Talk:Great Books of the Western World

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Add Links?[edit]

Why not add links to copies of the books that are available on the internet? I added a link to the Aeneid and to James's Principals of Psychology by going to each of these works individual pages and copying what was already there. Sure, each reader could just do this for herself, but why add an extra step when there is no need to?N2lect2el 17:56, 4 Dec 2004 (UTC)

Too cluttered and spammy. There are links on the works pages, which is a much better place for them. It's only one more click away. And there they can have a choice of external links as well. -R. fiend 19:53, 4 Dec 2004 (UTC)
The pages for individual works or authors are more likely to be kept up-to-date than this catch-all approach. I'd prefer to limit links to other Great Books pages and sites. Alan Nicoll 17:06, Jan 7, 2005 (UTC)

Remove links?[edit]

I removed three links to three Yahoo discussion groups, as wikipedia is not a link farm. There are discussion groups on thousands of Web sites about tens of thousands of topics that are articles in Wikipedia; we don't want to start linking to all of them. Although I'll grant you that this is an area where standards aren't exactly firm, external links should either be source material or very important information that is too obtuse or difficult to include in the article itself. - DavidWBrooks 01:31, 3 Feb 2005 (UTC)

NPOV tweaks on criticism section[edit]

I've included some responses to criticisms of the set in the final section, including quotes from the editors. Seems like a reasonable effort at NPOV. One oddity is a disagreement on the number of writers. The editors of the second edition specifically give the 130 figure, which I verified by a handcount of their author list. I'm not sure where the 151 figure in Norman Davies' criticism came from. He may include the four authors who were dropped from the second edition, and/or biblical authors because selections from the Bible are included in the reading plans for both editions. Casey Abell 06:44, 28 May 2006 (UTC)

Great Books Foundation[edit]

Removed the sentence in the opening paragraph about the Great Books Foundation. The Foundation does not maintain any definitive list of Great Books of the Western World. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:49, 11 October 2010 (UTC)

John Stuart Mill[edit]

The title of the essay in question is "Considerations on Representative Government", not simply "Representative Government" (although it's usually referred to by the shorter title, that's inappropriate for a list of titles). Thanks for reverting without comment, though.

Your change was reverted because it deleted much of the article. — goethean 16:47, 8 September 2006 (UTC)
Wow. My apologies, I've never seen *that* happen before. I wonder what went wrong?

Second edition[edit]

Mortimer Adler edited the second edition of the Great Books, with little or no contribution from Peter Temes. Adler was Editor in Chief of the edition and made all editorial decisions in consultation with a group of senior editors, which did not include Temes. (See Adler's own discussion of the process, referenced in the article.) In his criticism of Adler, Temes himself makes no claim to have presided over or even influenced the second edition. The article already includes an extensive discussion of the second edition and the criticisms made against Adler for the author list.

There appears to be some confusion between the second edition of the Great Books, published by Britannica, and the reading lists put out by the Great Books Foundation. Temes may have influenced those Foundation reading lists in the direction of more black, Hispanic and female authors, such as Morrison and Cortázar, who were not included in the second edition of the Britannica set. He had no apparent influence on that second edition from Britannica, which was heavily criticized for its lack of black and Hispanic authors (unless Cervantes counts as "Hispanic") and its small number of female authors. Casey Abell 18:29, 11 July 2007 (UTC)

I think you're absolutely right. The articles I cited weren't clear about the distinction between the Great Books of the Western World series and the lists suggested by the Great Books Foundation. Thanks for clearing this up. Isokrates 18:39, 11 July 2007 (UTC)
Thanks for your note. Didn't want to get into an edit war on this. It's a good idea to put Temes' criticism of Adler in the article, but Temes really had little or nothing to do with the second edition. Casey Abell 18:42, 11 July 2007 (UTC)
This is very frustrating. I couldn't find any reference to the specific additions made in the second edition. What are the additional books? (By the way, let's wait until someone is dead at least fifty years before adding his/her name to this list. It's the Great Books, after all.Scott Adler (talk) 19:41, 19 March 2008 (UTC)

Copyright violation[edit]

Listing the whole contents of all 60 volumes is a copyright violation. The list was compiled by the project editors and they are the copyright holders of the list.

To comply with copyright policies, the listings of a few volumes have to be modified to say something like: "Volume 59 includes works by Henry James, George Bernard Shaw and others." -- Gabi S. 17:48, 20 July 2007 (UTC)

That's a stretch. The copyright is probably pro forma. A copyrighted work has to be distinctive and original. A list of other people's work, most of it in the public domain, can't be reasonably considered intellectual property.Scott Adler (talk) 19:41, 19 March 2008 (UTC)

Dwight MacDonald & "Book of the Millenium Club"[edit]

MacDonald wrote a brilliant review of the original set of "Great Books", entitled "Book of the Millenium Club". Kiefer.Wolfowitz (talk) 19:32, 12 March 2010 (UTC)

Thanks for adding a reference with a hypertext link.Kiefer.Wolfowitz (talk) 23:13, 29 March 2010 (UTC)


