Mortimer Jerome Adler dropped out of high school when he was 14 to work as a copy boy for the New York Sun. He took writing classes at night and discovered the works of Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, John Locke, John Stuart Mill and others. He studied philosophy at Columbia University, and though he failed to meet the physical education requirements for a bachelor's degree, he stayed at the university and was eventually given a teaching position and even awarded a doctorate in philosophy.
Adler was appointed to the philosophy faculty at the University of Chicago in 1930, where he met its president Robert Hutchins, with whom he founded the Great Books of the Western World program. He sat as Chairman of the Board of Editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica for many years, and influenced many of the policies of the 15th edition. He also founded the Paedia Program, a grade-school curriculum centered around guided reading and discussion of important works (as judged for each grade).