A curious soul searching for and sharing the many definitions of “the good life.”
The project is really an extended question, and it is a worthy one: What constitutes the good life? The answers are equally worthy: faith, friends and family. Shelton (Angel Letters, 2009) interviews his way through friends and acquaintances from Yale’s Divinity School, Silicon Valley’s tech circles and his hometown in Georgia. Each ruminates on the importance of the three “F”s. The author also quotes liberally from Thoreau, Einstein, Lewis and dozens of others. But, implicitly, the project is shot through with various authorities: God (usually Christian, but not always); Abraham Maslow, whose famous hierarchy of needs, mentioned only briefly in the text, nevertheless gets heavy treatment by those preaching creativity and self-actualization as the highest goals; and finally Epicurus, who proposed simple pleasures as the highest aim. The book carries enough chocolate eating, Caribbean sailing and wine drinking that a fourth “F,” fun, deserves a place. This is not hedonism—Shelton’s impulses veer sharply from Las Vegas—but he can be enticed to a quiet beach. Fun aside, Shelton’s question and his impulses are serious. As a theology student, he clearly wrestles with the big questions, but he eschews philosophy jargon in favor of everyday explanations from his interviewees. And many of them deliver refreshing advice: A Hawaiian sketches the distinction between making intimate relationships a goal and actually building intimate relationships; a neuroscientist finds meaning in the idea of a universe that, in the molecular machinations of the human mind, is actually thinking about itself. These are thoughtful people with genuine insights. Where Shelton goes awry is in editing the work too lightly. The interview format, while good for breadth, is not always good for depth.
Emphasizes that philosophers have no monopoly on wisdom, that the gilded life is not the good life, and that the good life is there for the taking.