Writing for the General Reader

by Mortimer J. Adler, Ph.D.

A word about myself as an author. I spent about thirty years in universities, teaching experimental psychology at Columbia University and philosophy at the University of Chicago, as well as conducting seminars on the great books that are central to philosophical thought.

Both before and after leaving academia, I have written a large number of philosophical books. With one exception, those written up through 1976 were still to a certain extent academic. Though my intention was to deal with difficult philosophical questions in a manner that was thoroughly accessible to the general reader, I did not learn how to do that effectively until after 1976. In addition, I must confess that until that time I still thought I could manage to write books that would be not only intelligible to the general reader, but also might win the attention and respect of my former academic colleagues–professors of philosophy in our universities.

Through painful experience, I finally came to realize that that double-barreled aim was impossible to achieve. Beginning with a book entitled “Aristotle for Everybody”, all the philosophical books I have written since 1977 have been aimed only at the general reader, with no concern whatsoever for the academic audience. I am not at all dismayed to report that my lack of interest in gaining the attention and respect of professors of philosophy has been met by an equal lack of attention on their part to the books I have written.

At the same time, I am pleased to report that those books have managed to attract an ever-widening circle of general readers who are interested in basic ideas and fundamental issues. I have succeeded in writing about difficult subjects and thorny problems in a manner intelligible to them. Though none has become a best-seller to the extent achieved by “How to Read a Book” in 1940, most of them have reached a substantial audience.

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