HOBBES by A.P. Martinich

HOBBES

A Biography
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A scholar’s biography, this book will become a standard work for students of Hobbes (1588—1679). Martinich (Philosophy/Univ. of Texas, Austin) offers a mixture of personal and intellectual biography situating Hobbes in historical context as well as examining his philosophy. The presentation is chronological, with brief analytical detours to explore texts; Leviathan receives attention, of course, but also Hobbes’s lesser-known and especially his earlier writings. Disagreements among scholars are noted throughout regarding not only interpretation of Hobbes’s thought, but also details of his life. Basic facts—e.g., Hobbes’s whereabouts at particular points in time or his relations with friends and other intellectuals of the day—cannot always be established unambiguously, and Martinich identifies these cases and defends his opinion. The result is a catalogue of current thinking on Hobbes’s life, a valuable tool for historians as well as philosophers. This intellectual tour de force may not appeal to a popular audience, but it is leavened with occasional glimpses of a dry wit. For example, after describing Hobbes’s monotonous report on a tour of the continent with the young William Cavendish, Martinich notes that William’s father “was fortunate that Hobbes could not take photographic slides to be shown in the living room.” We also see Hobbes’s personality in these pages, and apparently he is as cranky and self-impressed as you would expect from his writings. His inability to gain admission into the Royal Society, for example, stemmed not only from scientific disagreements, but also the perception by some members that he would be a “bore.” While “a witty and engaging conversationalist” on occasion, his belief in absolute sovereignty was matched by a belief in the absolute truth of his own philosophy, a quality few could find endearing. Yet there is an intriguing unconventionality to the man: anyone whose daily routine includes singing to himself because he believes it contributes to good health can’t be all bad. A detailed and substantial work. (16 b&w photos)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-521-49583-0
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Cambridge Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1999




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