It is certainly much sounder than the selection offered by its long-established and still active competitor, Dr. Eliot's celebrated Five-Foot Shelf, the Harvard Classics. Half the authors on Dr. Adler's shelf (which also measures, by chance or ineluctable destiny, five feet) appear on Dr. Eliot's, but only eight are represented by the same works; the rest appear in extracts or in shorter works, for if Dr. Adler overdoes the complete text, Dr. Eliot goes to the opposite extreme. Among the Great Books authors whose work doesn't appear in the Classics at all (if one ignores a few snippets) are Aristotle, Thucydides, Aquinas, Rabelais, Spinoza, Gibbons, Hegel, Marx, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Freud. On the other hand, since Dr. Eliot went in for variety above all, he did include, though often in unsatisfactory snippets, many writers omitted by Dr. Adler. No less than ten of his fifty volumes are anthologies, and while this is overdoing it, surely the Great Books would have been enriched by a few, such as one of English poetry and one of political writing since the French Revolution. Some of Dr. Eliot's choices are as eccentric as some of Dr. Adler's (though Eliot produced nothing as fantastic as the six volumes of scientific treatises): Robert Burns gets a whole volume, Manzoni's I Promessi Sposi another, and Danass Two Years Before the Mast a third. But in some ways the Classics are a better buy. For one thing, they cost only half as much. And for anothers there is an amateurish, crotchety, comfortable atmosphere about them that is more inviting than the ponderous professionalism of the Great Books. Moreover, while Dr. Eliot is overfond of the brief sample, the chief practical use of such collections may well be as a grab bag of miscellaneous specimens, some of which may catch the reader's fancy and lead him to further explorations on his own. When I was a boy, I enjoyed browsing in the family set of the Classics, but browsing in the Great Books would be like browsing in Macy's book department.
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