The author of Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II (2012) returns with a sweeping intellectual history viewed through two ancient Greek lenses.
Herman, who has taught history at an assortment of universities, whips his thesis for all it’s worth—which is considerable. After telling us the little that’s known of the biographies of his principals, he marches steadily forward through the history of philosophy and culture, showing how Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” and his beliefs about our imperfect knowledge and about ideal government have waxed and waned, inspiring great art, noble theories and, in ways, totalitarian governments. He does the same for Aristotle, noting the ways his approach to the world has led to tremendous advances in science and technology, as well as egregious excess. “This book will show that Plato and Aristotle are alive and all around us,” he writes. “Their influence is reflected in every activity and in every institution…as well as on the Internet. They have taken us to the moon and probed the innermost secrets of the human heart.” Throughout, the author sprinkles allusions to contemporary events and popular culture, from Playboy to The Da Vinci Code to the Kardashians. (Sometimes he alludes to things long gone from the popular radar—Dragnet, for example.) On the journey, we meet just about every notable in intellectual history and learn how, in the author’s view, they leaned toward (or antedated, learned from or rejected) the two long-gone Greeks. Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Epicurus, Cato, Cicero, Abelard, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Luther, Calvin, da Vinci, Bacon (Roger and Francis), Locke, Rousseau, Byron, Coleridge, Darwin—these and countless others dance in the bright light of Herman’s narrative beam. Herman’s own preferences quietly emerge now and then. He appears to embrace the value of a spiritual life and has some unhappy words for Karl Marx.
Breezy and enthusiastic but resting on a sturdy rock of research.