Interesting insights into how people learn to read. Hirsch makes the case that reading is not just skill but requires some content to provide context and make reading more efficient (and enjoyable). Also intriquing is the idea of defining the reading context in terms of a national literacy. (A good way to appreciate these issues is to try to learn a foreign language enough to understand the media of a foreign country.)
The controversial stuff comes from the rejection of the Rousseau/Dewey teaching doctrine, and the proposal for a national standard for teaching content knowledge in primary and secondary school. Hirsch claims that it is teaching doctine, rather than parenting, that is behind the lack of literacy in American children. This was not so convincing as he cites data that indicate that children who spent more time studying do better at reading. It is clear that Hirsch is embroiled in quite an educator doctrine controversy.
In any case, the list at the end of the book was a hoot, and I was pleased to find that I knew what most things were and had at least heard of everything else. It would have been nice if the list could have come with reference information but then the book would have been several times larger (maybe someone should come up with a web site devoted to the list). Running down items in the list has been a lot of fun and I still look at the list from time to time when I feel the need to expand my cultural literacy.