THE LIFE OF THE MIND

VOL. I; THINKING. VOL. II; WILLING

This book may sound forbidding, but do not be dissuaded, for it is a majestic work of deep humility and earnestness, and radiant imagination. Since it consists of Arendt's Gifford Lectures (1973-74), it retains much of the directness of spoken prose, and, as edited by Mary McCarthy (who contributes an afterword), it is fluent and felicitously phrased. Taking as her subject the three principal activities of mind—Thinking, Willing, Judging (having examined the practical life of Labor, Work, and Action in The Human Condition) she draws with studious care and far-reaching erudition from the history of ideas to argue the necessity of Thinking and to chart the rise and fall of Willing in Western culture. (Judging is addressed directly only in a fragment at the end.) Arendt's reflections were originally prompted by the Eichmann trial, which had disclosed to her a man whose hideous actions had arisen from sheer thoughtlessness. Thinking does not itself create morality or grasp truth or knowledge, but it breeds the self-consciousness that makes them possible. Hence, Thinking is the indispensable source of meaning in experience, and philosophers ignore this who "mistake the need to think with the urge to know" and thus dismiss all thought that cannot produce scientific Truths. Kant alone saw the decisive difference between reason-thinking-essences-meaning on the one hand and cognition-knowledge-appearances-truth on the other; and Socrates had set the ruling moral precedent; the thoughtless life has no meaning. This elegant and moving meditation on the imperatives of critical thought passes into a more strenuous dialogue with the great thinkers on the nature and history of Will. Locating the discovery of Will in Christianity's struggles with sin, Arendt sees Will rise with the belief in progress and then fade with the denial of progress, freedom, and self-assertion in Nietzsche and Heidegger. Although she advocates thinking and free will, Arendt sheds no tears over the tough secularity of modern thought. And these explorations of the life of mind perfectly exemplify the vigorous life that she praises—most pertinently and accessibly in Volume One.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 1977

ISBN: 0156519925

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1977

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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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