Download A Great Idea at the Time: The Rise, Fall, and Curious by Alex Beam PDF

By Alex Beam

Today the classics of the western canon, written by way of the proverbial “dead white men,” are cannon fodder within the tradition wars. yet within the Fifties and Nineteen Sixties, they have been a popular culture phenomenon. the nice Books of Western Civilization, fifty-four volumes selected by way of intellectuals on the college of Chicago, all started as a tutorial flow, and advanced right into a winning advertising proposal. Why did 1000000 American families purchase books via Hippocrates and Nicomachus from door-to-door salesmen? and the way and why did the nice books fall out of favor?

In A nice notion on the Time Alex Beam explores the nice Books mania, in an exciting and surprisingly poignant portrait of yankee pop culture at the threshold of the tv age. Populated with memorable characters, A nice proposal on the Time will go away readers asking themselves: Have I learn Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura in recent times? If now not, why not?

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Extra resources for A Great Idea at the Time: The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books

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21 1586484873_beam 22 8/22/08 9:26 AM Page 22 A G REAT I D EA AT T H E T I ME Comfortable matrons pouncing on a bargain in culture. Professional arguers trailing their soap boxes. Recent immigrants seeking a key to a bewildering America. Those too poor to go to college. Those thirsty for something college had been too poor to give them. Under the influence of the Great Books, Fadiman wrote, “[t]he Marxist launched fewer manifestoes. The arguer stepped down from his soap box. ” One of his students was a night watchman who lived on a barge in the East River and did his reading at the Public Library on 42nd Street.

It was—well, tomfoolery. Hutchins and Adler were putting on a show, and they were attracting quite an audience. In the 1930s, the nation passed through Chicago in a way it doesn’t anymore. New Yorkers who were headed for the West Coast on the Century Limited or the Commodore Vanderbilt trains generally stopped in Chicago, often for several nights, before catching the City of Los Angeles or the City of San Francisco to California. Some celebrities headed for the ornate Pump Room at the Ambassador Hotel, ground zero for the newspaper gossip columnists, to be photographed for the wire service syndicates.

Fadiman and Richard McKeon, who would later become a dean at the University of Chicago, taught “Classic and Medieval Thought” at the West Side YMCA on West 5th Street. “Recalling that Socrates had taught in the market place,” Fadiman wrote in his essay collection Party of One, [w]e saw nothing wrong in continuing our discussion over cafeteria tables. Our students were wildly random. Merchant mariners marooned until the next voyage. . Brash dogmatists who had read Marx and didn’t want to understand anything else.

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