|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
In Great Books, Denby lives the common adult fantasy of returning to school with some worldly knowledge and experience of life. A gifted story-teller, 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.
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.