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Publisher's Summary

Bertrand Russell's A History of Western Philosophy serves as the perfect introduction to its subject; it remains unchallenged as the greatest account of the history of Western thought. Charting philosophy's course from the pre-Socratics up to the early twentieth century, Russell relates each philosopher and school to their respective historical and cultural contexts, providing erudite commentary throughout his invaluable survey. This engaging and comprehensive work has done much to educate and inform generations of general readers; it is written in accessible and elegantly crafted prose and allows for an easy grasp of complex ideas.

©1945 Bertrand Russell (P)2013 Naxos AudioBooks

What listeners say about A History of Western Philosophy

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Works on all levels

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.


75 people found this helpful

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Philosophy and Social Environment

Russell’s account of philosophy is unique and controversial. On can say that he knew it. His exposition, with plenty of appreciation and critics of his own, is sometimes ironic, sometimes sarcastic. He gave to greek philosophy the attention it demands. From that he presented a fair selection of philosophers. He went until John Dewey, his contemporary. In his reflections he tried to situate each philosopher in his social environment and, for that reason, the book contains a good amount of (social) history. This is a great introduction to philosophy and its problems.

16 people found this helpful

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I'm not a Philosophy Major

This is interesting, educational, and well performed. Love how it interweaves western history,philosopher lives, and philosophy into one entertaining and informative blend. GREAT BOOK. I did whispersync which I am sure helped. Annotated portions that I could review at a later date.

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The Summary of My Bachelor's Degree

What made the experience of listening to A History of Western Philosophy the most enjoyable?

The reminder of each of the greatest philosophers most influential ideas. While I hold a bachelors degree in the subject, this reminder was an enjoyable return to a time when I had left Plato's cave to see more than just shadows on a wall.

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

The Historical background information, though interesting, tended to be longer than I had anticipated. However, in the grand scheme of the book, it turned out to shed wonderful light on the pillars on which platforms each mentioned philosopher stood. Most compelling, however, was the summation of each philosophers contributions to the whole, while giving just enough detail to whet one's appetite to read more about each.

Have you listened to any of Jonathan Keeble’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I am not familiar with Keeble, but his accent is pleasing - despite some rather interestingly pronounced words.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

There are several embedded jokes for both newcomers to philosophy and veterans of the subject. The Orphic denial of beans in the diet, for instance, is treated by Russell with as much humor as one would expect for such silly nonsense.

Any additional comments?

During my bachelors degree, philosophy was divided into four sections of historical classes (ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary), Metaphysics I and II, Ethics, two seminars, and Logic - all of which are tested in the final comprehensive exam. This one book encompasses all four historical, Metaphysics I and II, Ethics, and easily also a minor in history, and misses only symbolic logic. While some may argue that this book is no substitute for a classical college education, I would say that an intent listener, who pauses to reflect between chapters and eagerly reads more on each subject he or she finds of particular interest, would gain just as much true knowledge as I did in four years of University. Especially since they would have listened to these lecture much less hungover than I did.

48 people found this helpful

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A very good book to casually listen to

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Having listened to all this, I have to say I am going to recommend it to anyone who wants to get a birds' eye view of philosophy from antiquity to the modern times, up ww2.

What did you like best about this story?

I don't mean strictly birds' eye, there are areas where Betrand Russel goes in quite the detail and offers you insight into the mind of many philosophers throughout the ages. I especially like it when he describes the thoughts of the ancients and medieval scholars and philosophers.

owever, I do have one thing to complain about in regards to Bertrand Russell and that is that by the end of the video, the biases have gotten the better of him. He is an internationalist, a socialist (not in the american sense, and I don't mean it in a bad way either) and has certain opinions that color his views. These things become more clear as he gets into the more recent philosophers though one can spot them when discussing the "4 doctors of the Church" and other medieval and Renaissance scholars. So this is a fair warning to people who would listen to this audio book, keep in mind and don't let his bias become yours. Don't let his personal interjections color your views. But more importantly, don't let this put you off from enjoying and listening to this wonderful audio book cover to cover.

Why?

Because once you went through it, you can and will be able to find your footing and know what you want to learn about more. Maybe his comments on Descartes sparked your interest. Maybe his descriptions of Pythagoras' quite curious world view made you giggle and laugh and want to go out and explore other curiosities and absurdities that people believed. And so on and so forth.

