, I'm willing to test the idea out. Getting to the source of Why read the great books that have shaped Western thought? In this introduction to the set, Hutchins points out the limitations of modern school-based education and presses for a renaissance of liberal education. Such an education does not teach a man what to think, or give him the answers, instead it teaches him how to think and what questions to ask. While I haven't yet read enough of the Great Books to know if my education was lacking, I'm willing to test the idea out. Getting to the source of what I learned will be interesting as it will place what I know into an historical and intellectual context. If you're unconvinced about whether to read the Great Books, this essay will convince you to make the effort.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    This was the most concise, passionate, and persuasive plea to value and treasure great, old books I've ever read. The author addressed everything from how to read, to why to read, to the practical application of his multitudinous principles. Education is also redefined, adding incredible insight into the current "norms" of "education." This will challenge your values for life in general, education in particular, and the role great books play in a holistic liberal arts education. This was the most concise, passionate, and persuasive plea to value and treasure great, old books I've ever read. The author addressed everything from how to read, to why to read, to the practical application of his multitudinous principles. Education is also redefined, adding incredible insight into the current "norms" of "education." This will challenge your values for life in general, education in particular, and the role great books play in a holistic liberal arts education.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Excellent discussion of why a liberal arts (aka classical) education is the best for everyone to have, why it is a lifelong undertaking, and how to pursue it though study of great works from the past 2500 years. "What is the good life? What is a good state? Is there a God? What is the nature and destiny of man? Such questions and a host of others persist because man persists." I recently started reading my way through the Great Books of the Western World, and this introductory work served to fur Excellent discussion of why a liberal arts (aka classical) education is the best for everyone to have, why it is a lifelong undertaking, and how to pursue it though study of great works from the past 2500 years. "What is the good life? What is a good state? Is there a God? What is the nature and destiny of man? Such questions and a host of others persist because man persists." I recently started reading my way through the Great Books of the Western World, and this introductory work served to further encourage and inspire me. The 10-year plan of selected readings is a useful reference. Even if a reader prefers to use a chronological plan, the selections for the 10-year plan can serve as a guide for where to start with the more prolific authors. An observation on the dated language of this 1952 publication: over and over it refers to the education of men, the questions of men, the challenges men face, etc etc. It very much reads as an essay written by a man for men. I chalk it up to convention at the time of writing, and I fervently hope the author did not truly believe that women should be excluded from the Great Conversation. That when he said "man," he meant "humankind." On its face, however, it did feel sexist and exclusionary to me. Language matters, folks.

  13. 5 out of 5

    J.E.

    I expected language from 1952 to be a little dated but this could have been written this morning: "We believe that the reduction of the citizen to an object of propaganda, private and public, is one of the greatest dangers to democracy. A prevalent notion is that the great mass of the people cannot understand and cannot form an independent judgment upon any matter; they cannot be educated, in the sense of developing their intellectual powers, but they can be bamboozled. The reiteration of slogans I expected language from 1952 to be a little dated but this could have been written this morning: "We believe that the reduction of the citizen to an object of propaganda, private and public, is one of the greatest dangers to democracy. A prevalent notion is that the great mass of the people cannot understand and cannot form an independent judgment upon any matter; they cannot be educated, in the sense of developing their intellectual powers, but they can be bamboozled. The reiteration of slogans, the distortion of the news, the great storm of propaganda that beats upon the citizen twenty-four hours a day all his life long mean either that democracy must fall a prey to the loudest and most persistent propagandists or that the people must save themselves by strengthening their minds so that they can appraise the issues for themselves."

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Roberts

    My word this makes me excited to dive into this collection. This is not an easy set of books to read, but that makes it all the more worth it. The Great Conversation summed up is the idea that western writers have created one long conversation by responding to one another through support or critique. The author suggests that the best way to obtain a liberal education is by reading this conversation. In addition, as a democratic society, it is their responsibility to educate as many as possible a My word this makes me excited to dive into this collection. This is not an easy set of books to read, but that makes it all the more worth it. The Great Conversation summed up is the idea that western writers have created one long conversation by responding to one another through support or critique. The author suggests that the best way to obtain a liberal education is by reading this conversation. In addition, as a democratic society, it is their responsibility to educate as many as possible and their best attempt is through this collection.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Chris Dziewa

