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Saturday, June 30, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Mortimer Adler, creator of Great Books program, dies

Chicago Tribune

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CHICAGO - Mortimer Adler, the high-school dropout who became a philosopher at 15 and revolutionized American thought by insisting that reading the Great Books was the key to understanding the human condition, died in his San Mateo, Calif., home.

He was 98 and died Thursday of natural causes, said his son, Philip Adler.

From the time Mr. Adler and University of Chicago President Robert Hutchins, his intellectual comrade, created the Great Books program in 1946, Mr. Adler's name has been essential to conversation about American thought.

He organized what would become the Aspen Institute for the Humanities in the early 1950s and wrote more than 100 publications, including his seminal 1940 work "How to Read a Book." He is credited with popularizing the study of both literature and philosophy in his lifetime.

As the longtime chairman of the board of editors at Encyclopaedia Britannica, Mr. Adler oversaw that publication's content overhaul in the 1970s and organized all of human knowledge into a single 1,000-page volume called the Propaedia, Aspen Institute President Elmer Johnson said.

Mr. Adler also may have been the only person in the United States to have earned a doctorate without having a master's, a bachelor's or a high-school diploma.

He received his doctorate in 1928, the year after his marriage to Helen Boyton. They divorced in 1961. He married Caroline Pring in 1963. His second wife died in 1998.

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