The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy

Front Cover
Eric Donald Hirsch, Joseph F. Kett, James S. Trefil
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002 - History - 647 pages
27 Reviews
In this fast-paced information age, how can Americans know what's really important and what's just a passing fashion? Now more than ever, we need a source that concisely sums up the knowledge that matters to Americans -- the people, places, ideas, and events that shape our cultural conversation. With more than six thousand entries,The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy is that invaluable source.
Wireless technology. Gene therapy. NAFTA. In addition to the thousands of terms described in the original Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, here are more than five hundred new entries to bring Americans' bank of essential knowledge up to date. The original entries have been fully revised to reflect recent changes in world history and politics, American literature, and, especially, science and technology. Cultural icons that have stood the test of time (Odysseus, Leaves of Grass, Cleopatra, the Taj Mahal, D-Day) appear alongside entries on such varied concerns as cryptography, the digital divide, the European Union, Kwanzaa, pheromones, SPAM, Type A and Type B personalities, Web browsers, and much, much more.
As our world becomes more global and interconnected, it grows smaller through the terms and touchstones that unite us. As E. D. Hirsch writes in the preface, "Community is built up of shared knowledge and values -- the same shared knowledge that is taken for granted when we read a book or newspaper, and that is also taken for granted as part of the fabric that connects us to one another." A delicious concoction of information for anyone who wants to be in the know, The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy brilliantly confirms once again that it is "an excellent piece of work . . . stimulating and enlightening" (New York Times) -- the most definitive and comprehensive family sourcebook of its kind.
  

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This is an amazing and educational reference manual. - Goodreads
This is a great reference book. - Goodreads
Great basic reference book. - Goodreads

Review: The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know

User Review  - Kaya - Goodreads

Essential for everyone. Helps you feel less dumb about everything! Read full review

Review: The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know

User Review  - Eric - Goodreads

At long last, I've read this book cover-to-cover. Now I'm ready for Jeopardy. Well, after re-reading certain sections I'm weak on (the Bible, Canadian geography, the dreaded physical sciences...!) Read full review

Selected pages

Contents

The Bible
1
Mythology and Folklore
27
Proverbs
47
Idioms
59
World Literature Philosophy and Religion
83
Literature in English
115
Conventions of Written English
147
Fine Arts
163
American Politics
329
World Geography
356
American Geography
404
Anthropology Psychology and Sociology
421
Business and Economics
444
Physical Sciences and Mathematics
469
Earth Sciences
505
Life Sciences
519

World History to 1550
202
World History since 1550
217
American History to 1865
251
American History since 1865
277
World Politics
311
Medicine and Health
542
Technology
583
Photo and Illustration Credits
603
Index
605
Copyright

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About the author (2002)

Hirsch is a conservative critic best known for his repudiation of critical approaches to literature (chiefly poststructuralism and New Criticism) that assume that the author's intentions do not determine readings. He argues that any such methodology is guilty of "the organic fallacy," the belief that the text leads a life of its own. For Hirsch, the author's authority is the key to literary interpretation: The critic's job is to reproduce textual meaning by recovering the author's consciousness, which guarantees the validity of an interpretation. In his two most important books, Validity in Interpretation (1967) and its sequel, The Aims of Interpretation (1976), Hirsch warns against the "critical anarchy" that follows from the "cognitive atheism" of both relativism and subjectivism. For him, these result from a corollary of the organic fallacy, the thesis that meaning is ultimately indeterminate because it changes over time or with the differing interests and values of different readers. According to Hirsch, meaning does not change; only value or significance does, as readers relate a text's fixed meaning to their cultures. If there is more than one valid interpretation of a text, it is because literature may be reduced to more than one "intrinsic genre" or meaning type---the particular set of conventions governing ways of seeing and of making meaning at the time the author was writing. Many critics suggest that the intentions Hirsch recovers in intrinsic genres are really his own, rather than those of the author, because no one, including Hirsch, can escape his or her historically conditioned frame of reference when developing interpretations of literature. Hirsch's recent books, including Cultural Literacy (1987), are seen as proof of those flaws by those who are troubled by the history and values of the dominant culture that Hirsch insists is the only culture. Hirsch argues that "common knowledge" is being denied minority students and others by feminists and other "radicals" who have undermined the authority of its great texts.

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James Trefil, the Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Physics at George Mason University, is the author or coauthor of more than thirty books, including The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy.

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