    The author makes a good case for the study of the great books of the western tradition as an adult. I find his criticism of the education system in the US to still be very relevant today. The book also provides a roadmap for the original 54 volume set of the Great Books of the Western World collection over the course of 10 years. I'm not sure if I will read the collection, but I am hoping to work through at least part of it. The author makes a good case for the study of the great books of the western tradition as an adult. I find his criticism of the education system in the US to still be very relevant today. The book also provides a roadmap for the original 54 volume set of the Great Books of the Western World collection over the course of 10 years. I'm not sure if I will read the collection, but I am hoping to work through at least part of it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Elisabeth Hagadorn-webber

    This book is a succinct argument for a great books based education. Specifically, it argues that such an education shouldn’t stop merely because one has “finished” school. Learning from and understanding the great works of literature are necessary to be free men and women and that responsibility doesn’t end with 12 years of schooling. Truly this little volume could be read again and again.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Chris Duffy

    An inspiring love letter to liberal arts education as embodied by reading the classics and important works of the Western canon. There is much admonishment about the necessity of education for democratic society at large that reads like at least partially-fulfilled prophecy in 2017.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Abby

    An eloquent argument for lifelong liberal arts education for ALL, along with a ten-year "great works" reading plan. Available online at https://archive.org/details/greatconv.... An eloquent argument for lifelong liberal arts education for ALL, along with a ten-year "great works" reading plan. Available online at https://archive.org/details/greatconv....

  19. 4 out of 5

    Maurice Savard

    A ringing defense of the value of the liberal arts, as part of an introduction to the Great Books of the Western World set.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    An essay to read over and over again.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Emmeline

    *whispers* this guy gets it

  22. 4 out of 5

    Matthew William

    I love this series.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    An absolute `must read´ for anyone with a hint of intellectual ambition. An absolute `must read´ for anyone with a hint of intellectual ambition.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

    Everyone, every single person, should read this book.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kenny

    Excellent primer on the value of a liberal education.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Shem Doupe

    Nothing will want to make you read classical literature quite like this book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Cindi

    This great little book is Volume 1 in a 54 volume set (as published in 1952--now it's 60 volumes for $998). The purpose of this volume is the argument that liberal education has died out, especially in America, and that in order to preserve our freedoms and government, we need to claim the right to a liberal education. I enjoyed reading the logic and persuasive thinking of the author. It was at times a challenging read for me, which is good. Too much of what I have been reading lately has been ea This great little book is Volume 1 in a 54 volume set (as published in 1952--now it's 60 volumes for $998). The purpose of this volume is the argument that liberal education has died out, especially in America, and that in order to preserve our freedoms and government, we need to claim the right to a liberal education. I enjoyed reading the logic and persuasive thinking of the author. It was at times a challenging read for me, which is good. Too much of what I have been reading lately has been easy. My mind is reveling in a little stretching. I thought Hutchins took a fair look at the history of education. So many of the ideas on education I've read lately are emotionally charged. Perhaps, rightly so, as there are many people who feel very strongly this way or that about what's happening in education today. This book did very little to hype up the emotions, which is why I give it five stars. Hutchins realizes that the liberal education of the past was for the elite, the rich. He brings into the picture the change in education around the turn of the twentieth century, the right to a free education for all. That's a really big deal! Hutchins says, " It would seem that this education is the best for everybody, if it is the best for the best, provided everybody can get it. The question, then, is: Can everybody get it? This is the most important question in education. Perhaps it is the most important question in the world. Nobody knows the answer to this question. There has never been a time in history when everybody has had a chance to get a liberal education. We can, however, examine the alternatives, and the consequences of each." Hutchins challenges the system to try it out and see what happens. Of course, that's more challenging than it sounds. I think that's why Hutchins doesn't really offer solutions or ideas towards accomplishing the goal. It's a hypothesis, yet to be tested. However, he and his editorial board do provide the books in these volumes to us. There's more to this question, for me, than whether every American can have this type of education. Since it's not possible to get this kind of education through the school systems and in college, the only answer is self education. In my case, I can begin with me and pass along the information and books to my children. I can inspire them. I learned a new term through reading this book: positivist (someone who believe that all knowledge can be obtained through use of the scientific method?? not sure I got it quite right). I had to think more about science (ie scientific method) vs. thought and ideas that cannot necessarily be tested by science. I had to think about the fact that there is value in both types of inquiry. My husband taught me another new term, what I hope to become, a post-positivist. One more idea to share. I liked the idea that if all Americans could obtain this kind of education, it would provide a common language for us which in turn promotes community. We seem to need that now more than ever.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Callie Wade

