cover image Battle of the Books: The Curriculum Debate in America

Battle of the Books: The Curriculum Debate in America

James Atlas. W. W. Norton & Company, $17.95 (157pp) ISBN 978-0-393-03413-4

Since the 1987 publication of Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind , the question of whether that body of works referred to as either the Classics or Great Books should be required reading for college students has divided academia. Journalist and biographer Atlas ( Delmore Schwartz ), who covered the debates as waged between traditionalists and multiculturalists for the New York Times , here revises an overview of curriculum controversies at major universities that he wrote for Whittle Communications' Larger Agenda series in 1990per BIP . He traveled to Duke, Harvard and Chicago to interview professors and examine course catalogues in search of ``our educational mandate.'' He contributes a refreshing voice to a discussion dominated by academics, evincing a ``spirit of curiosity'' where dry polemics are the rule. But he offers little in the way of original thought, nor is his argument in favor of the ``canon of Great Books'' unified. Denser, more closely reasoned new books on the subject include David Bromwich's Politics by Other Means: Higher Education and Group Thinking (Forecasts, Aug. 10) and Beyond the Culture Wars by Gerald Graff (Forecasts, Sept. 7). (Oct.)