Letting the rest of the world go by
After reading this book, I feel like I'm a philosopher. Durant really knows how to engage the reader and make him feel smart. He gives enough biography and then summaries for each philosopher covered. The book really profits from the fact it was originally written in 1926 and I get to experience knowing the history that followed. He's such a good writer that the book stands up regardless of the unfolding history.
This is by far the best book I have read this year. It uses the narrative of Darwin's deceptively simple idea of making complex things from a very simple algorithm. The author beats this thought in to the reader and at the same time covers how the world changed because of that.
The book is really more philosophical than scientific but it's accessible to the non-philosopher like me. He starts by telling the listener the mindset during Darwin's time. Plato's universal forms would lead to absolute categories such as species (either your a donkey or a horse) and Aristotle's importance of essence for the nature of things to be the thing. Darwin had to overcome that kind of thought. Darwin dances around what a species is in his "Origins of Species" because for his theory to work you must realize that there are intermediaries between objects and the thinking at that time would not allow for intermediaries. All of the above, I got from just the first chapter in the book, and you too can be just as entertained as I was!
The author tells me that Locke would say that mind must come from mind, that is God must have created man. Now, I have finally started to understand Locke. Oddly, David Hume, almost had the concept of evolution by natural selection but just couldn't take the next step to get there. (How I love David Hume!, a man a head of his times). Hobbes gave us "just so stories" to explain the creation of society and Leviathan.
The nearly infinite decision space (what he calls the 'library in the tower of Babel') gives false security to believers in Sky Hooks (deus ex machina believers, Gould, Penrose and Chomskey), as opposed to the believers in sky cranes (Darwin's Brilliant Idea).
The author has long sections on Psychology (Skinner is wrong!), and morality (morality is complex!). He even delves into one of my favorite topics, Godol's incompleteness theorem and how Penrose is wrong to say it proves artificial intelligence will never succeed. All the time, the author uses the narrative of Darwin's Brilliant Idea, simple algorithms can lead to amazing results.
A negative review on audible led me to this book. The reviewer said that the first half of the book was about philosophy and how good Dawkins is, and the second half spends most of the time criticizing Gould. I knew I wanted the book after having read that review. (To the reviewers credit, he's not being nasty, but fairly accurate).
I loved this book. It's a rare one which challenges my beliefs, keeps me focused and transcends me to hard to reach places in my mind which makes me really think about my place in the universe and understand it just a tiny bit more. Besides, it's fun to be able act like an intellectual snob while talking in a waffle shop with a stranger and have the person think I'm intellectual heavyweight while knowing I only know that stuff because I just listened to one fine book, and more importantly keeps me from having to listen to his stories about some unimportant job he had thirty years ago!
There doesn't seem to be a wasted section in this book because all the pieces seem to tie together from early to modern times. The author will first tell you the relevant history and social conditions at the time and how they went about influencing the philosophy he's going to discuss.
You get a really interesting peak into the mindset of a writer during the end of WW II. The author would often bring in the Germans (Nazis) and Japanese and how what he is telling you is relevant to what was going on in the world at the time he wrote the book. Those parts of the books alone are worth reading the whole book.
There was one part of the book during the discussion of Plato when I got overwhelmed, because he kept going on and on and soon as I was understanding one part he'd go on to another part and I wanted to stop listening. I'm glad I didn't, because what he does next is introduce another philosopher by saying how the philosopher disagreed with Plato for the following reasons and then I would start to understand what Plato really meant. It's like studying math. One doesn't really understand the algebra until one learns the calculus and so on.
The book covers a lot, but I retain major parts of it. For example, I remember that Hegel believed that you couldn't understand the part without understanding the whole universe (uncle doesn't exist without nephew), and Marx's class struggle comes from Hegel's ideas about nations and so on.
The narrator does a superb job.
The book is also interesting for another reason. It might be my last foray into a grand survey of philosophy because it does such a good job. As the book preceded through out time, I realized the role of philosophy was getting smaller and smaller as the role of science (and math) was getting larger and larger. The book goes a long way towards showing me how much more important science has become, and how less important philosophy is.
I usually listen to science books, but this book did fill in some gaps for me and I highly recommend it even for lovers of science books.