The summaries on this website were written in 2020 by Brian Gallagher, with the goal of making Bloom’s book more accessible.
While undoubtedly a brilliant book, it is also long (382 pages), and it can be difficult at times to understand what parts contribute to the overall thesis and which are merely tangential or even superfluous; the forest can easily be lost for the trees, especially if readers are unfamiliar with the thinkers or concepts Bloom discusses. One might say that the book suffers from a low “signal-to-noise ratio,” and especially so because the noise (Bloom’s tangents, allusions, and anecdotes) is so rich. These summaries attempt to extract the signal from the noise while maintaining the structure of Bloom’s arguments and his voice. To this end, direct quotes have been used wherever possible.
Two versions of the summary are posted on this site:
- A Detailed Summary. Approximately 16,800 words, or 40 pages (1/10 of the original length). This version captures virtually every point made in the original text. It is recommended to those already familiar with the concepts involved and interested in how Bloom substantiates his claims.
- A Shorter Summary. Approximately 6,000 words, or 15 pages (1/25 of the original length). This version captures the main arguments but greatly condenses supporting arguments and omits most elaborations. It is recommended for those who want to understand Bloom’s thesis.
The page numbers at the end of each point in the summary indicate its source. They refer to the page numbers in the following edition: Bloom, A. (1987). The Closing of the American Mind. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
An online version of this edition (with the same page numbers) can be found by clicking here.
A discussion guide is also included to help with self-study or classroom discussions related to The Closing of the American Mind.
The Closing of the American Mind was written by professor Allan Bloom and published by Simon and Schuster in 1987. The book was widely read in the following years, both inside and outside the university; it became a number one national best-seller and sold over a million copies.
In the book, Bloom describes the deterioration of higher education he observed over the course of his tenure as a professor at the University of Chicago and Cornell. He also diagnoses the underlying problem: the belief that values are relative, an idea imported from Germany in the 1940s despite its fundamental antithesis with American ideals.
Bloom traces the roots of that relativism back through the philosophy of Heidegger, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, the Enlightenment thinkers, and Machiavelli. He warns that this philosophy is catastrophic—not only for the university but also for liberal democratic society, and he contrasts it with the view of the Ancients, to whose thought he ultimately advocates a return.
The following graphics help describe the scope and focus of the book and the two summaries: