Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Our History

Mortimer Adler, 1952

“If democracy is going to function as it should, the man-in-the-street is going to have to think better.” - Robert Maynard Hutchins

“There is no List with a capital L. The great books are simply the books which deal most incisively, most eloquently, most universally, and most timelessly with man and his world.” - Milton Mayer

A couple of years ago, we completed a major redesign of our website. During this project, we spent some time organizing the history of our organization. The complete page can be found in the "About Us" section on our home page. We thought it might be interesting to provide a summarized version for our blog readers.

It all began with two University of Chicago educators, Robert Maynard Hutchins and Mortimer Adler. In 1947, Hutchins and Adler established our nonprofit organization, the Great Books Foundation, to promote lifelong education through the reading and discussion of the world’s great literature. Their aim was to encourage Americans from all walks of life to participate in a “Great Conversation” with the authors of some of the most significant works in the Western tradition. To reach the widest possible audience, the Foundation published inexpensive paperback editions of its recommended readings, many of which were out of print or available only in expensive editions. By December 1949, an estimated 50,000 people in thousands of book discussion groups were meeting regularly in public libraries, homes, churches, and synagogues.

Extending the Great Books program to younger readers was a natural outgrowth of the mission of reading for all, and within a few years, Great Books programs cropped up in high schools and even elementary schools. Following successful pilots in Detroit and elsewhere, the Foundation launched the Junior Great Books program in 1962, offering five boxed sets of paperback books for grades 5-9.

Today, more than one million students participate in Junior Great Books programs in thousands of schools, and recent new editions of the program—Junior Great Books Series 3–5 in 2007 and the new Great Books Roundtable for grades 6-8 in 2010—reach an expanding circle of students and teachers. At the same time, the Foundation continues its support for hundreds of adult groups across America as well. The Foundation’s anthologies have for many years embraced literature beyond the Western tradition, including many more women authors, a wide range of international writings, and even graphic fiction. Increasingly, the Foundation’s titles are being used in college courses across the country.
After almost seventy years, the Great Books Foundation continues to build upon the founders’ insistence on timeless literature and the benefits of discussion!

“Reading one great book makes reading another easier, and the more we read through the great books or in them, the easier reading them well becomes. They gradually draw us into the great conversation they have created and thereby increase our power to converse with them, as well as our power to conduct the dialogue that must go on in our own minds whenever we are engaged in a genuine learning.” - Mortimer Adler

Read the complete history of the Great Books Foundation on our website.

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