Well, how does one start with an introduction to what the title already says - 'The Great Books of the Western World?' The 'GBBWW' (as they are called) more or less form what Mortimer Adler and his editorial team believed were the core of Western learning and culture, and I pretty much agree. Virtually every book in this collection is required reading in the Liberal Arts, and the ideas and issues discussed by these authors still dominates and influences debate today. Here we see the finest works of Art, Science, Philosophy, Poetry, Prose and History from the time of the Greeks until the early 20th century.
I have noticed other collections of great books often include mediocre and more obscure works which, while important in their historical context, are not part of what Adler described as the 'timeless conversation of ideas' that undergirds Western civilisation. Other collections of 'great books' more often reflect the compiler's or editor's cultural prejudices (though I know the same could be said for Adler, a 'Dead White Male') and frankly, a lot of chaff is in with the wheat. In one list for example, over 50% of the books were novels from the 20th century. The good thing about the 'Great Books' in this collection is that they are 'battle-tested' - Adler went to experts in the respective fields and asked them which works had survived the test of time, and which had not, and those that had 'made the grade.'
The other excellent thing is Adler's 'syntopicon of Great Ideas' and his extensive Bibliography at the end. The syntopicon and Bibliography together are almost a liberal education in themselves.Read more ›
Some 15 years ago, I bought the 54 volume version of the great books of the western civilization -and spent ten years reading them (aside from making a living and raising two children). These books have affected my life in various ways, all very positive I believe. If my comment can at least encourage one person in the world to go ahead and read this extraordinary collection, I would be very happy. The publishers have been wise in avoiding footnotes and erudite biographical notes, and of course, in the selection of the works. R Roose from Mexico City
Was this review helpful to you?
Let's be honest about these books. The print is cramped, the translations are hideous, and the selections are indeed rooted in a view of Great Books and Great Ideas that, while still quite vibrant, is less robust than it was in 1955. But no one in full control of their senses would sit down and read from cover to cover the Dante, the Homer, the Aristotle found in this set.
All true. But none of that matters. What you are buying here is the first three volumes (especially volumes 2 & 3) and their attendant reference set. I've owned the set for 20 years and found it invaluable because of those three first volumes. Here's how they work:
Volume 1, The Great Conversation, is essentially an inspirational text centered on the importance of a broad Liberal Education, as set against other views of education. You may take or leave it. The treasure house is the next two volumes.
The Syntopicon (volumes 2-3 of the set) is an index of 100 fundamental concepts that built the Euromerican mind and cultural vision. To give you an idea, here is a sample of the Great Ideas: Art, Beauty, Cause, Chance, Democracy, Desire, Emotion, Eternity, Family, God, Good and Evil, Government, Habit, Happiness, History, Immortality, Infinity, Justice, Labor, Language, Life and Death, Love, Mathematics, Matter, Memory, Oligarchy, Progress, Prophecy, Quantity, Religion, Rhetoric, Sin, Soul, State, Time, Truth. War and Peace, Wisdom.... you get the idea: Big Ideas.
Each of the 100 ideas is introduced with a brief essay that explains it and attempts to sketch out how it has been viewed throughout Western history. The essays are not dumbed down, but most of them are perfectly accessible to most of us.Read more ›
This edition of the great books contains a welcome inclusion of some of the most important thinkers and writers of the 20th century. However, the manufacturing quality of the books themselves leaves a great deal to be desired. First of all, the block of pages is glued to the binding and has started to separate from their spines after just a few (and I mean no more than 3) reading sessions.
The book pages are thin and somewhat flimsy. I owned a set of the 54-volume cloth-bound first (1952) edition and the bookcase which came with them. I still have the bookcase and put this 60-volume set in it. The 60 volumes of this second edition take up much less shelf space than the 54-volume set. That's how much thinner is the paper on which the books are now printed.
The covers of the books feel like they are made of some kind of paper board. They just feel cheap in in my hands.
In short, you might want the set for its content, but don't expect a production quality reflective its intrinsic value.