With respect to [1], I think it misses the point. We can come up with arbitrary lists of authors who were rejected, and make cases for many of them. Gauss, Cantor and Boole were all omitted. We don't need a cite saying that Leibniz was great, we need a cite of someone complaining that he was omitted from the Great Books of the Western World.--Prosfilaes (talk) 22:44, 19 March 2012 (UTC)

Adding this again violates WP:NOR. We really need that connection.--Prosfilaes (talk) 00:55, 21 March 2012 (UTC)
adding most certainly does not violate, as there is a reference; however your deleting it is clearly a violation as explained in (WP:PRESERVE). — Preceding unsigned comment added by Wran (talkcontribs) 13:30, 23 March 2012 (UTC)
There is no reference there that says he should have been in Great Books of the Western World. The connection of Leibniz to the Great Books of the Western World is NOR. Again, we don't need to add huge lists of authors saying how great each of them were.--Prosfilaes (talk) 23:19, 23 March 2012 (UTC)
WP:PRESERVE isn't relevant here; it says "Preserve appropriate content. As long as any of the facts or ideas added to the article would belong in a "finished" article, they should be retained and the writing cleaned up on the spot, or tagged if necessary." But the whole question is whether a finished article would include the names of arbitrary authors that haven't been included, and I argue no.--Prosfilaes (talk) 00:11, 24 March 2012 (UTC)
and I say that Leibniz is not plural ("names") or an "arbitrary author"; so that is not the question. stop edit warring and discuss BEFORE ELIMINATINGWran (talk) 14:00, 24 March 2012 (UTC)

2nd edition discrepancies[edit]

Looking here I noticed that the listing for the 2nd edition appears to be at variance. Can someone else take a look and give an opinion? Thanks. ~ Alcmaeonid (talk) 16:51, 21 October 2012 (UTC)

I have checked Teeter's listing and those of this article with my set of the 2nd edition (1994); although mine is incomplete - missing about 7 volumes - it has enough to measure both. I checked two out of each decade of volumes up to volume 59.
What he lists as volume 6 is actually volume 7, and his volume 58 is actually volume 59. He is also one out of step with what I can see on the official Britannica image of the GBWW at
The listing in this article seems entirely accurate.
So, as far as I can tell, the discrepancies are entirely Teeter's. I wonder if "The Great Conversation" is actually volume 1? Teeter didn't include it.Twistlethrop (talk) 23:00, 30 December 2013 (UTC)

Volume listings revision?[edit]

Further to my comments above, I have removed part of the second paragraph of the Second Edition section because of the inaccuracy of the source cited.

But the article still should have a complete listing. The present layout is unsatisfactory; the entire first edition list is followed by a brief acknowledgement that the numbering differs between each editions, and then a list of those added by the second edition.

It should be presented in a way that is simple to use, but the information is split at present which makes it a difficult to refer to. It should be revised and rewritten to present all the information in one place. (I haven't found a usable listing on the Britannica web site.)

I'm wondering whether or not a tabular form presented as a single entity, perhaps with notes regarding the first edition, would be the best approach. Does anybody have any other ideas about this, please?Twistlethrop (talk) 23:51, 30 December 2013 (UTC)

Add source for these Great Books?[edit]

I happen to own a set of the 1st edition of this series, & was surprised to find that many of the works were reprints of existing editions. For example, the translations of Herodotus & Thucydides are reprints of the translations in the Everyman's Library (done with permission, of course). Looking at a few more books, I found that they too were drawn from existing translations or editions of the works. (Considering that the editors had a budget of $2 million -- back in the days when that was a large sum of money -- I'm amazed that the books selected weren't translated or prepared from scratch; buying the rights for the works that were used to fill the 54 volumes wouldn't cost even half their budget, & except for setting the books into type & proofing them, what other costs were there? Methinks someone profited from this self-described altruistic venture.) -- llywrch (talk) 06:33, 13 August 2016 (UTC)

I think you underestimate the cost of licensing an entire library and make a print run of heavy books. We do have some translators listed, and could afford more. We could have a section on original sources, but we'd need good references for that.--Prosfilaes (talk) 02:44, 15 August 2016 (UTC)
Yes, it is odd. The printing couldn't have cost very much, hardbacks retailed for two or three dollars in those days. I have owned a set for over forty years. The type is bad - no, wretched - the paper fragile, bindings not high quality, the translations second-rate, the Syntopicon utterly useless. The biographies are sketchy and unreferenced, there is no scholarly material to give context. There are seldom indexes or any notes - only when they came from a prior edition of the work. The selection of works is questionable, particularly the lack of Voltaire and Leibniz and the inclusion of Freud. There is virtually nothing on mathematics as it has been understood for the bast few hundred years. Where did the $2M go? Adler, one suspects. Still, it's a useful reference even if one starts to hate the books after an hour of reading turgid prose in tiny type. Weren't they developing aversion therapy at the U. of Chicago around then? Hmmm. Enon (talk) 02:37, 17 February 2017 (UTC)
Just what sort of WP article improvement is being suggested? – S. Rich (talk) 13:13, 17 February 2017 (UTC)