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DRIVING WITH PLATO by Robert Rowland Smith

DRIVING WITH PLATO

The Meaning of Life's Milestones

By Robert Rowland Smith

Pub Date: May 3rd, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4391-8687-9
Publisher: Free Press

A lighthearted examination of major life milestones through the lens of major philosophical thinkers.

Smith’s latest dips into the thought of Montesquieu, Arendt and Kant, among others, to lend a philosophical flair to essays on common life experiences. A former Prize Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, Smith (Breakfast with Socrates, 2010) writes with a conversational bent, moving quickly through his arguments and making deft leaps from the mundane to the abstract. His explanations of difficult concepts are clear without being condescending. Unfortunately, there are moments where the author’s intellectual authority is marred by his refusal to think beyond the trite, as in an exploration of young love and first kisses. Smith acknowledges that the idea that teenage boys want to quickly move beyond kissing into sex, as opposed to their female counterparts, is a stereotype, but doesn’t bother to explore other scenarios. This is especially disappointing given his brilliant analysis, in the same chapter, of one of the most famous first kisses in literature, between Romeo and Juliet. It’s a shame he didn't delve deeper into the play and offer his thoughts on Juliet’s breathlessly erotic soliloquy (“Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds…”), surely a place to consider that teenage girls, too, might want more than a kiss. The stereotypes continue in “Getting a Job,” in which Smith writes that women have a different relationship to work than men because their ability to have children “might mean depending on a man at some point to bring home the bacon.”

Amusing and occasionally insightful, but too reliant on oversimplification.