Way back during my Chicago years, 1947-1948, I worked for philosopher Mortimer Adler as he was putting together publication of the Great Books of the Western World and its accompanying Syntopicon. I then married and left his employ and often wished I could have seen the finished product. The cost for the complete set was hundreds of dollars, which was quite out of my reach for many years.

Just recently I thought I would see what was available on Amazon and found that the two volumes of the Syntopicon could be purchased separately from sundry dealers and I managed to acquire a set. It gave me pleasure to see (at long last) my name among the editorial staff in the front of the volume Angel to Love.

Further investigation revealed the following announcement in 2009:

Coming to a library near you:

Beginning in January of next year, Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Great Books of the Western World will be available electronically, in its entirety, at libraries and institutions. Through an agreement between Britannica and Ingram Digital, the Great Books will be accessible through Ingram’s industry-leading MyiLibrary e-book platform.

The electronic Great Books will contain precisely the same contents as the printed version, with hypertext links from entries in the Syntopicon—the idea index—and the places in the text those entries refer to. The digital corpus will be fully searchable.

If your library doesn’t subscribe, you will have the option of purchasing the electronic version of the Great Books yourself. We’ll have more details when the product becomes available next month.

Amazon has this to say:

There is no better way to own and appreciate the world’s greatest written works. Great Books of the Western World is one of the most acclaimed publishing feats of our time. Authoritative, accurate, and complete, this collection represents the essential core of the Western literary canon, compiling 517 of the most significant achievements in literature, history, philosophy, and science into a color-coded set as handsome as it is affordable. From the ancient classics to the newest masterpieces of the 20th century, Great Books traces the ideas, stories, and discoveries that have shaped modern civilization. Volumes 1 and 2 of this collection is the Syntopicon, a unique two-volume guide (not sold separately) that enables you to investigate a particular idea and compare what different authors have to say about it. The Syntopicon comprises a new kind of reference work — accomplishing for ideas what the dictionary accomplishes for words and the encyclopaedia accomplishes for facts.

They have seven new sets available for $900 and 12 used sets for $100!