Columbians Ahead of Their Time
 Clifton Fadiman
Clifton Fadiman "For most men life is a search for the proper manila envelope in which to get themselves filed."

Clifton Fadiman (1904–99)
Author, editor
Columbia College 1925

Unlike many men of letters, Clifton Fadiman thought of himself primarily as a guide to the wisdom of others. But as a guide, Fadiman had few equals: for over 60 years, the editor, essayist, anthologist, and broadcast personality led countless readers to myriad subjects. As an editor and judge for the Book-of-the-Month Club for over 50 years, he helped shape the reading choices of countless Americans. He wrote for the Encyclopaedia Britannica as well as numerous magazines and compiled over two dozen anthologies on subjects ranging from mathematics to poetry to the pun. On radio and television programs, most notably the radio quiz show Information, Please!, he become a model of wit and erudition. He wrote informal essays for Holiday magazine for 10 years, and more than 65 introductions to books ranging from The Martian Chronicles to War and Peace. For one anthology of short stories, he wrote not only the introduction, but also 63 commentaries. In the early 1980s, Fadiman, who once listed his avocations as wine and "the avoidance of exercise," co-authored the compendium The Joys of Wine with Sam Aaron. Fadiman once estimated that he had read over 25,000 books in his life.

At Columbia, Fadiman became lifelong friends with some of the College's most illustrious teachers and alumni: Jacques Barzun, Mark Van Doren (saluted by Fadiman in the essay, "What Makes a Teacher Great?"), Mortimer Adler, and Whittaker Chambers, whom Fadiman encouraged to read The Communist Manifesto. Although Fadiman entered with the Class of 1924, the need to make ends meet delayed his graduation until 1925.

Adapted from Clifton Fadiman '25: An Erudite Guide to the Wisdom of Others by Timothy C. Cross (Columbia College Today, September 1999)


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