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Book Review: Who Killed Homer?

Who Killed Homer?: The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom

by Victor Davis Hanson, John Heath

https://www.amazon.com/Who-Killed-Homer-Classical-Education/dp/1893554260/?tag=curi04-20

this is a good book.

it has some great material about why the Greeks matter and how Western civilization is built on their ideas.

it has a long section about the play Antigone (which is just one detailed example – he says you could do a similar thing with many other works) where it points out how the background assumptions of the play (not the main plot) are full of ideas important to our civilization. it has a bunch of sections with a clear thesis (section heading) statement in italics and then a couple pages explaining the point in detail. it's very good, high quality argument and explanation with good organizational structure.

it has a long section about how the people in the field of Classics have been destroying their own profession that gives tons of quotes that are kinda like reading Real Peer Review on twitter. postmodernist feminist marxists writing academic papers... :( it's great to see them using plenty of highly relevant quotes to make their point. unlike in most books, these authors are good at sharing their knowledge.

the authors aren't great on capitalism. they are no Objectivists. a bit moderate. not 100% super fully pro progress and technology. they concede some stuff to the left that i wouldn't – and then point out how the Greeks anticipated this. but they're decent people. this doesn't ruin the book.

it has good info about how broken our universities are and how the field of classics has been destroyed by people who want to teach fewer classes and get more grants and who write inaccessible impressive PC trendy shit instead of saying why the Greeks matter to people's lives and the world. the field of classics is dying in a major way, with there being fewer teachers, fewer students, etc, and when the book came out (~20 years ago) they say basically it's already too late, the destruction is already too far gone. the only solutions are basically some kinda future rebirth or for some non-academics to take an interest in the classics and do some good work that interests more people in it.

the suggestions for fixing universities are bad. they are authoritarian dictates about How Things Should Be. they are sweeping changes, not "here is the smallest change to fix this, and an easy way to fix that". they are more about restoring how universities worked in the past then moving them into the internet age. lots of the criticisms of problems are good points, but i take issue with the style of the solutions.

this book is important. lots of people know the universities are broken and tons of people are indoctrinated in school and come out of school dumb and ignorant. and that's one of the reasons politics is hard – because you're trying to explain ideas to people who are bad at thinking. this book provides actual details about that for an especially important and old/established/traditional field.

the book offers a middle ground. it's not as broad and abstract as general philosophy principles. it offers concretes. but it's much more deep and important than arguing the latest politics from cable news. it gets at the heart of the problem way more than most discourse.


Elliot Temple on August 4, 2017

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