From the mid-twentieth century to today, the Great Books idea has inspired impassioned support and fiery opposition. It has been embraced as the distillation of the best of Western thought, dismissed as elitist and idealistic, and lamented as a cynical commodification of culture.
Drawing on previously unexamined sources, The Dream of a Democratic Culture casts the Great Books idea in a new light, arguing that its proponents aimed to support an intellectually robust, consensus-oriented democratic culture. Moving from the concept’s origins in nineteenth-century cultural, industrial, and educational initiatives, author Tim Lacy highlights the life and career of Mortimer J. Adler, who moved the idea out of the academy and worked to weave it into the social and cultural fabric of the United States. With attention to the frequently changing fortunes of the project and its inherent virtues and vices, The Dream of a Democratic Culture conclusively shows that neither liberals nor conservatives can claim ownership of the Great Books.
Tim Lacy holds a PhD in American History from Loyola University Chicago, where he is currently employed. He has taught history at Monmouth College and several Chicago-area colleges and universities.
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