A Great Idea at the Time
The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books
PublicAffairs, $24.95, 256 pp.
When Henry James wrote, “It’s a complex fate, being an American,” he must have had the subject of Alex Beam’s book in mind. James would have savored its opening scene at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where on April 15, 1952, a dinner was held by the University of Chicago and the Encyclopedia Britannica to launch “The Great Books of the Western World.” Though Rockefellers,...
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