The Wonder of Academe

"The high-minded man must
care more for truth than for what people think."


While being interviewed on William Buckley's Firing Line, Harry Ashmore remarked that he had allowed the subject of his Unseasonable Truths: The Life of Robert Maynard Hutchins to tell the story of his life and work through the numerous quotations that fill the pages of the book. Ashmore is too modest. To be sure, he constantly quotes Hutchins, whose prose was a model of candor and wit, but this biography is much more than a compilation of quotations held together by the thread of chronological events. Ashmore is not just an amanuensis, a Boswell noting the remarks of his mentor. Far from it, indeed. What we have here, in brief, is a splendid example of the biographer's art—scholarly but never pedantic or dull, comprehensive in its details, temperate and objective in its conclusions, and beautifully written. It is an extraordinary book about an equally extraordinary man.

And yet for all Hutchins' acclaim as the Boy Wonder of Academe, earned by his having been named dean of the Yale Law School at age 28 and president of the University of Chicago at 29, I cannot help believing that he was, like so many great men—that is great in the Socratic sense of being eminently rational and hence wise and good—a failure. At least a failure in that...

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