Classics from Horatio Alger and Andrew Carnegie

A Great Books Discussion Course

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“Rags to Riches,” American Style: Classics from Horatio Alger and Andrew Carnegie

Although the “rags to riches” motif is ancient and widespread, the American version has attained a unique place in world culture. This course examines two of the most well-known — but often little-understood — American embodiments of the “rags to riches” motif: the fictional characters of Horatio Alger, Jr. on the one hand, and the decidedly non-fictional Andrew Carnegie (who rose from poverty to become one of the richest men in the world) on the other. Readings include Alger’s all-time best-selling novel Ragged Dick; or, Street Life in New York with the Boot Blacks and Carnegie’s “Gospel of Wealth” essays.





Cari Barnes

As a passionate lifelong learner with degrees in philosophy, computer science, law and business administration underpinning careers as an engineer and a patent attorney — as well as extensive experience governing an award-winning public library — Cari Barnes brings a wide array of knowledge and talents to her teaching. Ms. Barnes’ courses often push the traditional boundaries of the “liberal arts” by integrating classic texts of science, technology and law with works of philosophy and fiction. Ms. Barnes leads Great Books discussions in the Chicago area and is President of the Midwest Great Books Council.

Course #: 



  • 4 Weeks


  • 1 hr 45 min


  • Online


US$ 145


“Early Bird” reduced tuition (US$ 115) is available through March 27, 2017.

Section A(Course #: 170405A)

Thursday, 3:00 PM CT
Apr 20, 2017 to May 11, 2017

Course Documents

Please Note

General Information

Like all Great Discourses discussion courses, this live, interactive online discussion course is designed to facilitate the collaborative close readings of classics in ways that help participants transform the challenging into the exhilarating and elevating through “Aha!” moments of profound discovery. Participation requires an Internet-enabled computer or mobile device. The course is open to adults from all walks of life (and to mature teens with parental consent) and does not require any specialized prior knowledge or experience. Students do a modest amount of reading homework in preparation for each live online class session, but there are no papers, no tests and no grades. The readings and discussion are in English.


Alger, Horatio. Ragged Dick (1867); Mark the Match Boy (1869).
Recommended Edition: Ragged Dick and Mark, The Match Boy. Wildside, 2009. ISBN: 978-1434454157.
View/Buy at: Amazon (US), Amazon (CA), Amazon (UK), Amazon (IN), Amazon (AU)
Carnegie, Andrew. The Gospel of Wealth”; Other Essays (c. 1889).
Recommended Edition: The Gospel of Wealth and Other Writings. Penguin, 2006. ISBN: 978-0143039891.
View/Buy at: Amazon (US), Amazon (CA), Amazon (UK), Amazon (IN), Amazon (AU)

Please Note

You are responsible for obtaining your own copy of each book used in this discussion course. Most books are available in a number of editions, in both print and digital formats. All editions are acceptable unless otherwise noted, although print format texts are generally recommended. If you do choose to use a digital text, try to access it on a device other than the one you will using to connect to the online classroom.

Additional Readings

This course may have additional short readings that will be used during the first class session as well as during other class sessions. These will be available to you on the dedicated course page at the Great Discourses Collaboratory Online Course Center once you have completed your registration for this course.


To get the most out of this discussion course, you will have to do a modest amount of reading homework in between class sessions — usually about two hours of reading for each hour of class time. No homework is required before the first class session (although some technical and general preparation is required).

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What students are saying

Cari Barnes kept us on topic. She brought up connections which we hadn’t even considered, and related this book to other literary works and historical facts.

Cari Barnes’ introduction to our discussion made us think about interesting details and made us think about the characters in the book with more depth and connections.

Cari Barnes worked with a tough crowd to create one of the most lively and rewarding Great Books conversations ever. I think she left us all wishing for more after a full two hours.

Cari Barnes encourages engaging discussion, draws the conversation to the distinctive power of each readings, and sparks thematic connections that throw light on big ideas.