What about Jonathan Keeble’s performance did you like?

As for the reader, I have to say, it was brilliant. Johnathan Keeble does so much for the book. He immerses himself and you in the book and what he says, acts out the scenes, respects punctuation and gives life and meaning and joy in listening to this audio book.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Don't make a movie from this book

Any additional comments?

Yes, as I said, while Bertrand Russells' views color his opinions and his bias becomes evident when speaking about the more recent philosophers, he doesn't really try and conceal it, or try and persuade you that his view is the correct one. So don't let his bias become yours. Get the information and the benefit of listening to so you can find your footing in the world of philosophy and know for what you want to go for next.

Cheers.

7 people found this helpful

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Better used as a reference

Bertrand Russell is one of my favorite philosophers. Many other philosophers are, at least to me, incomprehensible. I often don’t understand their arguments and their conclusions seem to come from out of the blue. What I like about Russell is his clarity in explaining philosophical arguments, his own as well as others, in something that at least resembles pure English.

In this extremely ambitious book, Russell goes through pretty much all of western (and some eastern) philosophy. As he moves from one philosophical epoch to the next, he always sets the scene by describing the historical context that helps the reader understand where the ideas came from.

After describing the historical context, and the resulting philosophical ideas he critiques the ideas, explaining their weaknesses as well as their strengths. I don't know if it is because he is a clear thinker or a good communicator, but he his critique of philosophical ideas seem to make sense. For a philosopher, Russell also seems relatively humble. He does not, like certain other philosophers dismiss the scientific endeavour as just imperfect empiricism. Of course, being a logician he does not dismiss deductions either. For an amateur philosopher such as myself, he comes across as balanced.

Having said that, it is hard to stay focused throughout the book, and I would recommend using it more as a companion reference book if you are taking a course in philosophy. So read it, but maybe not all at once.

11 people found this helpful

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An Engaging History Biased Against Dogma

In A History of Western Philosophy (1945), Bertrand Russell introduces the lives and explains and critiques the philosophies of key figures from the history of western culture. The subtitle of Russell’s book says that he will cover philosophy’s “Connection with Political and Social Circumstances from the Earliest Times to the Present Day,” and often his book is at least as much a history of western culture as of western philosophy. Russell is good at explaining different philosophies and the cultural contexts they influenced and were influenced by. Russell demonstrates, for example, that Marx contributed to philosophy by showing how past philosophers were all shaped by their subjective biases and then points out that Marx himself was no different (believing in progress, for instance).

The reader should keep in mind that the “Present Day” when Russell stops his survey was the 1940s and World War II. Sometimes he dates himself, as when he comments that dictators don’t pass on their rule to their descendants or that big corporations loathe war or that Japanese professors are fired if they cast doubt on the Mikado being descended from the sun-goddess.

Russell divides his history into three sections:

I. Ancient Philosophy: pre-Socratics like Pythagoras and Anaximander; the three giants Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; and their successors like the Cynics, Sceptics, Epicureans, and Stoics.

II. Catholic Philosophy: Jewish antecedents and Islamic contemporaries; saints like Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Benedict; the Schoolmen like John the Scot and St. Thomas Aquinas.

III. Modern Philosophy: Renaissance figures like Machiavelli, Erasmus, and More; post-Renaissance figures like Hobbes, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, and Berkeley; Romantic figures like Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, and Byron; and more modern figures like Nietzsche, Utilitarians, Marx, Bergson, Williams James, and Russell himself.

Rather than dryly presenting a series of different philosophies and the cultural eras that shaped and were shaped by them, Russell also critiques the men (always men) and their philosophies with a dry wit and an appealing rational humanism. His book, then, is quite biased, in mostly, for this reader, a good way reminiscent of other works of history by individual, knowledgeable, and opinionated writers, like Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Hendrik Willem van Loon’s The Story of Mankind, or E. H. Gombrich’s The Story of Art. I learned a lot from Russell (though I am a philosophy neophyte).

