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Bonfire of the Humanities: Rescuing the Classics in an Impoverished Age Hardcover – December 3, 2000


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Bonfire of the Humanities: Rescuing the Classics in an Impoverished Age + Who Killed Homer: The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom + A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 373 pages
  • Publisher: Intercollegiate Studies Institute; 1ST edition (December 3, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1882926544
  • ISBN-13: 978-1882926541
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.3 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #322,702 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

It has become quite common over the past 20 years for various groups of humanists to cry like prophets in the wilderness over the demise of the classics both in small liberal arts colleges and large state universities. Hanson and Heath (coauthors of Who Killed Homer? and professors of classics at, respectively, Cal State, Fresno, and Santa Clara University), along with Cal State classicist Thornton, contend that these arguments generally fail to strike at the heart of the problem which is, they say, that contemporary academics are hypocrites who decry racial discrimination, sexism and democratic capitalism from the vantage point of well-paid, tenured positions. These professors whom they deride as "Savonarolas... ideologues of the multicultural and postmodern Left" also purportedly contribute to the death of the classics by writing jargon-filled articles and books about ancient Greece and Rome that are inaccessible to a broader audience. In addition, such academics refuse to teach undergraduates, exploiting instead graduate teaching assistants who do not have the wealth of research to share with these younger students. The authors, who define their own enterprise as "academic populism," address this elitism and hypocrisy in a series of scathing essays and book reviews, which, unfortunately, suffer from many of the same problems of which they accuse their opponents (for instance, those they criticize, such as philosopher Martha Nussbaum and classicist Judith Hallett and thus these critiques themselves are more likely to be read by scholars than by a general audience). At best, the authors engage in defensive, whining, self-righteous diatribes in an effort to show how misguided their opponents are. At worst, Hanson, Heath and Thornton use this book to vilify those whom they perceive to have wronged them.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In this collection of new and previously published essays, classicists Hanson (California State Univ., Fresno), John Heath (Santa Clara Univ.), and Bruce S. Thornton (California State Univ., Fresno) prove that the old saying "academic politics are so poisonous only because there is so little at stake" is true. Railing against what they perceive as rampant careerism among modern-day exponents of "fashionable" theories such as postmodernism, feminism, and multiculturalism, Hanson and Heath return to the question that they posed in their earlier work, Who Killed Homer?: The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom, and provide the same answer, i.e., "They did." While the authors might compare their work to broader criticisms of the academy such as Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind (LJ 5/1/87) and Dinesh D'Souza's Illiberal Education (LJ 3/15/91), this work is so steeped in the academic infighting specific to the field of classical studies that it is unlikely to find much of an audience beyond those already involved in the conflict. Recommended only for academic collections supporting advanced teaching and research in classics. Scott Walter, Washington State Univ., Pullman
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Victor Davis Hanson is Professor of Greek and Director of the Classics Program at California State University, Fresno. He is the author or editor of many books, including Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (with John Heath, Free Press, 1998), and The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999). In 1992 he was named the most outstanding undergraduate teacher of classics in the nation.

Customer Reviews

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113 of 123 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Winkler on July 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Classics as an academic discipline, or classical philology, or simply classical studies, as it is also called, is the study of the ancient Greek and Latin languages, the civilizations which spoke these languages, their ideas and philosophies and all the other creations which they left behind in their writings and monuments. Ever since the Renaissance, when Western man first began to look backwards over the gulf of time which came to be known as the Middle Ages, the classical civilizations were seen as a flowering of man's intellectual and creative and ethical and inquiring spirit, a fruition which held meaning for modern man, one worthy of close study and emulation as the source of a better way of fulfilling man's natural role in the world and in the societies he created. Therefore for a long time throughout Europe, and in America too, studying the classics was at the core of an education based in the humanities, those liberal studies which, as their name suggests, free man from the constraints of narrow thinking and open his mind to all that has gone before, of which he is a product, teaching him not what to think, but how to think.
No longer is such the case, and although the decline in teaching and study of the humanities is a general one, classics, a demanding discipline at best, is particularly hard hit, and what was once seen as the revealer of a noble ethic toward which we should aspire is dead or dying, say the authors here in Bonfire of the Humanities, a collection of essays and reviews by three classicists who protest the decline of their profession in the face of an onslaught coming both from outside and from within the profession itself.
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77 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Dr. on October 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Before you pay tens of thousands of dollars to send little Jr. or Jr.ett off to the local state university--READ THIS BOOK!!!
What about when people who are unworthy of education approach philosophy and consort with her unworthily? What kinds of thoughts and opinions are we to say they form? Won't they truly be what are properly called sophisms, things that have nothing genuine about them or worthy of being called true wisdom?
Plato's Republic Bk VI
There is a mountain of evidence from several important books that the past thirty years has seen obvious and measurable decline within the modern American university. Decline of rigorous academic standards, decline of hours full-time professors teach undergraduate students, decline of competent teachers, and decline of full-time teaching faculty within the Humanities.
Many of the claims by the three writers will not settle well with the modern crying sensitive type and demanding everyone to be tolerant (while they are the essence of intolerance.) Heath courageously claims that while some of the glories of the Greeks are unique to the Greeks, "the sins of the West are the sins of mankind and that it's primarily in the West that the spirit of self-criticism has led to an amelioration of these evils."
Several times the author's recognize that the larger cultural and social context of the modern university is part of the problems but not likely at the center of the problems. However, the authors are unrelenting in their case that much of what is wrong within the Humanities is a self-inflicted wound.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Martin Asiner on September 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The first sentence of BONFIRE OF THE HUMANITIES reads "The American university is in trouble." Authors Victor Davis Hanson, John Heath, and Bruce Thornton then provide eight essays which explain that this trouble relates specifically to the moribund discipline of classical Greek and Roman literature. As one reads each essay, one gets the idea that the trouble is not limited to the nation's collective classics departments but can be extended to all the humanities departments as well. All eight essays overlap while focusing on differing targets. The three writers are all professors of classical literature and each notes that there is a variety of reasons for the metaphorical burnings, not the least of which is that their university bretheren, the very ones charged with the responsibility of keeping the spark of classical learning well lit, are tragically enough the very ones who have led the charge to eliminate their own jobs. Now it sounds paradoxical that professors who have some of the easiest and highest paying jobs in the country are wilfully eliminating their jobs by ensuring that the next generation of scholars have learned all the wrong lessons. All three authors agree that the initial impetus for this bonfire lay in the realization reached in the 1960s that as far as original scholarship went in finding something new to publish concerning Plato or Aristotle, there were simply no more fertile fields of exploration. Thus, the majority of non-tenured professors understood that they had to find a new way to grind an old axe. At this time, they found this new way when Jacques Derrida led the postructural demolition of a universally accepted core meaning to texts.Read more ›
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