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Great Books of the Western World (60 Volumes) [Hardcover]

Encyclopaedia Britannica
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

2007 0852295316 978-0852295311 2nd Revised edition
In the world of books, there are hundreds of timeless classics. But only one collection of great works is a classic in itself - "Britannica's Great Books". This 60-volume set brings you centuries of celebrated writings from the greatest minds of all time, including Plato, Shakespeare, Swift, Freud, Hemingway and Twain. "Britannica's Great Books" are truly a valuable lifetime reading companion, with 517 timeless works containing the great thoughts, theories and insights that have shaped our culture today, offering ideas that will continue to inspire mankind for centuries to come. To buy such a comprehensive collection separately would be tremendously difficult and nearly impossible. "The Great Books", and the priceless education they bring you, represent what is perhaps the single greatest book value on the market today. The new "Great Books" provide a well-rounded, liberal arts education in many fields of study. Philosophy, religion, mathematics, psychology, astronomy, politics and anthropology are just a few of the areas you can explore from the ancient Greeks to such 20th century greats as Sigmund Freud, Franz Kafka and T.S. Eliot. You will find "Great Books" useful for practical, everyday needs, too, like speech writing and business presentations, not to mention great family conversations at the dinner table or stimulating discussions with colleagues and friends.

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great books! April 1 2004
Format:Hardcover
Some 15 years ago, I bought the 54 volume version of the great books of the western civilization -and spent ten years reading them (aside from making a living and raising two children). These books have affected my life in various ways, all very positive I believe. If my comment can at least encourage one person in the world to go ahead and read this extraordinary collection, I would be very happy. The publishers have been wise in avoiding footnotes and erudite biographical notes, and of course, in the selection of the works. R Roose from Mexico City
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  35 reviews
161 of 167 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent investment for the past, present and future Aug. 20 2004
By Empedocles - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Well, how does one start with an introduction to what the title already says - 'The Great Books of the Western World?' The 'GBBWW' (as they are called) more or less form what Mortimer Adler and his editorial team believed were the core of Western learning and culture, and I pretty much agree. Virtually every book in this collection is required reading in the Liberal Arts, and the ideas and issues discussed by these authors still dominates and influences debate today. Here we see the finest works of Art, Science, Philosophy, Poetry, Prose and History from the time of the Greeks until the early 20th century.

I have noticed other collections of great books often include mediocre and more obscure works which, while important in their historical context, are not part of what Adler described as the 'timeless conversation of ideas' that undergirds Western civilisation. Other collections of 'great books' more often reflect the compiler's or editor's cultural prejudices (though I know the same could be said for Adler, a 'Dead White Male') and frankly, a lot of chaff is in with the wheat. In one list for example, over 50% of the books were novels from the 20th century. The good thing about the 'Great Books' in this collection is that they are 'battle-tested' - Adler went to experts in the respective fields and asked them which works had survived the test of time, and which had not, and those that had 'made the grade.'

The other excellent thing is Adler's 'syntopicon of Great Ideas' and his extensive Bibliography at the end. The syntopicon and Bibliography together are almost a liberal education in themselves. The key ideas that have shaped western thought since its inception are cited and then Adler writes a 5,000 or so word essay explaining how they are discussed by the authors in the series, from Plato to Freud. Works that are highly relevant but not included in the collection but which also discuss these issues are included, such as Cicero, Schopenhauer, Lombard, Paine, Voltaire, etc.

In my view the collection is excellently priced. Considering a university education even in the liberal arts these days costs somewhere between $30,000 and $100,000, a book set costing only 1/30th or 1/100th of that but providing the core for a 'liberal education' as Adler puts it, is in my view a 'no-brainer.' Many people at my university have degrees in Law or the Arts but have not read a single book from this collection, and do not have any sense of where ideas like postmodernism have their actual origin; few have actually read the works of Plato or Plotinus (who Derrida refers back to a great deal in his most important works), Marx (many 'Marxists' have not actually read Marx's works aside from the 'Communist Manifesto') or Freud. Schopenhauer once said 'We need to read the primary texts (of an author of genius), for they will be far more enlightening than the mediocre mind who tries to fit him within his three pounds of grey matter.' Although Schopenhauer had Plato and Kant in mind when writing this, the same applies to the rest of these books. They are the finest of thinking the West has to offer the rest, and for better or worse, have framed 3,000 or so years of our intellectual history.

This set will be an excellent investment for anyone who seeks to learn about who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. Despite the price and the effort required to master these texts, the journey in the end is well worth it.
124 of 128 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great books! April 1 2004
By Roberto Roose - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Some 15 years ago, I bought the 54 volume version of the great books of the western civilization -and spent ten years reading them (aside from making a living and raising two children). These books have affected my life in various ways, all very positive I believe. If my comment can at least encourage one person in the world to go ahead and read this extraordinary collection, I would be very happy. The publishers have been wise in avoiding footnotes and erudite biographical notes, and of course, in the selection of the works. R Roose from Mexico City
58 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Here's what you're buying.... Feb. 9 2012
By Hermogenes - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Let's be honest about these books. The print is cramped, the translations are hideous, and the selections are indeed rooted in a view of Great Books and Great Ideas that, while still quite vibrant, is less robust than it was in 1955. But no one in full control of their senses would sit down and read from cover to cover the Dante, the Homer, the Aristotle found in this set.

