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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

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The high points are twofold: I feel notably more capable of conversation about the Greats now, perhaps even a tad more intelligent for having read this little volume. Also, the author is humanly and bluntly opinionated, much like my husband. If you are interested in literature I suggest the short time it takes to absorb this one.
Martialia | Hi ha 10 ressenyes més | Sep 28, 2022 |
Entertaining enough ...

but it’s not one of the Great Books. Seriously, though, this was a competent romp through the history field the Treat Books of the Western World, as a teaching paradigm and a publishing program. He makes a solid case, especially that the great scientific works do not provide a great deal of contemporary value, as science only proceeds on the theories that can be disproven but have not been, rather than a tradition. (I expected him to point out that a key tension in the modern world has been the breaking of ties with Aristotelian traditions, allowing new discoveries that were contrary to Aristotle.

However, much of the book appears opposed to the idea that there can be a canon, however opened to include women and minorities. Yet, we know that “classics” such as Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication is the Rights of Women, Shakespeare’s King Lear, and Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native, will continue to “teach and delight” readers. From my point of view, perhaps narrow, the failure of the Great Books of the Western World as a publishing project is paradoxically in its overselling of a too-expensive series and its lack of quality control in choosing the cheapest translations and typesetting the books for value, not readability. The author does call these out, in a great deal of detail.

He could point out a more successful program, that has a similar goal: The Library of America. This program avoided several of the pitfalls of the GBWW program. It does not assume that it has a comprehensive list of the best books. Instead, it attempts to provide “America’s greatest writing in authoritative new editions.” In many cases, the best scholarship has produced definitive editions, including content previously edited out. The books have comprehensive timelines of the authors and their times, providing a context that the GBWW volumes lack. The volumes are readable, have stay open spines, and have been more inclusive of women and minorities. These editions are sold by subscription, but also, and perhaps more commonly, as individual titles. Over time, many of the individual titles have been released in paperback, and these are only sold individually, not by subscription. The Bibliothèque de la Pléiade was the inspiration for this series, envisioned by Edmund Wilson and commencing publication in 1982, ten years after Wilson’s death, this publication has been running continuously and (it appears) successfully for 37 years.
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jordanjones | Hi ha 10 ressenyes més | Feb 21, 2020 |
Reads like a who's who of McLean patients. I was hoping for more of a history of the institution, and instead found accounts of the most famous patients and the scandals within the hospital.
ErinMa | Hi ha 7 ressenyes més | May 15, 2019 |
A good, short look at the collision of two momentous egos. Beam comes down hard on Nabokov in a way to which I'm unaccustomed: everyone (myself included) fawns over him (damn straight)--but Beam isn't in the same camp. I didn't realize how much of a big wheel Edmund Wilson was until I read this. Ultimately, it's a story about a friendship broken because of disagreements not over politics or adultery or money--but quarrels about Russian prosody. If you like Nabokov, this is worth a read.
Stubb | Aug 28, 2018 |



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½ 3.4

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