This edition of The Book Wars contains advertisements for Federal Express, now more commonly known as FedEx, facing each chapter. The publisher is Whittle Direct Press, and it’s part of a series entitled “The Larger Agenda Series”. It’s out of print, and Amazon’s never heard of it, so no link for you.
Back in 1990, I was starting college, and I read the academia-critical works of Charles J. Sykes (ProfScam and The Hollow Men). So I served my tour in the Curriculum Wars, participating as appropriate, so I’m familiar with the book’s message and the time period in which Atlas wrote it.
The Sykes books are definitely partisan in tone, written to inflame the passions and mobilize the troops. This book, on the other hand, makes the reasons for the other side clear.
Atlas wrote this book somewhat as a response to Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind, which details the fall of the Great Books Curriculum. I haven’t read the primary text, so I cannot comment on it.
In this book, though, Atlas explores the reasons that some of the new hippie English Department personnel (sorry, I mean resources) want to overturn the canon. Essentially, they want to introduce new ways of relating to literature, including literature from underexplored cultures. Some want new veins of ore from which they can mine publish-or-perish papers. Some want to stick it to The Man. Whatever the reasons, Atlas characterizes them more as misguided than evil. Which differs from Sykes.
Atlas defends the canon, but only slightly. He remembers a time when Joe Suburban bought Everyman’s Library editions (or Colliers Classics) of the canon and read them. Some people might not have understood them, nor picked up all the subtlety that professional interpreters would, but they realized that reading the books could better you.
I attained an epiphany while reading this book. The Curriculum Wars really are meaningless. The Old Booksters and the New Diverse Canoneers fight over the hearts and minds of kids who just don’t care. Those who want to read and better themselves will do so. Case in point: me. I read for pleasure and to keep my numble mind occupied. I survived an English Degree no worse for wear.
The real problem is that people just don’t do that anymore. Perhaps both sides have made the books inaccessible through constant obfuscation for publication, or perhaps… well, this book obviously doesn’t speculate on that.
Regardless, the book’s short–under 100 pages less ads–and it inspired me to redouble my efforts to read those great books and small remaining on my shelf. Sykes’ books incited me, but this one inspired me.