Great Books Chicago 2020

An Inspiring Cultural Event!

May 1–3, 2020 • Downtown Chicago

  • Do you love reading?
  • Are you a lifelong learner?
  • Do you enjoy engaging, thought-provoking discussions?

If you answered yes to any of the above, we know you will love Great Books Chicago 2020!

An annual celebration of literature, discussion, culture, and fellowship, Great Books Chicago is an indispensable part of the book-and-culture lover’s calendar. Each year, a few dozen lifelong learners gather in the heart of the Loop to discuss books, short stories, and poems related to a thought-provoking theme and to take advantage of other cultural touchstones the city has to offer. We hope you’ll be a part of it!

Your $550 Registration Includes:

  • Six hours of thought-provoking discussion led by expert Great Books Shared Inquiry facilitators
  • All readings that will be discussed at the event
  • Friday evening welcome reception at the American Writers Museum
  • Tickets to a Saturday evening outing of your choice (choose from a play at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, VIP seats at Winter’s Jazz Club, or a Chicago Architecture Foundation Center river cruise)
  • Continental breakfast on Saturday and Sunday; snacks, coffee, and refreshments all weekend
  • Two expert speakers on specific aspects of the theme

Exploring Beauty

The theme for Great Books Chicago 2020 is Exploring Beauty. Participants, led by expert Great Books discussion leaders, will discuss the nature of beauty, the many forms it takes, and how notions of beauty change over time.

Readings, cultural outings, and plenary sessions will all center around this theme.

The readings are:

  • Death in Venice Thomas Mann
  • The Bluest Eye Toni Morrison
  • “The Beauties” Anton Chekhov
  • “An Essay in Aesthetics” Roger Fry
  • Selected poems, including:
    • “Appalachian Elegy” (sections 1–6) bell hooks
    • “On Beauty” Kahlil Gibran
    • “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” William Shakespeare
    • “Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare” Edna St. Vincent Millay

Event Speakers

Two dynamic speakers will lead sessions on different aspects of beauty, inviting participant response and discussion.

Beauty in Photography

Richard Cahan, Cofounder, CityFiles Press

Richard Cahan estimates he has studied millions of photographs during his career as a journalist and photo historian. CityFiles Press, a small publishing company that believes in the power of words and pictures, strives to produce meaningful projects that have emotional and artistic impact. During the past ten years, Cahan and co-author Michael Williams have created more than twelve books—each of which has won critical acclaim and attention. Recent titles include Aftershock: The Human Toll of War; River of Blood: American Slavery From the People who Lived It; Un-American: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II; and Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows. Richard will show a selection of his all-time favorite photographs, then invite participants to comment and expand the discussion.

Richard Cahan was born in Chicago and raised in the city and northern suburbs. He graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in journalism. He worked as the picture editor of the Chicago Sun-Times and directed CITY 2000, a project that documented Chicago in the year 2000. In addition to writing books, he helps run a publishing company (, and curates exhibits, including one now at the Chicago History Museum.

The Beauty of Geometry

Dave Shafer, PhD, Electrical Engineering, Stanford University

Dave Shafer has long admired the beauty in the physical, human, and intellectual worlds, and in the things that humans create as we move around and between these worlds. Dave studied Earth’s upper atmosphere during a winter-over in Antarctica and has worked to develop medical cameras, displays, and robotics. He became reacquainted with the intellectual side of life through his son’s enthusiasm for Great Books events.

Special Added Session

Beauty in Art

Ariela Lazar, PhD
May 3, 1:00–3:30 p.m.

Now you can cap off your exciting Great Books Chicago weekend with a special program at the Art Institute of Chicago: Beauty in Art. This session will start with a box lunch at the Great Books Chicago event space. Our group will then move to the Art Institute for two and a half hours of guided exploration of great artwork!

Session Details

In Western civilization, art is seen as intimately tied to beauty. This seems to be the case in both popular conceptions of art and in scholarly analyses of art. In this session, we will look at several Western works of art from different periods and locations. We will attempt to identify what concept of beauty was at work in the culture in which the artwork was produced, and we will explore how beauty is understood differently across different cultures.

Act fast and register today because we can only accept 25 participants in the group, per Art Institute regulations. Registration is $65 and includes a box lunch, for which several options will be available. (Your fee is only $45 if you are already an Art Institute member.) Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity!

About the Presenter

Dr. Ariela Lazar is the director of Visual Arts Education at the University of Chicago Graham School. She has taught philosophy courses to undergraduate and graduate students at Stanford University and Northwestern University. At the University of Chicago, Dr. Lazar has developed a program aimed at teaching the skill of art viewing, as a result of many years spent thinking, writing, and speaking with others about art. In her teaching, she draws on her direct knowledge of art and her philosophical work concerning such questions as What is art? and What is good art? Dr. Lazar is the owner of Lazar Art Advisory.

Questions? Contact event coordinator Dan Lindstrom at 312.646.7116.