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February 28 , 2010

The Great Ideas DEMOCRACY


Seventy years ago, Mortimer Adler sat down at a manual typewriter. By his side was a list of authors, a pyramid of books and 102 great ideas—the 102 objects of thought that have collectively defined Western thought for more than 2,500 years. He began writing in alphabetical order beginning with "Angel" and ending with "World." The essays, originally published in the Syntopicon, were and remain the centerpiece of Encyclopaedia Britannica's Great Books of the Western World. These essays, never before available except as part of the Great Books, are, according to Clifton Fadiman, Adler's finest work. Each essay—"War and Peace," "Love," "God," "Truth"—treats each idea as if the original authors—from Homer to Freud, from Marcus Aurelius to Virginia Woolf—whose writings the ideas are drawn from, were sitting around a table, deep in conversation. His purely descriptive synthesis presents the key points of view on almost 3,000 questions without endorsing or favoring any one of them. More than a thousand pages, containing more than half a million words on more than two millennia of Western thought, The Great Ideas is a fitting capstone to the career of Mortimer J. Adler. The actual writing of the essays took 26 months, seven days a week and no vacations or recesses… Writing the 102 essays was like writing 102 books. I think it was the most arduous and demanding stint of writing I have ever undertaken. —Mortimer J. Adler
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