THE SEEKERS by Daniel J. Boorstin


The Story of Man's Continuing Quest to Understand His World
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Unabashedly Eurocentric, unashamedly positivist, and surprisingly short, Boorstin’s follow-up to his bestselling The Discoverers (1983) and The Creators (1992) addresses the history of ideas as though it were a two-millennia brainstorming session. At about half the length of his previous volumes of intellectual history, The Seekers is no less encyclopedic in its overall structure but considerably less detailed and encompassing. In tackling Western thought with his characteristic vividness and clarity, Boorstin divides up his history into three sections: antiquity’s foundations in the biblical, classical, and medieval traditions; the evolution of political science from Thucydides and Machiavelli to Rousseau; and modern thinkers’ branching quests for truth, whether Emerson’s Transcendentalism, William James’s pragmatism, or Bergson’s Çlan vital. Though Boorstin has equal attraction to the charms of medieval and Enlightenment thought and as much liking for Thomas Aquinas as Lord Acton, the book’s highlight comes early in the Hellenic age. His stimulating chronicle of the intellectual lineage of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, put Boorstin’s talents for sketching character and revivifying history on full display. Speeding through the following ages, Boorstin’s summaries and simplifications keep up the pace of reading and advance the march of ideas, though one can argue with, say, his skimming over Marx’s economic shortsightedness in favor of apocalyptic revolution or disregarding Einstein’s unwillingness to accept quantum mechanics. Given Boorstin’s declared idiosyncratic approach, no reader should be surprised to find gaping omissions, such as Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, and Bertrand Russell, whom Boorstin quotes extensively on other philosophers but otherwise ignores as to both his rigorous philosophical career and his restless, searching life. A readably sweeping history (with some sweeping generalizations) of the intellectual move from “Why?” to “How?”

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-43445-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1998


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