The book that I have enjoyed the most recently is one that I received from my maternal grandfather’s collection. It is an old cloth bound book, and in fact was already second-hand when my grandfather obtained it, having been declared to be “surplus property” by the Highline High School Library. The book is The Cultivated Mind by Edward Hodnett, published by Harper & Row in 1963.
The book is an introduction to the life of the mind, being more or less a survey of the liberal arts, along with short summaries of notable works in the various sub-domains. It is charmingly anachronistic. The author notes that Karl Marx had influenced more people than anyone else in history aside from Christ. Perhaps it was true at the time. The literary references stop in 1963, but the focus is mostly on works significantly older than that.
I enjoyed the book because it made me want to grow in my appreciation of literature, art, and music. It doubled the number of books on my “to read” list. And in spite of all of this, it is written in a conversational and humble tone, with demonstrates that the cultivation of the mind need not turn one into a prig.
My sense is that books like this one are written every couple of years for the sake of the publishers’ having a new book to sell. The Cultivated Mind may not even be an outstanding exemplar of the genre. Nevertheless, it has inspired me, and I am happy to recognize the value of Hodnett’s work, even if I am the last one to appreciate it.