Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dead White Guys - Burriesci

Back in 2010, Matt Burriesci faced a life crisis.  He paired a job loss with the very premature birth of his daughter.  While moving things around for the nursery at his home, he had to shift his Great Books of the Western World set.  Upon opening the first volume, the Conversation, it sounds like he came across the ten year reading list.  He also made a promise to his new daughter that he would write a book for her before she turned eighteen.  This book is the result.
The book is divided into chapters, each one riffing on one of the pieces of reading from the first year.  He opens with Plato's 'Apology' and goes through to 'The Communist Manifesto'.  (Having worked through them just a few years ago, I could easily recognize the set and order.)  Each chapter involves a bit of Burriesci's personal history and some advice that stems from that piece.  The whole thing is to be set aside for her to read when she turns eighteen.
I liked this book a lot.  The idea behind it is inspired.  I didn't agree with all of the advice but that's hardly the point.  The best way to approach the Great Books is as an inspiration.  "Do I agree with what was said there?  Is it true or false, or (more often) partly true or false with important exceptions?"  'Be skeptical' is the early advice and that's exactly right.
I'm curious what his daughter will make of this when she reads it.  It's a tremendous gift for her and I'm a bit tempted to try and recreate this for my kids.  (I'll put that in the idea hopper.)  The most forthright advice comes in the preface where he makes a very strong argument towards a liberal education. 
The Great Books of the Western World are not interested in promoting our illusions, and they do not care about authority. They are neither gentle nor polite. They teach you how to see through illusions, and they demand that you question both yourself and your masters. Some people are afraid of that, and with good reason. And I should warn you, Violet: these books will challenge your illusions, too. At times you will be uncomfortable with what you find here. But I am reminded of Flannery O'Connor's remark: "The truth does not cahnge according to our ability to stomach it."
This has been exactly my experience too. 

I highly recommend this book.

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