Bonfire of the Humanities: Rescuing the Classics in an Impoverished Age

Victor Davis Hanson & John Heath & Bruce S. Thornton

Language: English

Publisher: ISI Books

Published: Dec 2, 2000


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 beleaguered, 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, and 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.

From Publishers Weekly

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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

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
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.