A Great Idea at the Time by Alex Beam
The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books

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Today the classics of the western canon, written by the proverbial “dead white men,” are cannon fodder in the culture wars. But in the 1950s and 1960s, they were a pop culture phenomenon. The Great Books of Western Civilization, fifty-four volumes chosen by intellectuals at the University of Chicago, began as an educational movement, and evolved into a successful marketing idea. Why did a million American households buy books by Hippocrates and Nicomachus from door-to-door salesmen? And how and why did the great books fall out of fashion?

In A Great Idea at the Time Alex Beam explores the Great Books mania, in an entertaining and strangely poignant portrait of American popular culture on the threshold of the television age. Populated with memorable characters, A Great Idea at the Time will leave readers asking themselves: Have I read Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura lately? If not, why not?


About Alex Beam

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Alex Beam is a columnist for the "Boston Globe" and the author of two novels. He has also written for the "Atlantic Monthly," "Slate" and "Forbes/FYI," He lives in Newton, Massachusetts with his wife and three sons.
Published November 4, 2008 by PublicAffairs. 260 pages
Genres: History, Literature & Fiction, Health, Fitness & Dieting, Political & Social Sciences, Crafts, Hobbies & Home, Professional & Technical. Non-fiction

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The New York Times

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A critical look at the Great Books and what they have wrought.

Nov 16 2008 | Read Full Review of A Great Idea at the Time: The...

The Telegraph

not just any great books, mind you, but the 54 volumes launched in Chicago in 1952 as the Great Books of the Western World.

Feb 20 2009 | Read Full Review of A Great Idea at the Time: The...

Bookmarks Magazine

… If not a great book, A Great Idea at the Time acts as a good guide to the rise and fall of the project."

Nov 16 2008 | Read Full Review of A Great Idea at the Time: The...

Project MUSE

I am convinced that students of higher education are so often focused on the pressing issues of the day—and the demands for immediately discernable relevance—that they do not appreciate the study of the history of higher education, of what and who formed the landscape of higher education.

| Read Full Review of A Great Idea at the Time: The...

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