Russell’s aim in critiquing different philosophies is to objectively understand them and their inconsistencies, aware that “No one has invented a philosophy that is both credible and self-consistent.” His bete noir is dogmatism, which is the enemy of philosophy, for, he says, the philosopher’s task is to openly and never-endingly inquire into the nature of the world and of the universe and of truth etc. He thus disapproves of the too long and too potent influences of Aristotle and Aquinas and prefers open-minded empirical philosophers like Locke. He is also no fan of Romanticism with its overemphasis of emotion at the expense of reason: “Tigers are more beautiful than sheep, but we prefer them behind bars. The typical Romantic removes the bars and enjoys the magnificent leap with which the tiger annihilates the sheep. He exhorts men to imagine themselves tigers, and when he succeeds, the results are not wholly pleasant.” Russell prefers open-minded reason and thought to blind belief and raw emotion. He holds that any philosophy that contributes to human pride is dangerous. He likes men like Boethius who achieve something outstandingly unusual for the ages in which they lived and men like St. Francis and Spinoza who genuinely cared about the suffering of others. His take down of Nietzsche is amusing, one of the high points of the book being a fanciful moment when Buddha and Nietzsche debate the relative merits of caring about all people or only the superman.

The audiobook reader Johnathan Keeble effectively uses two modes: his base natural voice for Russell, which is educated, intelligent, and engaged, and his older, gruffer, authoritative voice for the quotations of historical philosophers. This immediately signals whenever Russell is quoting a philosopher, which is helpful, as sometimes his text does not introduce a quotation. And it a relief that, unlike some readers of audiobooks of history, Keeble does not artificially change his voice to suit the presumed accents when speaking English of philosophers who were Greek, French, German, Scottish, and so on.

Russell writes many great lines full of wit and wisdom. Here are several:

“Seneca was judged in future ages rather by his admirable precepts than by his somewhat dubious practice.”

“Those who do not fear their neighbors see no necessity to tyrannize over them.”

“Men who have conquered fear, have not the frantic quality of Nietzsche’s ‘artist-tyrant’ Neros, who try to enjoy music and massacre while their hearts are filled with dread of the inevitable palace revolution.”

“His [Nietzsche’s] opinion of women, like every man’s, is an objectification of his own emotion towards them, which is obviously one of fear.”

“To frame a philosophy capable coping with men intoxicated with the prospect of almost unlimited power and also with the apathy of the powerless is the most pressing task of our times.”

Russell ends his book abruptly but potently, with an appeal to the pursuit of “scientific truthfulness. . . the habit of basing our beliefs upon observations and inferences as impersonal, and as much divested of local and temperamental bias, as is possible for human beings,” for the resulting “habit of careful veracity” will decrease fanaticism and increase “sympathy and mutual understanding.” His closing words ring in my ears due to the egregious miasma of untruth belched forth every time the current occupant of the White House speaks or tweets.

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advice to non-philosophers

This book is as straight forward a read as any book could be on the complex subject of philosophy but that is not to say it is an easy read in general. Philosophy is hard and its authors easy to misinterpret. I recommend to anyone listening to this book, if you don't have a background in philosophy, use Russel as a guide but do supplementary reading of the thinkers he discusses. Without prior education you will most likely walk away from the book falsely thinking you understand these philosophers, underestimating their contributions, and having an ill conceived prejudice against them.

The title of the book is misleading. What makes this book tower above others is its ability to identify what the defining moments of philosophy were, how they define our times, and its lucid criticism of these ideas. Both in how wrong such ideas were and how some lead to destructive irrational political movements. Many books teach philosophy in the spirit of impartiality while giving no commentary. This book is not impartial.

Russel does a good job of inoculating the reader from the seductive arguments of the past and for that even a beginner should start here despite the need for extra strict. If you're just getting started with philosophy and you have the conviction to do supplementary study along with the book. This book will radically change how you think and see the world.

7 people found this helpful

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Wonderful intro, need to go deeper on modern stuff

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

This is a great introduction and I really like the analysis of what's going on in the world at the time of the philosopher's activity. I also like the fact that the author wrote this book 70+ years ago, asking contemporary questions we can see answers to

What other book might you compare A History of Western Philosophy to and why?

This is a survey course in history and like most histories it spends so much time on the ancient past that the recent past and present are sparsely covered.

Which character – as performed by Jonathan Keeble – was your favorite?

Narrator - good job

If you could give A History of Western Philosophy a new subtitle, what would it be?

Foundations for philosophical conversations

Any additional comments?

I could have used some printed materials to go with this - there is a ton here.

