Menand brilliantly weaves from the strands of late nineteenth century scientific and philosophical thought, the entire tapestry of America's secular theology -- democracy, free speech, enlightened self-interest, pragmatism, public schools and individual rights. Less than half way through this engaging discussion on the origins of the great American Experiment, I regained a small part of the national pride of which the sixties and seventies deprived us all. I also realized, to my great surprise, that the values I most dearly hold today were taught to me by the California public school system in the 1950's and 1960's -- that an eager, open-minded inquiry into the natural, social and political world is the best road toward wisdom, peace and prosperity for the greatest number; that diversity of opinion (like the diversity of the species) is the most important source of a society's health and longevity, and, that, as Oliver Wendell Holmes opined, it is certitude itself that inevitably leads to violence. Fascinating, stirring and entertaining. One of my new top ten books to take to a desert island.
Charles Sanders Peirce's name rhymes with "purse," not "fierce." The consistent mispronunciation on this recording is unfortunate, because Menand's book redresses a gaping hole in Americans' consciousness of their own philosophical heritage. Imagine Greeks ignorant of Plato or French of Descartes: such is the state of popular awareness regarding our own Big Thinkers Peirce, William James, John Dewey, and others. So: 5 stars for the book, 3 for the recording (which will put off those who've heard of CSP, and misinform the rest).
I really liked this book! Menand provides a compelling narrative that connects history, philosophy and notions of culture and society together in a way that I found fascinating. I was particularly interested in his treatment of Wendel Holmes; his ability to weave together biography and history create a picture of the profound effect this dynamic figure had on American culture. My only criticism of this book is the choice of narrator Henry Leyva. He is the worst narrator of any book i have ever listened to. His bizarre inflections make me cringe. I would give the book 6 stars and his narration one star, but if this is a period of time that you are interested in, the book is a must read (or listen?).
The narrator has a fine voice. The problem is that not all content is in the audible. I followed using the book and many parts of the book are skipped over or left out completly. Also, there is no way to choose by chapter or search by chapter and listen to specific selections. It seems it is seperated by parts rather than chapters which makes it hard if you are studying the book by specific chapters. When you try to forward to get to another chapter it jumps so far into the book that you cant keep track of where the narrator is or left off. I found this audible very frustrating and ended up having to start from the begining and waste a lot of time on listening to things I didn't need.
In order to be prepared to read this book with engagement, you need to read this book first.
If you do not know anything about these men before you start, then you will not retain much of the information given to you. There is a wealth of useful historic perspective, and the ideas are fairly well-represented.
My recommendation is to get a corkboard and tack up pictures of the main guys, how they connect, and use a whiteboard to diagram the important tenets of their beliefs. Then you MIGHT have a chance at keeping track of everything. Had I done that, I would rate this 4 stars.
a book, music and film lover
OK, "entertaining" is relative for any history of philosophy, but this book does a decent job of weaving together the lives and ideas of American thinkers at a critical period of American philosophy. The narrative flowed well (most of the time), and shed some light on both the personalities and ideas of these philosophers. I hadn't known much about Oliver Wendell Holme's life, and I found that section particularly interesting.
A good selection if you're looking for an enjoyable overview. Not so good if you're looking for in-depth understanding of these men's ideas (but in that case, you probably wouldn't go to a audio book summary anyway).
Most people loved this book. I did not. Here is why:
1) You need a ton of background knowledge
I was born outside america so most names did not mean much to me when I started the book. The book is clearly intended for somebody already familiar with the characters.
2) Narrator gets annoying
The tone of the narrator gets old. Repeats inflictions way too often, I would say every 4 sentences or so. I never finshed the book, when by error my MUVO would start playing it, I would get this very quick negative reaction, almost a pavlovian response to this guy's tone!
3) It is hard to follow
Within each chapter, it is never clear exactly where the author is going. That may work better on the print version, but when you have only partial attention dedicated to the book (i.e. commuting) it is just not good enough.
In sum, if you think you will enjoy this book, I would suggest you read it, the audio vesion has an annoying narrator and it is hard to follow.
If you are wondering how the USA has become such a paradox of great ideas, movements, scientific progress, cruelties, selfishness, and weirdness all wrapped into one--this book tells at least a part of that story. In some ways the ideas of the Pragmatists were taken too far, in other ways (like the ideas of Peirce) were not taken far enough. The way of thinking from members of the metaphysical club is both like and unlike us today: "the relevance and strangeness are ever bound together in their [the Pragmatists] thought" (from the last sentence of the book). Peirce was not given credit as the founder of Semiotics nor was credited for his influence on quantum mechanics, DNA research, sentential logic, and computers. Some of the facts about his life seem a bit off from what I've read elsewhere. Overall great book that holds one's interest.
Fascinating story of nineteenth and twentieth century ideas and intellectual currents. Highly recommended for academically oriented readers.