Adapted From the French | Letters | Chicago Reader

Adapted From the French 

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Dear Editor:

Jeannette De Wyze's generally excellent article on how Encyclopaedia Britannica is coming to grips with the digital revolution [June 16] perpetuates a popular misconception that Mortimer Adler devised a "radical new structure" for EB's historic 1974 15th edition.

It would be more accurate to say he adapted it from another source.

At that time I was the copywriter on Britannica educational products for Buchen Advertising, the agency responsible for EB advertising to the academic community. According to EB lore, Dr. Adler--already celebrated for many other contributions, including his work with Robert M. Hutchins on Great Books of the Western World--created the three-in-one Propaedia/Micropaedia/Macropaedia Britannica structure.

However, a "triune" format was previously employed by the respected French multi-volume reference work, Encyclopaedia Universalis, whose three components were entitled "Index/Symposium/Corpus." (Did the French publisher originate this concept? Or adapt it from an even earlier source? I don't know.)

Somewhere, I suspect, there is a French "Unknown Scholar" who may never receive the credit due for what was largely a remarkable innovation in its day.

Of course, the French have an expression that covers this: "C'est la vie."

Robert Luchs

E. Chestnut


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