All true. But none of that matters. What you are buying here is the first three volumes (especially volumes 2 & 3) and their attendant reference set. I've owned the set for 20 years and found it invaluable because of those three first volumes. Here's how they work:

Volume 1, The Great Conversation, is essentially an inspirational text centered on the importance of a broad Liberal Education, as set against other views of education. You may take or leave it. The treasure house is the next two volumes.

The Syntopicon (volumes 2-3 of the set) is an index of 100 fundamental concepts that built the Euromerican mind and cultural vision. To give you an idea, here is a sample of the Great Ideas:
Art, Beauty, Cause, Chance, Democracy, Desire, Emotion, Eternity, Family, God, Good and Evil, Government, Habit, Happiness, History, Immortality, Infinity, Justice, Labor, Language, Life and Death, Love, Mathematics, Matter, Memory, Oligarchy, Progress, Prophecy, Quantity, Religion, Rhetoric, Sin, Soul, State, Time, Truth. War and Peace, Wisdom.... you get the idea: Big Ideas.

Each of the 100 ideas is introduced with a brief essay that explains it and attempts to sketch out how it has been viewed throughout Western history. The essays are not dumbed down, but most of them are perfectly accessible to most of us. After this introductory essay, there follows an index of virtually every significant reference to that idea in every author in the set; you are given page numbers within this set of books.

THAT is what you are buying.

Want to see how Plato's idea of "Punishment" differs from Rousseau's? Just look it up in the Syntopicon, and follow the indexed references. Want to know how "Animal" was dealt with in Montesquieu, William James, and Freud? Go to the Syntopicon.

Certainly, once I have looked up the references in the GBWW volume on Plato, I will give the text a read there; but if my interest leads me to want a deeper view, I'll also go to other sources -- more accurate translations, even the original texts, if I have that language -- and read the better translations &c in those books. But I start with the Syntopicon. If tracing out the history of the main ideas that shaped Western civilization appeals to you, this is your set of Great Books.

Thus: this is not a set of books you buy to read for pleasure, curled up by the fire on a rainy day. By that standard, this set would be an abysmal failure. But this IS a set of books you would use as one of the most powerful reference libraries you can put on your shelf. By that criteria, you cannot find a better anywhere today, online or otherwise.
54 of 56 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great content, poor production value May 12 2010
By R. Hartnett - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This edition of the great books contains a welcome inclusion of some of the most important thinkers and writers of the 20th century. However, the manufacturing quality of the books themselves leaves a great deal to be desired. First of all, the block of pages is glued to the binding and has started to separate from their spines after just a few (and I mean no more than 3) reading sessions.

The book pages are thin and somewhat flimsy. I owned a set of the 54-volume cloth-bound first (1952) edition and the bookcase which came with them. I still have the bookcase and put this 60-volume set in it. The 60 volumes of this second edition take up much less shelf space than the 54-volume set. That's how much thinner is the paper on which the books are now printed.

The covers of the books feel like they are made of some kind of paper board. They just feel cheap in in my hands.

In short, you might want the set for its content, but don't expect a production quality reflective its intrinsic value.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not for the faint of heart, but worth your time Dec 1 2008
By Cutedeedle - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is the second edition of the compendium of Great Books. The first volume titled "The Great Conversation" -- updated by the Editor in Chief of The Great Books, Mortimer Adler -- explains why the 60 volume collection is organized as it is and what the three criteria were, established over several years' compilation, for inclusion in the set. "Influence" was not a criterion for selection, otherwise Hitler, Stalin and Lenin would have been incorporated, among other notable authors who were omitted. Unless you read "The Great Conversation" and the two volume Syntopicon you will undoubtedly be bewildered about the organizational structure of these books. Be aware, this is not like a set of college textbooks. These are original works, dating from Homer in 900-800 B.C. through mid-20th century's Samuel Beckett. Much of it is difficult reading. It's a collection of the great ideas of western civilization, not simply books that encompass only one subject each. If you are looking for such a thing you will not only waste your money and time but you'll be very disappointed and your set will probably end up on eBay.

The general organization of The Great Books is by date written, but there are so many cross-references of the "great ideas" and "great authors" that you can find any subject, idea or author by using the Syntopicon as your guide. Adler and the editors have narrowed what they consider the great ideas of western civilization down to 102. Astonishing, when you consider the writing and authors span about 2800 years of western thought.

The readings include virtually all of the subjects considered the liberal arts: literature of all kinds; philosophy and theology; mathematics and the natural sciences; history, biography and the social sciences; and economics, sociology and anthropology. If you're not in a college program that uses the Great Books in their curriculum, Adler provides a ten year reading plan for the books in "The Great Conversation." Again, not for the faint of heart, but I guarantee if you manage to get through all 60 books you will truly be educated.

As an FYI, I'm currently in what seems to be the sole graduate program in the country that uses only the Great Books in their curriculum. It is also a distance-learning program and uses the Socratic method for discussions, which are held by telephone with tutors (what teachers or professors are usually called when using this method of inquiry and discussion). Check out my Amazon profile for some details.
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