UNSEASONABLE TRUTHS: The Life of Robert Maynard Hutchins by Harry S. Ashmore

UNSEASONABLE TRUTHS: The Life of Robert Maynard Hutchins

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This first book-length biography of the iconoclastic educator and civil libertarian (and chairman of the Encyclopaedia Britannica's Board of Directors) is meticulously documented but--despite Ashmore having known Robert Maynard Hutchins personally--is essentially juiceless. Ashmore (one-time crusading editor of the Arkansas Gazette; later, president of Hutchins' Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions) gleans few hints from sparse sources to document what motivated the son of a Presbyterian minister to become the enfant terrible of the educational establishment in the 1930's and 40's and, later, the bete noir of conservatives and student rebels. Clearly, Hutchins was dissatisfied by the scattershot education he had received at Oberlin and at Yale Law School--where he served as clean while still in his 20s. As its 30-year-old ""Boy Wonder"" president, he envisioned turning the Univ. of Chicago into ""a laboratory dedicated to experimentation in educational reform."" Although his eloquent speeches for such reform made him a media star, faculty resistance (much documented here) thwarted his attempts to turn the undergraduate school, via ""Great Books"" seminars, into a ""community of scholars"" studying the ideas underpinning Western civilization. He remained controversial as founder-head of the civil-rights-oriented Fund for the Republic, tangling repeatedly with the House Un-American Activities Committee. Although we learn much about Hutchins' intelligence, charm, and wit via liberal excerpts from his speeches, writings, and memos, as well as from memorabilia of numerous friends as diverse as Thornton Wilder and Henry Luce, the private man remains inscrutable here. Less than compelling.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Little, Brown