Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

The Book of Virtues : A Treasury of Great Moral Stories ()

World Magazine Top 100 of the Century

    vir·tue (vûrch)  n.
        1.    a.Moral excellence and righteousness; goodness.
               b.An example or kind of moral excellence: the virtue of patience.

    mo·ral·i·ty (m-rl-t, mô-)  n., pl. mo·ral·i·ties.
        1.The quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct.
        2.A system of ideas of right and wrong conduct: religious morality; Christian morality.
        3.Virtuous conduct.
        4.A rule or lesson in moral conduct.

Forget for a moment the disputatious issue of whether morality is even possible without God, and consider church as simply a structured environment wherein figures of some learning and accepted authority address moral issues.  Now ask yourself, if many of us don't go to church/synagogue/mosque anymore, and parents aren't in the home much anymore, and schools can't teach morality (because we've banned religion from them), then where do we expect our kids to learn morality ?  Where is the structured environment in which they will be taught, by someone with at least a semblance of authority, the differences between right and wrong ? Of course, as threshhold measures we should do things like re-emphasize morality and ethics throughout the society, cut taxes sufficiently for at least one parent to stay home with the kids, use school choice to allow parents to avoid public schools, allow public schools to use religious-based moral instruction, etc.  But in the meantime, Bill Bennett has created an invaluable tool for parents who want to create such a structure, a McGuffey Reader for the modern age, The Book of Virtues.

The book is an anthology of classic stories, essays and poems on moral themes.  In sections on :


Bennett starts with pieces for young children and works up to selections for teens and even adults.  The choices are drawn from a wide variety of sources, with everyone from Hilaire Belloc to Oscar Wilde, P. T. Barnum to Martin Luther King, Chuck Colson to James Baldwin,  being represented.  And the book is enormous, so you can dip in almost anywhere with a high likelihood you'll find something new or long forgotten and little danger of growing bored.  I've frequently found myself searching out the other works of authors cited here, in fact, it was hearing Bennett discuss C. S. Lewis on Booknotes that made me look for and read the inestimable Abolition of Man.

It is a curious thing to me that the Left has chosen to cede the field of morality to the Right.  But if you look at comments about this book, or check out some of the alternatives that have been produced by liberal authors, the common theme seems to be that it is inappropriate to teach kids that there is only one, Judeo-Christian, version of morality, and that they should uinstead by taught that there are a whole range of choices that individuals can make when presented with ethical dilemmas, and each choice deserves an equal measure of respect.  This is also the vision which prevails in the public schools these days, which teach that refusal to judge the actions of others is the mark of a well-rounded, worldly, compassionate citizen.  In a moral climate in which they are increasingly taught that it is impossible, or at least inappropriate, to differentiate between "right" and "wrong", is it any wonder that each succeeding generation of children seems ever less capable of associating actions with consequences ?

Though not sufficient to counteract these tendencies, only good parenting is truly sufficient, Bill Bennett's Book of Virtues is an effective start towards restoring traditional morality to the center of young peoples' educations.  The premise of the collection--that right and wrong/good and evil exist in the abstract, that kids can be taught to recognize them, and that they can be instructed to choose the one over the other--is apparently now just a quaint conservative idea, but if it is one that you think might still have some value, you owe it to yourself and your family to get the book, read it, and talk about it.  A moral education doesn't just happen, particularly not in the soiciety we've created for ourselves; parents have to take responsibility for seeing that their own kids learn what it means to be a virtuous human being and that they strive to be such.  This book won't do it for you, but it can help.


Grade: (A+)


Rick Geary Links:
    -ARTIST SITE : Rick Geary : Cartoonist--Illustrator
    -Rick Geary Page (NBM Publishing)
    -BIO : Rick Geary (National Lampoon)
    -The Very Odd World of Rick Geary

Book-related and General Links:
    -BOOKNOTES : Author: William Bennett Title: The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories Air date: January 9, 1994 (C-SPAN)
    -REVIEW : of The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories, edited by William J Bennett (Nick Gillespie, Reason)
    -REVIEW : of The Book of Virtues (Courtney C. Doe, The Orion)
    -REVIEW : of THE BOOK OF VIRTUES FOR YOUNG PEOPLE : A Treasury of Great Moral Stories and THE MORAL COMPASS Stories for a Life's Journey. Edited by  William J. Bennett (1995) (Katherine Paterson, NY Times Book Review)

    -ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA : McGuffey, William Holmes
    -ETEXT : The New McGuffey First Reader (Gutenberg)
    -ETEXT : The New McGuffey Fourth Reader : William H. McGuffey, Compiler (Gutenberg)

    -Hilaire Belloc Archives
    -Poets' Corner : Hillaire Belloc
    -ARCHIVES : "belloc" (NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW : of Hilaire Belloc by A. N. Wilson (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of Hilaire Belloc by A. N. Wilson (Wilfrid Sheed, NY Times Book Review)

    -REVIEW : of  BRINGING UP A MORAL CHILD A New Approach for Teaching Your Child to Be Kind, Just and Responsible. By Michael Schulman  (Sandra Scarr, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE DEATH OF ADAM Essays on Modern Thought. By Marilynne Robinson (Roger Kimball, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE SOUL OF THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief. By George M. Marsden (John Patrick Diggins, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE PROMISE OF PRAGMATISM Modernism and the Crisis of Knowledge and Authority. By John Patrick Diggins (William Connolly, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of STRAIGHT SHOOTING What's Wrong With America and How to Fix It. By John Silber. (Leland Miles, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of CULTURE AS HISTORY: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century. By Warren I. Susman (Jon Wiener, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE PHILOSOPHY OF MORAL DEVELOPMENT Moral Stages and the Idea of Justice. Volume One. Essays on Moral Development. By Lawrence Kohlberg (Werner J. Dannhauser, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of TELLING RIGHT FROM WRONG What Is Moral, What Is Immoral, and What Is Neither One Nor the Other. By Timothy J. Cooney (Sidney Hook, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE DE-MORALIZATION OF SOCIETY From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values. By Gertrude Himmelfarb (Anthony Gottlieb, NY Times Book Review)