This is a massive undertaking for any listener, but ultimately worth the effort. The recording is not the best, with some occasional disconcerting popping, which made me think stones were hitting my windshield as I drove. Edwards's plodding reading takes some getting used to, but it ultimately works, allowing the listener to unravel some of Smith's winding thought. This is not for everyone, but if you can get inside Smith's detailed descriptions of late 18th-century economics, you'll appreciate his analytic mind -- and you might even imagine him a prophet of the emerging capitalist system. Of course, capitalists never tire of claiming Smith as one of their own, usually with only a familiarity of Smith's image of the invisible hand, but there is much more here, especially in Smith's criticisms of the excesses of the "masters." Smith may still be construed as an apologist for our present capitalist system, but his thought much more compex than that, and a must-read/listen for anyone wanting to tackle David Ricardo or understand Marx. A printed copy of the work is handy when the spoken argument bogs down, but even with a more than occasional use of the reverse button when I drifted, I was surprised how easily I got into the rhythm of this work.
The best part of this book is the sketch of Nietzsche's life. Strathern does well here. He balances this with a glimpse (and it's only a glimpse) into his philosophy. As usual, such a brief taste of a philosopher can give a distorted view his work, but if Strathern's work is taken for what it is -- and invitation to look further -- it can be very usful. Ignore (or investigate further) some of Strathern's simplistic descriptions of some of Nietzsche's thought and you'll have fun with Whitfield's reading.
This is one of Strathern's best attempts at distilling both the work and and life of a philosopher in a short space. (It is well worth listening to the entire series.) One wonders whether Strathern is sometimes too hung up on Freudian-style musings on the motivations of thinkers long dead, but in the end they can be fun if not taken too seriously. As usual, what can be gleaned in 90 minutes is only a start, and you will be disappointed if you expect these little books to do anything more than whet your appetite for the real thing.
If you are looking for some deep insight into Wittgenstein, this is not the place to find it. However, as with all of Strathern's books, the weaving of Wittgestein's life with his philosophy gives us a fascinating snapshot of the man. Take some of Strathern's categorical statements with a grain of salt: sometimes (in the name of conservation of space, perhaps) glib statements can turn a complicated piece of Wittgenstein's thought into a muddy generality. Because it is not possible to to get close to the significance of Wittgenstein's thought in 90 minutes, the best introduction to Wittgenstein might be to brave the chilling intellectual waters and dive into the Tractatus firsthand, perhaps with a copy of Hans-Johann Glock's Wittgenstein Dictionary (from Blackwell) close at hand to prevent mental hypothermia. A look at some introductions to his work by D.F Pears or Anthony Kenny will undoubtedly help. Despite these cautions, I recommend this book, which is well read by Robert Whitfield.
Strathern provides a straightforward introduction to Kierkegaard, blending his philosophical development with the strange emotional trials and tribulations he suffered throughout his life. Strathern does best with Kierkegaard's struggles with the meaning of existence and nothingness and makes strong connections between Kierkegaard and Hegel, particularly the former's use of the dialectic between the aesthetic and the ethical that leads to Kiergegaard's famous leap of faith and the primacy of a subjective interpretation of the world. Of course, Strathern can only skate over the surface here, but he manages to whet the listener's appetite -- and hopefully go on to read the primary material. Whitfield's reading is clear and relaxed. Recommended to anyone beginning a study of existentialism or wanting an easy introduction to a man who influenced some of the greats of the 20th century, particularly Husserl, Sartre and Heidegger.
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