I didn’t remark on Alex Beam’s book A Great Idea at the Time a month ago when it was released and reviewed, and now it seems like old news. Of the several reviews, this one was more sympathetic than most to the Great Books project.
The Great Books project is quite dear to my heart, and you can read what I wrote about it here. It was far from perfect, and I’ll certainly get hold of a copy of Beam’s book at some point and do my best not to cringe when he pokes legitimate fun at its lofty pretentions. I do think it was a noble failure, though, and that it did have a net positive effect on people, even if its ambitions were nowhere near achieved. The Great Books really do represent the best that has been thought and said, the ideas you’ll find there are not beyond the comprehension of the average person (though for some it may require time and effort to build the background knowledge needed to comprehend them), one really is better off for having spent time chewing on these ideas, and there is much joy to be found in discussing them with others.
I really do believe that five years discussing the Great Books taught me to think properly. Any value you find in my writing is probably due to the time I spent in those discussions.