Engaging, accessible, and informative.

THE DREAM OF ENLIGHTENMENT

THE RISE OF MODERN PHILOSOPHY

A lively collective portrait of daring intellectuals.

In this second volume of a planned trilogy on the history of philosophy, former Economist executive editor Gottlieb (The Dream of Reason: A History of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance, 2001, etc.) examines influential thinkers from the 1630s to the late 18th century, including Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Leibniz, Hume, and two “unlikely bedfellows” buried opposite one another in the crypt of the Panthéon in Paris: Voltaire and Rousseau. Surprisingly to some, writes Gottlieb, “all these men were amateurs” who questioned the implications of new scientific and religious ideas for self and society. The well-born Descartes was “fascinated by machines and all kinds of mechanical contraptions.” Hobbes, “the most vilified thinker in Britain,” was an irascible man whose writings included “tirades against Aristotle and scholasticism” and attacks on academics and theologians. “Above all,” writes Gottlieb, “it was probably Hobbes’s materialism…that made him an anathema.” Like Descartes, Hobbes regarded nature as a machine, but he took the idea further, maintaining “that absolutely everything is physical.” Gottlieb sees much of Hobbes in the works of Locke and Hume, as well. Spinoza, excommunicated from the synagogue, “treated the Bible as a collection of documents that reveal as much about their authors as about anything else,” best examined “with the tools of a literary critic and historian.” Locke, according to Gottlieb, laid down the precepts of British empiricism, whose later exemplars included John Stuart Mill, Bertrand Russell, and A.J. Ayer. Pierre Bayle, a French philosophy professor, argued against religious superstitions such as the belief that comets were divine warnings, and his work focused on religious tolerance and “the so-called problem of evil.” Gottlieb reveals how his subjects were esteemed or derided by their contemporaries and also how their ideas filtered down to later generations. The Enlightenment, the author convincingly asserts, set the ground for toleration of religious dissent, scientific progress, and the dismantling of feudalism.

Engaging, accessible, and informative.

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-87140-443-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

THE ROAD TO CHARACTER

New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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THE WEIGHT OF GLORY

The name of C.S. Lewis will no doubt attract many readers to this volume, for he has won a splendid reputation by his brilliant writing. These sermons, however, are so abstruse, so involved and so dull that few of those who pick up the volume will finish it. There is none of the satire of the Screw Tape Letters, none of the practicality of some of his later radio addresses, none of the directness of some of his earlier theological books.

Pub Date: June 15, 1949

ISBN: 0060653205

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1949

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