The Magazine

When Books Were Great

Furrowing the American middlebrow.

Dec 22, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 14 • By CHRISTINE ROSEN
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Today we suffer from our own peculiar forms of cultural Babbitry. Technology has trumped teleology, and when we feel the need to assuage our feelings of cultural inferiority, we don't buy 50 feet of books. We buy an iPod. We are keen to signal our mastery of information, which has replaced knowledge as our cultural currency, and the idea of mastering the Western canon seems quaint in an age that publishes books with titles such as How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read.

In this climate, A Great Idea at the Time is a useful reminder that things haven't always been this way.
Perhaps they might not be in the future either.

Christine Rosen is a fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center.