Books: Appendixitis Cultural Literacy

by E.D. Hirsch Jr. Houghton Mifflin; 251 pages; $16.95

What is Brownian motion? Who said we should burn with a hard, gemlike flame? How do you translate the phrase comme il faut? Failure to answer questions like these signifies a catastrophic ignorance, according to E.D. Hirsch Jr., a professor of English at the University of Virginia and inventor of the latest intellectual parlor game.

Hirsch did not set out to produce an entertainment. But this summer, readers seem eager for masochistic diversions. Another finger-wagging polemic about American education, Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind, has been on the New York Times best-seller list for eleven weeks. Cultural Literacy...

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