I was wondering what everyone's thoughts were on the idea of modeling a course on a book -- say, an overview of a particular subject area -- but not requiring students to buy or read the book. Here's the situation I'm thinking of:
One of the courses I have taught in the recent past was a seminar on the "meaning of life". Originally I wanted to cover the recent analytic literature on the problem, but my students weren't quite ready for that. So we ended up reading a few books and selections from an anthology, tied together by connections drawn by myself. It was actually my highest rated course ever, but I wasn't satisfied by the level of structure vs. free-thinking, so I put it on the shelf until I could reorganize things.
Publishing little books on the meaning of life seems to have been all the rage in the recent past, so I was looking over a few when I found Julian Baggini's What's It All About. It's not written for the specialist, but for someone new to the debate. And though it doesn't go into much depth (and contains some misunderstandings of Buddhism), it's pretty good at highlighting passages from philosophy, psychology, and pop culture that apply very smoothly to the overall debate. I wouldn't want to use the actual book for the course: I think students would end up attacking the author rather than the ideas and see the book as hubristic as opposed to the fairly humble work it actually is. They also like to read "the greats" rather than secondary literature about the greats, according to informal surveys. But the sequence of the topics, the literature Baggini refers to, and the basic structure of the arguments would make for an excellent outline in my course.
So of course I would have to give Baggini credit for the structure of the course at some point, and I have no idea with pointing my students to the book if they want to check it out for themselves. But what do you all think about the idea of otherwise completely ripping off someone's carefully assembled reading list without assigning the book in which it appears?