Publishing News

January 09, 1991 2 min read

The “Great Books of the Western World” have been updated. But that venerable collection’s second edition, released this fall, is drawing some criticism.

First published by the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1952, the 54-volume series commemorates books that reflect and enhance Western philosophy. Works must meet three criteria: enduring readability, relevance to contemporary life, and the incorporation and explication of a certain number of “great ideas.”

Books considered for the second edition were evaluated by the series’ editor-in-chief, Mortimer J. Adler, and a panel of authors and scholars. They approved the addition of works by 60 authors, 45 from the 20th century and 15 from previous centuries.

Critics have charged that the choices reflect only the contributions of white male writers. No works by blacks or Latin Americans are included, and only four female authors are represented.

At a Library of Congress panel discussion in October, Mr. Adler defended the choices, saying that neither the influence a book may have had nor the “truths” it states were related to its quality or philosophical depth.

Among the new authors and works included are Jane Austen’s Emma, Moliere’s The Miser, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, and Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche.

The popularity of “recovery” books--self-help tomes on everything from “codependency” to compulsive work habits--is spilling over into the children’s book market, according to Publishers Weekly.

Youth-oriented presses such as Greenwillow Books and Deaconess Press have offered titles such as Growing Up Divorced and Life Is Just A Party: Portrait of a Teenage Partier. This spring, Health Communications will introduce a series on dysfunctional families, targeted to children ages 5 to 8.

Because few young people buy such books for themselves, publishers are appealing to schools and treatment centers, which now account for the majority of sales.

The Ziggurat Book Series, launched recently by Chicago Review Press, will offer gifted middle- and high-school-age students project books exploring such disciplines as photography, astronomy, the graphic arts, and craftsmaking.

The series’ first book, The Art of Construction, focuses on engineering and design and will be released in April. Others are planned on filmmaking, geography, and interior decoration.

For information, contact Chicago Review Press, 814 North Franklin St., Chicago, Ill. 60610.--SKG