Thinking about life, what it means and what it holds in store does not have to be a despondent experience, but rather can be enlightening and uplifting. A life truly worth living is one that is informed and considered so a degree of philosophical insight into the inevitabilities of the human condition is inherently important and such an approach will help us to deal with real personal dilemmas.
This book is an accessible, lively, and thought-provoking series of linked commentaries, based on A.C. Grayling's "The Last Word" column in the Guardian. Its aim is not to persuade readers to accept one particular philosophical point of view or theory, but to help us consider the wonderful range of insights which can be drawn from an immeasurably rich history of philosophical thought. Concepts covered include courage, love, betrayal, ambition, cruelty, wisdom, passion, beauty, and death. This will be a wonderfully stimulating listen and act as an invaluable guide as to what is truly important in living life, whether facing success, failure, justice, wrong, love, loss or any of the other profound experience life throws out.
©2001 A.C. Grayling; (P)2005 Orion Publishing Group Ltd
One might think that a book of brief essays on a series of hackneyed topics (love, death, happiness, etc.), comprising little more than some brief thoughts from the author, always backed-up by cherry-picked examples from ancient and modern texts, would be boring and unsatisfying. But this work is actually a distillation of the wide but well chosen 40 years of reading by one of the world's top philosophers. Grayling made his name in technical philosophy working on epistemology and occasionally logic too; he's no lightweight when it comes to analytical bona fides. But he has made his name by writing popular works and ceaselessly contributing columns to an impressive number of publications.
The Meaning of Things is certainly not rigorously argued, which leaves one thinking that it could be the advice column of any hack willing to pontificate on what they think about life — and there are surely no shortage of those. What makes this better is not only the hinted at rigor which Grayling surely brings to his technical work, but also a mixture of assuredness and humility which accompany his thoughts on all the topics covered.
Grayling has reached that stage of reading and study that anyone who pursues the humanities is striving for. He has read and understood a vast array of books and has incorporated the knowledge into his view fo the world. Pleasantly we find that this has allowed him to confidently dismiss ideas when they are evidently bunkum and to preserve awe and humility about the many things no one can be sure of, even well read, distinguished philosophers.
I've made this one of the rare works that I listen to more than once, often going straight back to the start when the book finishes. Any time I listen I feel somehow more courageous and am left with not only a desire to do good, but a sense of equanimity at the knowledge that doing so will be hard. I can't say more for any book.
There are too many memorable moments. To pick one here, merely because it is currently occupying my thoughts, is his essay on ambition, which tempers good advice to try hard with a fantastic couplet from Dryden I can quote from memory thanks to so many listens: Wild ambition loves to slide not stand / And fortune's ice prefers to virtue's land.
Grayling's gentle, almost absurdly civilised, colonial accent (he grew up in modern day Zambia) at first sounds silly — at least to my Australian ears. But once the image of a spritely wizard is banished, one is simply soothed by his soft voice and precise diction.
"Exactly what it claims to be"
I wanted to give this audiobook this 4 stars, but that would be unfair since it is exactly what it claims to be and no less. Some parts were interesting, some a little boring, though that is only due to whether I was personally interested in the topic. Basically it's an overview of philosophical ideas about modern-day concerns. I was hoping for more depth: more puzzling philosophical, metaphysical or moral questions. This book only attempts to answer (or give an opinion on) "normal" questions, but it did never claim to do otherwise and so I can't mark it down for that.
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