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A massive and, for those not vitally interested in Santayana, tedious study of the philosopher/novelist's life and thought. In this first complete biography of Santayana (the only other appeared during his lifetime), McCormick, who teaches at Rutgers, bemoans contemporary neglect of the century's foremost teacher of sceptical naturalism: ""for a generation. . .there seemed to be a conspiracy to forget Santayana."" Determined to rectify the situation, McCormick serves up the philosopher's physical and intellectual odyssey in the abundant detail his meticulous research allows: an admirable feat of scholarship, but packaged in such dull trimmings as to numb all but the most avid Santayanans. Worshipful statements such as ""we need Santayana, badly"" and ""to paraphrase Santayana is to butcher him"" leave no doubt as to McCormick's respect for his subject; but, perhaps stymied by the basic ordinariness of Santayana's external life, he fails to transmit his enthusiasm, and his noble sentiments dissolve quickly in the arid stretches of his lifeless, if letter-accurate, account of Santayana's privileged Boston childhood and subsequent association with Harvard, his unexpected emigration to Europe in 1912, and his later wanderings on the continent until finally coming to rest during WW II and after at a Catholic nursing home in Rome. McCormick does manage, however, to include clear exegises of Santayana's often difficult thought, and a penetrating if adulatory critique of his sole novel. A useful new resource for Santayana scholars and students of philosophy; others will find the going too slow to bear.

Pub Date: Feb. 16th, 1987
Publisher: Knopf