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Should we still bother with the supposedly great works of past ages? Aristotle believed that men were naturally superior to women. Kant wrote that 'Humanity is at its greatest perfection in the race of the whites.' The Founding Fathers declared it 'self-evident' that all men are created equal, but nevertheless owned slaves. Small wonder that many readers prefer to close the book on the past. Rather than dwell amid the squalor of history, shouldn't we focus our attention on hopes for a better world?The literary scholar Alan Jacobs hears you. He gets it. But you're wrong. In a scintillating work that weaves together the Book of Genesis and Thomas Pynchon, the Roman poet Horace and Simone Weil, Jacobs shows how our encounters with the past in all its disturbing strangeness may be our best chance at winning a measure of mental freedom.