From the condition of Jan Ludwig's office in the Philosophy Department, you might not fully appreciate the depth of his interest in books.
Sure, the shelves are lined with hardcovers and softcovers, but basically the office is not out of the ordinary for a Union faculty member.
At his home, though … well, that's another story. Ludwig began acquiring books when he was an undergraduate, and now he has somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 (he isn't exactly sure how many).
It should not be a big surprise, then, to learn that as he retires as a professor of philosophy, he is going into the book business. He and his wife, Karen (who recently retired after teaching high school English for thirty years), are the proud proprietors of Waverly and Rugby Books, named for the two streets that border their house a few blocks from campus. Specializing in books about philosophy, the history of science, the history of ideas, and some psychology, the business will be primarily a Web-based activity (firstname.lastname@example.org).
A native of Harrisburg, Pa., Ludwig was the first in his family to go to college. Interested in science, he entered Drexel Institute of Technology as a chemistry student. While in a work-study program, however, he came across a book about philosophy. Captivated by the subject, he quickly arranged to transfer to Gettysburg College, where he could dig more deeply into philosophy and the humanities.
It was at Gettysburg that he had the perfect part-time job — night clerk at a motel. “I worked on my studies, slept, and only occasionally was interrupted by a truck driver in the middle of the night,” he says.
And it was there that the book collecting fever took hold. “I suppose I had 400 to 500 books when I was a senior,” he adds.
Graduating summa cum laude, he won both a Danforth Graduate Fellowship and a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. While earning his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins (his dissertation was “The Logic of Function Statements”), he taught for two years at the American University in Washington, D.C., before joining the Union faculty in 1969.
One of philosophy's fascinations for Ludwig is that “there are always new angles on old texts.” But he recognizes that the appeal he sees is not an easy sell to eighteen-year-olds.
“Philosophy is difficult, doesn't have any obvious immediate utility, and has the reputation of being something that egghead intellectuals do,” he says. “It's not at all surprising, then, that so few in the freshman class say they want to study it. But we always graduate eight or ten or twelve majors — students who choose it after having been in college a couple of years. Perhaps because they're self-selected and good students, they're a pleasure to teach.”
Outside the classroom, Ludwig has been a faculty trustee, a member of the executive committee of the Friends of Schaffer Library, co-chair of the College's Bicentennial Celebration, chair of the Philosophy Department from 1973 to 1990, and president of the Alpha chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. He will continue to teach an occasional course at the College, finally finish reading Tristam Shandy (which he has never been able to get through), and really learn how to play golf.