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How to Think About the Great Ideas: From the Great Books of Western Civilization Paperback – March 28, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Decades before Allan Bloom famously attacked multicultural education in The Closing of the American Mind (1988), there was Mortimer Adler. A university-trained philosopher, Adler (b. 1902) is the controversy-prone inventor of Great Books-driven college curricula; during the 1930s, he caused such a stir at the University of Chicago that the faculty members demanded his dismissal. Later (1953-1954), he starred in his own TV show, The Great Ideas--and it's that show that gives this book its structure. Composed of transcripts of 52 half-hour segments, the book showcases Adler's ideas about all the big categories--truth, beauty, freedom, love, sex, art, justice, rationality, humankind's nature, Darwinism, government. In each chapter ("How to Think about God," "How to Read a Book," etc.), readers encounter Adler's philosophical instructions and opinions: he argues that the goal of both prison sentences and spankings should be to avenge, to reform and to deter others; he suggests that beauty is not just in the eye of the beholder; and--no surprise here--he confesses that he favors "the ancient and traditional meaning of art." Adler even takes up the subject of whether (and how) TV can be an effective educational tool. In the end, whether or not you agree with Adler, there's no question that the ideas he presents in these chapters are important. After all, they set the terms of a series of cultural and intellectual debates we're still having today--about art, curriculum and freedom. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

"Philosophy is everybody's business," according to Adler. He sought to prove his point in a Great Ideas television series broadcast in the San Francisco Bay area in 1953 and 1954. The programs were filmed, later transferred to videotape and audiotape, and finally transcribed on behalf of the Center for the Study of the Great Ideas; it is those transcripts that are the basis for the discussions here. Adler addresses a wide range of philosophical subjects, from epistemology to evolution, from art and work to law and government, sex, love, and friendship, progress and change, good and evil, war and peace, truth and beauty. In some programs, Adler advances his discussion alone; in others, questions from associate Lloyd Luckman give the reader (or TV audience) a surrogate with whom to identify. The prolific Adler produced more than 60 books over the past 70-plus years; this first volume of the new century is most likely to find readers where his previous general works have circulated. Mary Carroll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 530 pages
  • Publisher: Open Court (March 28, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812694120
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812694123
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #164,754 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Mortimer Jerome Adler (December 28, 1902 - June 28, 2001) was an American philosopher, educator, and popular author. As a philosopher he worked within the Aristotelian and Thomistic traditions. He lived for the longest stretches in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, and San Mateo. He worked for Columbia University, the University of Chicago, Encyclopædia Britannica, and Adler's own Institute for Philosophical Research. Adler was married twice and had four children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

125 of 125 people found the following review helpful By Lewis M. Greer on April 13, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A few thousand people in the San Francisco Bay Area were fortunate to have experienced something extraordinary in 1953 and 1954. Over 52 weeks, for 30 minutes each week, Mortimer Adler discussed the Great Ideas on live television, usually with a fellow named Lloyd Luckman. Because of the format, the shows took the form of conversations. This book is a finely edited transcript of those conversations, and they are definitely worth reading.
The title perhaps presumes that people know how to think, and offers to guide them in applying that skill to the Great Ideas. Using that hook, even readers who don't think they can think will soon be thinking, and will be glad for it. Think, for instance, about Adler's statement "...adults are more educable than children, just as children are more trainable than adults." Hmmm... then why do we send children to school instead of adults? Adler gives the answer: so they can learn how to learn. I like books that help me think better, and this one does.
The focus for thinking in this book is the Great Ideas, a great idea that Dr. Adler (along with Robert M. Hutchins, who became President of the University of Chicago at age 29!) brought to life in the Great Books of the Western World (1952). Not all of the Great Ideas are discussed in this book - only 22 of the original 102 (Equality was added later) are addressed here, though some are discussed over several chapters.
That is certainly a step up from "Six Great Ideas" (1981), and it is complete enough, well spoken enough, and well edited enough that any reader will be very well rewarded. The book does not need to be read front to back, and in fact you might want to read the chapter on How to Read a Book before you read any of the rest.
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75 of 77 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
"How to Think about The Great Ideas" is not, as I had presumed, a collection of previously published works by philosopher Mortimer J. Adler. Let's face it: now in his late 90s, Adler is no longer the prolific writer he once was, so we can forgive him for not breaking new ground. But no matter--over the past couple of decades I've bought every book of his I could lay my hands on, and I have never yet wasted my money. This new book is a wonderful addition to my Adler library.
Rather than a collection of reprints, "How to Think about The Great Ideas" is an edited set of transcripts from a public-television series Adler broadcast in the early 1950s. These half-hour programs--all 52 of them--covered 22 of the 102 (now 103) Great Ideas that Adler published in his "Syntopicon" that accompanied Encyclopedia Britannica's "Great Books of the Western World." This new set of transcripts offers me a quick reference to those shows, which I own on videotape.
Ader is a superb teacher, and his new book--edited by Max Weismann, cofounder, along with Adler, of the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas--serves as an excellent introduction to The Great Ideas. The material is presented in a non-academic, conversational manner. The reader should bear in mind, however, that in the half-hour formats of the original shows, Adler was able to give only an introduction to the selected topics. I would greatly encourage the newcomer, after finishing this book, to consult Adler's later works where the author goes into much more detail. The ensuing years have also allowed Adler to refine some of his arguments.
I commend the editor for including an index. Adler's other works sometimes lacked an index, thereby diminishing their usefulness.
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46 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Scott Carpenter on July 3, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
How do you summarize a summary of 2500 years of thought? Great! Mortimer Adler was one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th Century, primarily because of the literally ecyclopaedic nature of his knowledge. I say literally encyclopaedic because he edited the Encyclopaedia Britanica and wrote The Synopticon, a summary of Western philosophy, among the scores of other books bearing his name. He is best known for popularizing the Great Books theory of education. This is based on his own original reseach distilling the essence of Western Thought into 102 "Great Ideas." How To Think About The Great Ideas is a condensation of transcipts of a popular TV show of the 1950's, but the superficiality such an origin suggests does not permeate the book. The TV show covered only 21 of the great ideas, while the book deals with about half of the 102. The somewhat colloquial style will surprise readers who may have read Aristotle, Decartes, or Kant in full. We are not accustomed to hearing about philosophy from TV. But the simplicity of the presentation only serves to heighten the clarity of the ideas. The Great Ideas which you struggled over in college really can be discussed in ordinary language, and this is the real achievement of this book. The ideas build from the basic question of "What is truth?" to a consideration of the nature of man, human freedom, society and even a review of the arguments for the existence of God. Adler himself came to faith from agnositicism in his 80's before his recent death at the age of 98. Even so, the book is more of an invitation than an argument. It is best approached as a string of pearls, a series of thoughtful but isolated studies, rather than an essay in how to approach life or a true philosophical treatise.Read more ›
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