Kirkus Reviews QR Code
AMERICA THE PHILOSOPHICAL by Carlin Romano Kirkus Star


by Carlin Romano

Pub Date: May 22nd, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-679-43470-2
Publisher: Knopf

Chronicle of Higher Education critic-at-large Romano (Philosophy and Humanities/Ursinus Coll.) debuts with a comprehensive and certain-to-be controversial diagnosis of the condition of philosophical thinking in America today.

The author sees philosophers everywhere today (whether they call themselves such or no), not just lounging in the groves of academe, and this will surely annoy some fellow academics. He realizes that philosophy has traditionally been the ballpark for white men to play in, so he makes a thorough effort to add to the team some prominent women, African Americans, Native Americans, gays and others. But he begins with the famous white men (William James, George Santayana, John Dewey et al.) and looks at key figures later on—John Rawls and Richard Rorty among them. Romano then begins his explorations of byways rather than highways, seeing the philosophical bent of thinkers who didn’t necessarily define themselves as philosophers—e.g., psychologists B. F. Skinner, Abraham Maslow and Howard Gardner. Then it’s on to literary critics Kenneth Burke, Harold Bloom and Edward Said. Political theorists are next, and the author also gives a serious look at Robert Fulghum and Hugh Hefner. He examines journalists as well, including I.F. Stone, Christopher Hitchens and Bill Moyers. Near the end, Romano makes a strong case for Isocrates, a rival of Plato whose thought, writes the author, was more pragmatic—as we are. Romano’s grip on his subject is fierce, and his tone, though critical throughout (he does not just summarize; he assesses), is occasionally light (he alludes to Buster Keaton, Bigfoot and the TV show Justified). In the final chapter, he praises the philosophical talents of President Obama, a discussion sure to displease Republicans.

A tour de force—encyclopedic, entertaining and enlightening.