GREAT TREASURY OF WESTERN THOUGHT, edited by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren (Bowker, $29.95). Well, no, you can't put it all between two covers or even 200; the best that has been thought and written down is too polymorphous, too widely scattered, perhaps even (despite centuries of patient, dedicated sifting) too little known and appreciated for such convenient pigeonholing.
The editors simplify their assignment a bit by making it a treasury of Western thought (goodbye, Lao-tse) and by focusing on the humanities and a few classic scientists (but nothing of Heisenberg) to the exclusion of great masses of material that could not possibly have been assimilated. This is unfortunate for, as Heisenberg has observed elsewhere, "in the history of human thinking the most fruitful developments frequently take place at those points where two different lines of thought meet."
The chief cargo of these 1771 close-printed pages is a single line of ideas - the one that began with Aristotle and is now running into serious challenges, both from alternate lines (Lao-tse) and from those (like Heisenberg) who have pushed the Aristotelian premises up to that system's level of incompetence.
Critics of the Aristotelian world-view are not entirely excluded; there is a bit of Wittgenstein and quite a lot of Blake - but more of Ralph Waldo Emerson. The amount of material presented on law utterly dwarts that on mystery and mysticism. Still, within its limits, this collection does represent with remarkable thoroughness the main traditions and most interesting bypaths of Western thought. It fulfills the promise in its grandiose title. A Compendium of Important Statements on Man and His Institutions by the Great Thinkers is Western History, and for those who want a handy, heavyweight survey of that tradition, arranged with admirable logic and superbly indexed, it justifies its substantial price.
THE HARPER DICTIONARY OF MODERN THOUGHT, edited by Alan Bullock and Oliver Stallbbrass, (Harper & Row, $20). Heisenberg is in his compilation - not quoted but explained succinctly in the three brief articles which define Matrix Mechanics, Quantum Mechanics and Uncertainty Principle. The general reader (to whom this very useful reference work is directed - and even the most advanced specialist is a general reader in most of the fields it covers) and find cross-references to these three articles in the entry under Heisenberg's name, and a reading of this material will convey a good though general impression of his contribution to our knowledge of the world we live in.
The last hundred years have generated more new concepts in every field of human knowledge than the previous thousand. We live in an increasingly complex mental environment: it has become impossible to study in detail more than a few small corners of what is now known and thought, and a desperately urgent need has arisen for a reference work like this to make the key ideas of our time available to nonspecialists.
A brief listing of a few of the entries will give an idea of this book's scope: laser, steam of consciousness, action painting, quark, microtone, zero point energy, identity crisis, chlorophyll, abreaction, Les Six, meritocracy, Parkinson's Law, objective correlative. There are 4000 entries of this kind, explained in articles that vary in length from 10 to 1000 words, averaging just under 100 and superbly corss-referenced. All the articles are signed except pure cross-references (which constitute a dictionary of the leading thinkers of our time), and the contributors are among the leading English and American experts in the various fields covered.