Mortimer Adler, (December 28, 1902 – June 28, 2001) professor, educator, author, once claimed to be the most highly paid philosopher in the world. That may well be true as he was a long time professor at the University of Chicago, a popular lecturer and teacher, and author of over 50 books. He first burst into public consciousness with his best-seller non-fiction book, How to Read a Book, in 1940. His last book, Adler’s Philosophical Dictionary, was published in 1995.

I first met Dr. Adler at the University of Chicago when he and Milton Mayer were teaching a course on the Great Books. Unregistered students were allowed to sit in during the classes and enjoy the interaction as Adler and Mayer sat at the head of a long rectangular table with registered students seated all around it. I kept attending because I found the discussions fascinating and I could enjoy them without fear that I would be called on. My interest must have been obvious because at one point a note was sent from the head of the table to me, seated off to one side. It read: “Why are you here?” Under that I wrote: “Trite as it may seem, I’m seeking the truth” and sent the note back on its way.

That little incident seems to what led to my being invited to work for Mr. Adler as the Syntopicon was being put together. The Syntopicon was an index to the 102 ideas in the 54 volume set of The Great Books of the Western World, the first edition published in 1952.(Here is a link to our picture in LIFE magazine on 1/26/48.) The job certainly was nothing I applied for–I did not  know there was such an opening or even that such a thing was  happening.   (See my previous post on evolution.)

I soon married and started having children but still followed Adler’s career with interest. He was fond of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas and there was talk, even then, in the 1940’s, about his being seen praying in a Catholic church.  I learned he was accused of converting students to Catholicism because he taught St. Thomas’ Summa Theologica and Jews and Protestants were turning Catholic. He preferred to blame this on his friend Dr. Herbert Schwartz, a Jew who also had converted to Catholicism. Read the rest of this entry »