Rescuing Socrates: How the Great Books Changed My Life and Why They Matter for a New Generation

Princeton Univ. Nov. 2021. 256p. ISBN 9780691200392. $24.95. ED
In this insightful work, Montás (American studies, Columbia Univ.; former director of Columbia’s Center for the Core Curriculum) explores the enduring value of a “liberal education,” a term of post-secondary education that refers to the core courses that students are often required to take, outside of specialized coursework in their discipline. As an undergraduate at Columbia, Montás encountered the college’s Core Curriculum, sometimes called a Great Books curriculum, which refers to foundational texts by ancient and modern authors that address big questions faced by humankind. To help readers experience liberal education for themselves, Montás focuses on St. Augustine; Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; Sigmund Freud; and Mahatma Gandhi. He describes how these authors shaped his thinking and fostered a sense of belonging and offers a critical assessment of liberal education in contemporary academe. Few colleges and universities still require study of Great Books as part of their curricula, but Montás makes a compelling case for the life-changing results of such pedagogy; he notes how, as an émigré from the Dominican Republic, he benefited from the breadth and depth of these approaches. He argues that academia does “minority students an unconscionable disservice when we steer them away from the traditional liberal arts curriculum.”
VERDICT This thoughtful book will appeal to anyone involved in assessing, developing, and refining general education curricula.
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