Not everything I found or know about the great books idea, Mortimer J. Adler, and his community of discourse made it into the book. We make our selections of books, articles, and archival resources during round one of the storytelling process, and then we refine those choices even further when we’re hit with the existential reality of word or page limits. That last round can get really painful. The selection below was snipped during my final haircut for Palgrave Macmillan. It came from chapter three, titled “Making ‘Seventy-Four Corpses…Pay Off’: The Context and Commerce of the Great Books, 1952-1968.”
I had found a fun promotional film, produced by Britannica, that involved Adler and Robert Hutchins discussing the virtues of The Great Books of the Western World. I think the sepia-toned, grainy film impressed me as much as the on-film conversation. Given that, I felt in the end—despite the tedious work I put into transcribing the dialogue—that the content below was slightly repetitive given what’s in the book. Since my focus in that chapter was the sales and marketing of the set, as well as the reception, this was just another interesting, rather than absolutely essential, part of my story. So it was left on the cutting room floor. I am reproducing it here for fun. – TL
The Great Books on Film
Beginning with a pan of the fifty-four volumes of the Great Books of the Western World, Homer to Freud, on a long table, the camera turned to a seated Hutchins and Adler—the latter smoking a pipe. Hutchins began: “Mr. Adler and I are glad to have a chance to talk with you about the set of books you’ve just seen.” After a brief monologue on the set’s production history, Hutchins displayed some of his legendary wit: “Mr. Adler did the work and I took all the credit.” From here they both turned serious. Hutchins called the great books a “way of life,” but quickly added: “We’re not trying to sell any dogma.”  To him the books “reflect a view” that “all intelligent people ought to hold: a view of man as rational and free.” Adler then interjected a correction that goes to the heart of his thinking about the set—and contradicts many late twentieth-century views about his relationship with the great books idea. He said:
Even on that subject they don’t hold it all together. … The most extraordinary thing about the Great Books, it seems to me, is the fact that there is no basic point of view that isn’t contradicted in them. Far from there being any dogma in them, the Great Books represent the variety of, the tremendous diversity of, intellectual positions, points of view, doctrines, ways of looking at things, so that no one could get any single point of view from them. 
Being more in tune with the philosophical problems of the endeavor, Adler pointed out the set’s inductive, ground up qualities. Hutchins countered:
The only point of view that you have to hold … [about] these books … is a view of intellectual history and of intellectual progress – that intellectual progress is made by discussion as well as by discovery, and that intellectual history is the history of the great conversation that is embodied in these books. 
Here we see, between the two most prominent great books supporters, some tension (contrived or otherwise) about the set’s intellectual basis. Based on Adler’s respect for tradition and ancient philosophy, he no doubt saw less ‘progress’ in Western intellectual history than a continuous battle against error with occasional glimpses of insight—some evident in the greatest books, some not. But the notion of a ‘great conversation’ kept them on common ground.
The rest of the movie centered, in sales-like fashion, on the set’s distinctive qualities. Hutchins described the set as a kind of antidote to modern America’s “frantic” need to “amuse”—a point similar to one made by Clifton Fadiman at the 1952 Waldorf dinner. After pointing out the rarity of some of the set’s works, particularly the astronomers and scientists, Hutchins reiterated that “we did not want to produce and distribute furniture. We want the books read.” Adler then spoke on the Syntopicon’s virtues. Hutchins concluded the film as follows: “The Great Books don’t say it all. They are not the whole of Western thought. They are, however, the basis of Western thought and . . . civilization. They are the indispensable voice in the great conversation. They are the books that give meaning to all other books.”  The rhetorical tension between the grandiose and practical is clear.
While the degree of scripting in this movie is unknown, the exchange between Adler and Hutchins does indeed reflect earlier tensions in the rhetoric about the great books. Adler understood, for his part, some of the problems associated with grandiose claims about the set, but he never dissociated himself them. Those assertions became coupled with the great books idea in the minds of critics. Aside from the tension between great books’ claimants, Hutchins’ candid comments also confirm the fact that a particular view of intellectual history—the history of ideas, that is—underpins the set. His linking of the set with the idea of progress also foreshadows criticisms arising in the 1960s of the whole modern age in the United States.
 Great Books of the Western World, prod. by Encyclopædia Britannica, 30 min., 1954, videocassette.