The Great Books Foundation was founded in 1947 by Mortimer Adler and Robert Maynard Hutchins. The mission: To empower readers of all ages to become more reflective and responsible thinkers. To accomplish this, we teach the art of civil discourse through the Shared Inquiry™ method and publish enduring works across the disciplines.
In 1947, Hutchins and Adler established a nonprofit organization, the Great Books Foundation, to support the new wave of interest and to promote lifelong education through the reading and discussion of the world’s great literature. Their aim was to encourage Americans from all walks of life to participate in a “Great Conversation” with the authors of some of the most significant works in the Western tradition. To reach the widest possible audience, the Foundation published inexpensive paperback editions of its recommended readings, many of which were out of print or available only in expensive editions.
Robert Hutchins was chairman of a distinguished and singularly committed board of directors that included, among others, Mortimer Adler; Garret L. Bergen, vice president of Marshall Field; the Reverend John J. Cavanaugh, president of the University of Notre Dame; Norman Cousins, editor of The Saturday Review of Literature; author and critic Clifton Fadiman; author Clare Boothe Luce; and E. H. Powell, president of Encyclopaedia Britannica. The Foundation’s stated objective was to provide the means of a genuine liberal education for all adults. An early annual report reflected the belief, or hope, that thousands or even millions of people would join together for small group discussions that foster the “noble work of self-improvement.” By December 1949, an estimated 50,000 people in thousands of book discussion groups were meeting regularly in public libraries, homes, churches, and synagogues.