Friday, December 28, 2012

Mortimer Adler wrote How to Read a Book

Mortimer Adler
It is the birthday of philosopher and writer Mortimer Adler (1902), whose popular How to Read a Book (1940) gives advice on reading great literature, and good books of any genre. Adler aimed the book squarely at the average reader. "I have no interest in the academic audience," he said. "I am interested in Joe Doakes. A general audience can read any book I write — and they do." The book became a bestseller.

Adler's effort to bring classic literature and philosophy to the masses wasn't without its detractors. Adler's book led social critic Dwight MacDonald to observe: "Mr. Adler once wrote a book called How to Read a Book. He should now read a book called How to Write a Book."

In his book, Adler argued that the best way to gain insight into the great ideas is through what he called original communication—that is, from the source of the idea itself. Hence, reading the Great Books is the way to gain that insight from the original thinkers. Adler proceeds to try to teach the reader how to read for understanding.

Adler served on the Board of Editors for Encyclopaedia Britannica from its inception in 1949 and was the director of editorial planning for the 15th edition beginning in 1965 where he oversaw a vast reorganization of the information in that volume. He became chairman of the Board of Directors in 1974. Adler also taught at Columbia University and the University of Chicago.

With Robert Hutchins, who had been president of the University of Chicago, Adler founded the Great Books of the Western World program (1952), a series of books published in 54 volumes by Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. They also founded the Great Books Foundation. The first two sets were presented to Queen Elizabeth II and President Harry Truman.

The series included works of Homer, Sophocles, Euripides,  Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Hippocrates, Plutarch, Virgil, Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Chaucer, Machiavelli, Shakespeare, Galileo, Cervantes, Bacon, Decartes, Milton, Pascal, Newton, John Locke, Jonathan Swift, Henry Fielding, Adam Smith, Edward Gibbon, Immanuel Kant, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Stuart Mill, James Boswell, Hegel, Goethe, Melville, Darwin, Karl Marx, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Freud, among others. Reading the entire set could give the reader a classical education in the liberal arts.

1 comment:

  1. We are a not-for-profit educational organization, founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery--three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos--lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

    Three hours with Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, lively discussing the art of reading, on one DVD. A must for libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

    I cannot exaggerate how instructive these programs are--we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

    Please go here to see a clip and learn more:

    ISBN: 978-1-61535-311-8

    Thank you,

    Max Weismann


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