Cover image for Bonfire of the humanities : rescuing the classics in an impoverished age
Bonfire of the humanities : rescuing the classics in an impoverished age
Hanson, Victor Davis.
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Publication Information:
Wilmington, DE : ISI Books, 2001.
Physical Description:
xx, 373 pages ; 24 cm
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LC1011 .H36 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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With humor, lucidity, and unflinching rigor, the acclaimed authors of Who Killed Homer? and Plagues of the Mind unsparingly document the degeneration of a central if beleagured discipline -- classics -- and reveal the root causes of its decline. Hanson, Heath, and Thornton point to academics themselves -- their careerist ambitions, incessant self-promotion, and overspecialized scholarship, among other things -- as the progenitors of the crisis. They call for a return to academic populism, an approach characterized by accessible, unspecialized writing, selfless commitment to students and teaching, and respect for the legacy of freedom and democracy that the ancients bequeathed to the West.

Author Notes

Victor Davis Hanson is the military historian who is a professor of classics at California State University, Fresno. He has written several popular books on classic warfare, including "The Other Greeks", "Who Killed Homer?", & "The Western Way of War". He lives in Selma, California.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

It has become quite common over the past 20 years for various groups of humanists to cry like prophets in the wilderness over the demise of the classics both in small liberal arts colleges and large state universities. Hanson and Heath (coauthors of Who Killed Homer? and professors of classics at, respectively, Cal State, Fresno, and Santa Clara University), along with Cal State classicist Thornton, contend that these arguments generally fail to strike at the heart of the problem which is, they say, that contemporary academics are hypocrites who decry racial discrimination, sexism and democratic capitalism from the vantage point of well-paid, tenured positions. These professors whom they deride as "Savonarolas... ideologues of the multicultural and postmodern Left" also purportedly contribute to the death of the classics by writing jargon-filled articles and books about ancient Greece and Rome that are inaccessible to a broader audience. In addition, such academics refuse to teach undergraduates, exploiting instead graduate teaching assistants who do not have the wealth of research to share with these younger students. The authors, who define their own enterprise as "academic populism," address this elitism and hypocrisy in a series of scathing essays and book reviews, which, unfortunately, suffer from many of the same problems of which they accuse their opponents (for instance, those they criticize, such as philosopher Martha Nussbaum and classicist Judith Hallett and thus these critiques themselves are more likely to be read by scholars than by a general audience). At best, the authors engage in defensive, whining, self-righteous diatribes in an effort to show how misguided their opponents are. At worst, Hanson, Heath and Thornton use this book to vilify those whom they perceive to have wronged them. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this collection of new and previously published essays, classicists Hanson (California State Univ., Fresno), John Heath (Santa Clara Univ.), and Bruce S. Thornton (California State Univ., Fresno) prove that the old saying "academic politics are so poisonous only because there is so little at stake" is true. Railing against what they perceive as rampant careerism among modern-day exponents of "fashionable" theories such as postmodernism, feminism, and multiculturalism, Hanson and Heath return to the question that they posed in their earlier work, Who Killed Homer?: The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom, and provide the same answer, i.e., "They did." While the authors might compare their work to broader criticisms of the academy such as Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind (LJ 5/1/87) and Dinesh D'Souza's Illiberal Education (LJ 3/15/91), this work is so steeped in the academic infighting specific to the field of classical studies that it is unlikely to find much of an audience beyond those already involved in the conflict. Recommended only for academic collections supporting advanced teaching and research in classics. Scott Walter, Washington State Univ., Pullman (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

In 1998 Victor Hanson, a professor of classics, published Who Killed Homer? (CH, Sep'98), a powerful polemic. The present work continues the polemic, proceeding from a basic assumption: though the classics are essential, they have few students, and this deplorable situation must be due to malefactors. And now the authors identify the culprits; it is the professors! They are too busy playing the game--"fellowships, grants, leaves, monographs"--and some are bad people! A sample: "[she] is ... one whose patina of liberal values masks rampant careerism and intellectual dishonesty.. . ." But indignation clouds judgment. The authors have not noticed that US society has changed. Gigantic investments in biology, electronics, and financial services have changed the culture and the economy. All the humanities are in decline, not just the classics. So the book is irrelevant; it obscures rather than illuminates. Its only value will be to those in the field who enjoy reading about the foibles of friends and colleagues. Years ago we had the Higher Criticism; now we have the Higher Gossip. R. I. Frank University of California, Irvine

Table of Contents

Bruce S. ThorntonJohn HeathJohn HeathVictor Davis HansonBruce S. ThorntonJohn HeathVictor Davis Hanson and John HeathBruce S. ThorntonJohn Heath
Acknowledgmentsp. vii
Introduction: Academic Populism and the Assault on the Classicsp. ix
Part I What We Should Not Be and Not Do
1. Cultivating Sophistryp. 3
2. Socrates Redux: Classics in the Multicultural University?p. 29
Part II Very Bad Theory
3. More Quarreling in the Muses' Birdcagep. 55
4. "Too Much Ego in Your Cosmos"p. 93
5. The Enemy Is Us: The "Betrayal of the Postmodern Clerks"p. 137
Part III Elitists, Careerists, and Assorted Opportunists
6. Self-Promotion and the "Crisis" in Classicsp. 195
7. Who Killed Homer?: The Prequelp. 239
8. The Twilight of the Professorsp. 299
Epilogue: Not the Unabomberp. 309
Notesp. 335
Indexp. 359
About the Authorsp. 374