Adler's Great Books Scheme - Analysis

Motimer Adler has a famous "Great Books Scheme" with sole focus on Western tradition. The below I took from my analysis of his list, as given by Davis Norman in his Europe: A History p.1230.


Adler's list was published in 1988, and includes many authors between 1900-1977. For my purpose, those are not in my consideration set. That gives a list of 101 authors, of which 25 are authors in subjects such as math, science, medicine, military that I do not consider in my canonical text list. For the remaining 76 authors, some statistics below:


By Period: Antiquity: 18, Medieval(= before 1500):3, Early Modern (=1500-1800): 34; 19th century: 21

By Genre: History: 6, Philosophy (I included political thoughts and economics here): 34;  Literature: 31

By Language: Greek: 13; Latin (up till Spinoza's Ethics): 12; Italian: 2; English: 23; Spanish: 1; French: 15; German: 6; Danish: 1; Norwegian: 1; Russian: 2.


The reason for looking at Adler's list is both as a source of names, but also to see how it stands vs. my own sense of what balance means. My sense of where the list goes out of balance are as follows:

1. By period: Clearly under-represents Medieval period when Chrstendom -- or the reason why there is now a tradition called "Western" -- happened. The nuance of multiple Christendom, e.g. Orthodox Christianity, is mostly lost. I believe some rebalancing between Medieval and Early Modern is necessary.

2. By genre: History is always the smallest category, but the ratio still feel to be on the low side.

3. By language: Among modern languages, English is primary - that is ok, but it feels highly over-represented if it is almost double of Latin. French is important, but overall it seems like it should not be that much ahead of German, which is a key area for canonical authors for the 19th century.


The next things I look at are the names - whether there are odd names (of inclusions or of omissions), general balance issues mentioned above are not repeated:


- All 4 Greek playwrights (Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes) included ...

- yet in Latin authors, neither Ovid nor Horace have been included

- Plutarch is included but not Livy

- Included too many English literature authors, altogether 15. While Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Austen may not be that controversial, noreare some others (Dickens, George Eliot, Melville, Twain), there are some names whose inclusion are probably indulgences (Defoe, Swift, Congreve, Fielding, Johnson, Sterne, Boswell)

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