    This is another book that I want to reread when I am older. It is very short, only about 100 pages of text. But they pack a lot into it. The ideas are great. I think modern educators should definitely read this.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ci

    The initial subscription of the complete set of Great Books was $500 in 1952, which is nearly ten-fold in purchase power today. However, in near pristine condition, these books can be had for one dollar a piece at the library sales. Reading the grand introduction of the Editors nearly sixty years ago, I found much the dire prediction of a global disappearance of liberal education is indeed true, and continues to play out in vengeance globally. “What languages you use?” “Oh, a bit of C+ and a bit The initial subscription of the complete set of Great Books was $500 in 1952, which is nearly ten-fold in purchase power today. However, in near pristine condition, these books can be had for one dollar a piece at the library sales. Reading the grand introduction of the Editors nearly sixty years ago, I found much the dire prediction of a global disappearance of liberal education is indeed true, and continues to play out in vengeance globally. “What languages you use?” “Oh, a bit of C+ and a bit of Python” instead of French/German/Spanish. Forget about Latin and Greek; they are truly dead to this generation. Those books, ’the habitual vision of greatness’’, have been consigned to the relic of past era. Possibly the “dead white male” writers come to mind. This is the age of snapchats, blogs and twitters; even the newspapers are dying out. Why study liberal arts as an adult? Why read these books (published prior 1900)? Some cynic may invent a new word — “biblio-antiquing”. No wonder these books are cheaper than a song, marked as “low value” by the local library to get rid of their excess donation. My own set has made acquaintances only with dusts and humidity; no human fingers have flipped passed the title page. They are orphaned since the day they were purchased. Perhaps they stood only as ornaments for stately or plainer homes. Now they are discardable by the roadside, or truck-loaded to the local public library which in turns finds no home for them. As chief editor Hutchins told us, the misunderstood pragmatism of Dewey’s vocational education have replaced liberal education of the intellect into acquisition of job-related skills. No use for those old books anymore. However, I am persuaded by writers like Hutchins to take on these books with good faith. If not to make one a better person, at least a more informed one, acquiring basic knowledge of the Western civilization one is presently live in. Even though science, technology and economics are advancing through ages, the author believed that these books “… can help us to the that grasp of history, politics, morals, and economics and to that habit of mind which are needed to form a valid judgement on the issue.” On page 113, there is a 10-year reading plan. Onward then!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Rush

    The only thing I don't understand about this book is why it is not still in print. I'm all in favor of mass producing it just as it is, even with the occasional references to the Great Books of the Western World set to which it is primarily an introduction, but I wouldn't mind necessarily the tiniest of editorial revisions only insofar as to the removal of the brief references to the set as its introduction, though the essence of the need for participating in the Great Books and the Western Cano The only thing I don't understand about this book is why it is not still in print. I'm all in favor of mass producing it just as it is, even with the occasional references to the Great Books of the Western World set to which it is primarily an introduction, but I wouldn't mind necessarily the tiniest of editorial revisions only insofar as to the removal of the brief references to the set as its introduction, though the essence of the need for participating in the Great Books and the Western Canon should remain. I would totally make this required reading in my classes at our classical school. I would get copies for all our alumni (though, hopefully, they already agree with essentially everything Hutchins has to say). I suppose one other thing exists I don't understand ... why doesn't everyone agree with him? I'm hoping it's because not many people have read this book. Those who have read it ... how could anyone disagree? He's totally right on just about everything. Other than a few more words about genuine Truth, it's as solid an essay on the importance of a genuine liberal education fueled by participation in the Great Conversation as possibly could be. If anyone out there does disagree, please let me know why and concerning what aspect of Hutchins's ideas (concerning which he would be the first to point out they are not in any way "his," since they are as old and true as the Conversation itself). Any further elaboration by myself would be an insult to the great work of the Great Books group and Hutchins's nonpareil essay. Read it and find out just how thoroughly wrong Alex Beam is and find out how great, true, beneficial, and useful a liberal education (fueled by the Great Conversation) is, was, and always will be.

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