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Great Books

Great Books
David Denby

September 9th, 1996







Business & Investing

Rating: 4.2 / 5.0 (62 votes)

Released: 1996-09-09

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Great Books by David Denby

Description

At the age of forty-eight, film critic David Denby, dissatisfied with his life within the media bubble, went back to Columbia University and took again the two famous courses in Western classics (Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization) required of all students–courses he first took in 1961. In recent years, collections of literary and philosophical masterpieces such as those taught in these courses have been reviled by the left as oppressive and exclusionary and adored by the right as bulwarks of patriotism. Denby, the film critic for “New York magazine, wanted to dispel these cliches and to confront the books in their naked power; he wanted to find the self he had lost in a daze of media images.

In “Great Books, Denby lives the common adult fantasy of returning to school with some worldly knowledge and experience of life. A gifted storyteller, he leads us on a glorious tour–by turns eloquent, witty, and moving–through the works themselves and through his experiences as a middle-aged man among freshmen. He recounts his failures and triumphs as a reader and student (taking an exam led to a hilarious near-breakdown). He celebrates his rediscovery or new appreciation of such authors as Homer, Plato, the biblical writers, Augustine, Boccaccio, Hegel, Austen, Marx, Nietzsche, and Virginia Woolf. He re-creates the atmosphere of the classroom–the strategies used by a remarkable group of teachers and the strengths and weaknesses of media-age students as they grapple with these difficult, sometimes frightening works. And all year long he watches the students grow and his own life and memories break out of hiding.

The result is an extraordinarily engaging blend ofcriticism, reporting, autobiography, and cultural commentary, a book about self-discovery. Denby offers a nonprofessor's look at life on campus; he addresses the vexing questions of political correctness and relativism, and he suggests that a larger crisis surrounds the teaching of the humanities. A liberal defending “the canon,” Denby places literature in its revolutionary role as the source of powerful stories–the most powerful stories that we tell about ourselves. For the reader who once read these works, the book is a brilliant reprise; for the reader unfamiliar with them, “Great Books offers an irresistible introduction. By the end, the great works are revealed again in their power to disturb and give pleasure.


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Editorial Review

David Denby, New York city movie critic and journalist, entered Columbia University in 1991 to take the university's famous course in “Great Books.” This is the course that, in preserving the notion of the western canon without apology to multiculturalists and feminists, has been an unlikely focus of America's culture war in recent years. Where other universities have caved in and revised or enlarged the canon, Columbia's course has remained intact. Denby's intention as a writer and protagonist in the culture war was to record the experience and the personal impact of the course. He has produced a cry from the heart in favor of the classics of western civilization, relaying with infectious enthusiasm how literature touched his soul.

Book Details

Author: David Denby Publisher: Simon & Schuster Binding: Hardcover Language: English Pages: 496

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