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Education of Henry Adams, The

Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres, The Education

century world symbol twentieth

an autobiography by Henry (Brooks) Adams, privately printed in 1907 and posthumously published in 1918. Generally ranked as one of the most distinguished autobiographies, its subtitle, ‘A Study of Twentieth-Century Multiplicity’, describes Adams's purpose; he employs a series of selected moments from his life in order to illustrate his highly privileged existence and to set out his dynamic theories of history and philosophy. The book represents his long career as a failure, despite his successful achievements, because the USA was unable to equip him to meet the battles he had to face. His earlier work, Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (1904), studies Europe from the perspective of the thirteenth century, ‘the point of history when man held the highest idea of himself as a unit in a unified universe’ and thus contrasts with his description in The Education of the modern world as a ‘multiverse’. This conception is best expressed in the chapter ‘The Dynamo and the Virgin’, in which he sees the mechanical dynamo, the symbol of electrical energy, as corresponding to the central symbol of the medieval world-view, the Virgin. Generated as it was by the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, this idea also marked the geographical shift of ideas from the Eastern seaboard, which had been populated by generations of the Adams family, to the industrial heartlands of the Midwest. As such, it indicates the intellectual shift from the nineteenth century to a distinctively twentieth-century frame of thought.

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