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Classic Case: Adler's Lists of Great Books

December 13, 1990

I read with interest and dismay the interview with Mortimer J. Adler on the "Great Books" list revision ("A Curmudgeon Stands His Ground," Dec. 3).

The crux of the matter, it seems to me, is not the inclusion of books in lists, but the inclusion of culture, thought, and quality of character in people.

Adler is represented in your interview as an insufferable, arrogant, bigoted pedant. If people become like him after a lifetime of reading the classics, I say let us do away with the classics.

Great books are not an academic football with which to score points against other book listers with different priorities. They are not a popularity contest for competing cultures. They are literature. They are to be read.

There is no need whatsoever for what Adler does or the book series he edits. Every book on his list is widely available in libraries, paperbacks, anthologies, and friends' bookshelves.

There are thousands of lists of recommended books put out every year. Anyone who wants to read these books can do so easily. What is needed is more reading of books, not just owning of them.

Adler sounds as though he thinks he gives a book its greatness. Alas for him, the books were already great before he was born. How sad that he missed the opportunity they offered to make him great as well.


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