Simon Critchley | Book of Dead Philosophers (Vintage)

book_dead-philosophers.jpgCritchley’s skill is in providing a quick and easily accessible summary of their beliefs and how those beliefs carried them through to their ends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Book of Dead Philosophers is an interesting and unique survey of world philosophy from its beginnings through modern times. Critchley’s belief, and the central belief of many philosophers, is that understanding death helps one to understand life, and vice versa. By examining 190 dead philosophers in this way, Critchley is able to summarize their beliefs quickly and succinctly for readers who have only a passing knowledge of philosophy. In this way, The Book of Dead Philosophers is a great book for someone looking to learn a little bit about an enormous subject.

Critchley’s skill is not delving too deeply into any one subject or philosophical school, but providing a quick and easily accessible summary of their beliefs and how those beliefs carried them through to their ends. Turning to any page (the book does not need to be read straight through), the reader quickly learns that these were men and women who so strongly believed in their convictions that they would readily and gladly die for them.

I quickly gathered that the strength of these philosophers’ characters is equaled only by the quickness of their wit. In fact, one might think after reading a few passages that the key to lasting immortality as a philosopher is a quick wit. This is especially true of the Classical Philosophers, whose works are largely lost; all that is known has been passed down in the form of witty anecdotes from one generation of pupils to the next.

Even readers with no interest in philosophy should find both humor and admiration in the way certain philosophers met their untimely demise, from the ridiculousness of Pythagoras’ death—whose irrational fear of beans prevented his escape from a pursuing army — to the strength Freud displayed as he succumbed to terminal cancer after years of physical suffering.

Critchely’s style is light and breezy, and his aim is to educate as well as entertain. Though the subject might be morbid to some, it’s an excellent approach to quickly examine what these great thinkers stood for, and to show how their lives and deaths influenced the world around them. | Dan Russell

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply