Worldly Wisdom: Great Books and the Meanings of Life
by James Sloan Allen

ISBN-10: 1-929490-35-6
ISBN-13: 978-1-929490-35-6
Hardcover, 576 pages, 6 x 9 1/4"
Bibliography, Index

The author engagingly explores some fifty classic works of literature, philosophy, and political thought from Homer and Confucius to Jean-Paul Sartre and Gabriel García Márquez to draw out ideas valuable for understanding life in this world and for living that life well. Engagingly written for anyone who thinks about such ideas, as well as for anyone curious to know what great authors have thought about them, Worldly Wisdom offers both an inviting liberal education and a usefully humanistic self-help book.
As Allen writes: "You don't have to be a philosopher to think about the meaning of life. Everyone does it. Sometimes we think about the meaning of life itself—where it came from, where it is going, what is its purpose, and so on. But more often we think about the many smaller meanings of our own lives as we live from day to day. . . . These ideas may not be altogether conscious. And most probably go unstated. But we cannot live without them. . . . There would not be any classic writings, or Great Books, of world civilization without these ideas either. . . . In one way or another, these writings all deal with how we find meaning in our lives—or how we give meanings to our lives. Classic authors just differ from other people by having more elaborate ideas on this subject, and by articulating their ideas more memorably. This is how classic writings give us what I will call 'good ideas,' and 'useful humanism,' and 'worldly wisdom.'"
The distinguished author and diplomat Stanton H. Burnett has written: "For many readers, this will become the most important, most frequently consulted book on their shelves."

A cultural historian, essayist, and critic, James Sloan Allen has taught at Columbia, Haverford College, Brigham Young University, the New School, and the Juilliard School, where he was academic vice president. He also is the author of The Romance of Commerce and Culture: Capitalism, Modernism, and the Chicago-Aspen Crusade for Cultural Reform. For several years he has been teaching a Great Books class for adults in New York City. A longtime New Yorker, he now resides in Honolulu.

• James Sloan Allen's website and blog, with list of treated subjects and excerpts

• Gary Saul Morson, "Unmasking the unmaskers," in The New Criterion (February 2010)


James Allen at the Savannah Book Festival, February 6, 2010