Published by the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas (founded in 1990 by Mortimer J. Adler and Max Weismann)
In association with the The Adler-Aquinas Institute and Aquinas School of Leadership
A Founding Member of the Alliance for Liberal Learning

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Du Bois and the Boys' Club of the 'Great Books'

Bill Farrell with an unfavorable review of Great Books of the Western World (2nd ed., 1990) and criticism of Mortimer Adler at Trotter Review.


"During the autumn of 1990 the Encyclopedia Britannica published the Great Books of the Western World, its selection of Western civilization's sixty best works. Newspapers respectfully reported the event. Commentators acclaimed the set's affirmation of Western culture. A scholarly symposium at the Library of Congress celebrated the collection's publication. The National Press Club, usually concerned with major politicians and famous journalists, invited Mortimer Adler, the series editor in chief, to address it.

"In his interviews and public appearances connected with the publication of the series, Adler stressed that to be a great book a work must discuss a large number of the 'great ideas.' But Adler's — and presumably the Britannica editorial board's — criteria present some problems.

"Amid the triumphal hoopla, a few critical voices pointed out that the series contained no books by authors of color. Some suggested that the writings of W. E. B. Du Bois should have been included. (C. L. R. James arguably also merited inclusion.) In response, Adler said that no black American had written a great book. Specifically addressing Du Bois's exclusion, Adler argued that Du Bois's best book was his autobiography, which simply failed to meet the criteria for inclusion in the series.

"A shorter version of the following article first appeared in the September 11-17, 1991, issue of In These Times.

"Recommended Citation
Farrell, Bill (1992) "Du Bois and the Boys' Club of the 'Great Books'," Trotter Review: Vol. 6 : Iss. 1, Article 5.
Available at: "

#education #MortimerAdler

1 comment:

  1. Adler was correct and admitting that isn't racist even though some people want to characterize it that way. In fact the opposite is true. Including an author simply because he or she represents a certain demographic is more racist than excluding them based on merit. It is quite possible a person of color may write a book worthy of being included but that hasn't happened yet. The GBWW are those that have significantly influenced the course of western history and culture W.E.B.B.D is a significant writer who has impacted AMERICAN history and culture and has thus been included in the Library of America canon but what is significant for America isn't necessarily significant for all other western countries