Plato returns to 21st-century America in this witty, inventive, genre-bending work by MacArthur Fellow Goldstein (36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, 2010, etc.).
As the author imagines him, Plato is an intense, curious visitor from ancient Greece who is touring the country to promote his famous tract, The Republic. He lands first in Mountain View, Calif., where he is scheduled to speak to the staff of Google but gets waylaid by an employee who engages him in a conversation about truth, beauty, goodness and justice. That encounter inspires his interest in computers and the intellectual potential of Googling. He comes to love his Google Chromebook, but he cautions Google enthusiasts that information is not the same as knowledge. So what is knowledge? Why is philosophy relevant in contemporary life? What does it mean to live a good life? Those questions and more inform his conversations. Plato joins a panel at the 92nd Street Y to discuss child-rearing, countering the positions of a dour Freudian psychoanalyst and a self-proclaimed Tiger Mom. He takes a gig as a consultant to an advice columnist, offering responses to queries about love and sex; he has a stint on a cable news talk show with an interviewer (think Bill O’Reilly) who questions the whole enterprise of philosophy; and he submits to having his brain scanned in an MRI, even though he’s skeptical about what neurological maps can reveal about the essence of self. Throughout, he never loses his cool, bemused demeanor. Goldstein’s philosophical background serves her impressively in this reconsideration of Plato’s work, and her talent as a fiction writer animates her lively cast of characters: the arrogant, leering scientist in charge of a neurological research lab; the psycho-babbling advice columnist; the egotistical cable news interviewer.
Goldstein’s bright, ingenious philosophical romp makes Plato not only relevant to our times, but palpably alive.