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An excellent book, brilliantly narrated!

Other than his one-dimensional and unfair assessment of Nietzche, which was no doubt a product of the propaganda of the time in which this book was written, Russell delivers a beautiful and highly entertaining portrait of Western thought. This book does far more than simply expound the thoughts of philosophers; it teaches philosophy in a manner that only a genuine philosopher could. In that regard I found it far more compelling than any course or lecture series. The 38 hours of listening time flew by and I was sad when it ended.

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  • Benno Boyo
  • 11-30-16

Great book, just remember when it was written

This is a history of Western philosophy in relation to the changing social and political climate through the ages. The conclusion is that philosophers are mainly a product of their times, and politics and society are only shaped in a small part by philosophy.

Aside from the descriptions of philosophy in relation to historical events, the emphasis is mainly on metaphysics and epistemology, ie those aspects of philosophy that are now mainly the domain of the sciences. Where it does touch upon ethics the book is somewhat dated, especially with regard to Atistotle's virtue ethics, which barely get a mention despite their importance in modern philosophy.

Nevertheless this is a highly informative account of philosophy's social history. Most entertaining perhaps is the brilliant and scathing chapter on Nietzsche, in which Russell places the German philosopher in a dialogue with Buddha. And the account of the hereditary principle with regard to economics remains even today a fascinating and relevant insight.

A special mention must go to Jonathan Keeble and his brilliant reading throughout. He perfectly distills Russell's humour throughout, adding a tone of witty irreverence to the book. He also takes every opportunity to show off his acting chops; the Frankenstein's Monster excerpts were particularly entertaining.

Worth a listen if you have 38 hours to spare! Though perhaps worth it just for certain chapters, particularly, Pythagoras, The Hellenistic Period, Spinoza, and especially Nietzsche.

56 people found this helpful

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  • VDS
  • 03-02-16

An amazing introductory book on philosophy

A beautiful summary of main philosophical ideas. Very well read. I bought the printed book first but found it too long. The audiobook allowed me to listen at times when I had to do manual jobs.

14 people found this helpful

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  • Daniel
  • 09-13-15

Don't worry, this written for everyone

Basically this is the history of how humans deal with the universe but somehow it's understandable to the layman like me. Genius

20 people found this helpful

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  • The_price_of_bottled_water
  • 02-27-15

Great set of lectures

Would you listen to A History of Western Philosophy again? Why?

This book came from Bertrand Russell's war time lectures in the US for the Barnes Foundation. Because they started out as lectures, it works well as an audio book.

Who was your favorite character and why?

I particularly enjoyed the early chapters on Pythagoras and other pre-Socratic philosophers. Russell's characteristic wit shines through in many places, my favourite quote is his suggestion that Pythagoras was a mixture of Einstein and Mrs Eddy.

What about Jonathan Keeble’s performance did you like?

Well read.

20 people found this helpful

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  • Z. M. Snarey
  • 11-21-14

Extensive well researched account of philosophy

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I am studying Philosophy at the Open University and found this account very interesting. It gives the background, personal details of philosophers which makes it come alive and memorable. It was a long listen but well worth the effort and I might very well listen to it again.

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  • Yas
  • 07-08-14

A must for all philosophers!

Would you consider the audio edition of A History of Western Philosophy to be better than the print version?

Equal, it is nice to have it read but I also have the book. The audio did help to pronounce some of the odd words. I would suggest reading it and having it read aloud would help with understanding the different philosophies.

What did you like best about this story?

It was a history of Western Philosophy!

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  • Matt Bruce
  • 02-05-16

Staggering breadth of western thought

If you could sum up A History of Western Philosophy in three words, what would they be?

History of thought.

What did you like best about this story?

The sheer scope of this work is more than I would have sat down to read, but listening to it and learning about the history of philosophy and how it helped build the way the West views the world, the universe, itself, culture, science and art is more than I expected.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

At 38 hours long, it would have taken some effort to listen to it one sitting. However, I did listen to it in large chunks of 4-6 hours at a time, which gives some idea of how interesting I found it.

Any additional comments?

This is the first of its kind that I have read, so is worth remembering it is Bertrand Russell's view and comes out of his own world view, though does well to treat fairly viewpoints that differ from his own. As far as sources go, Russell is excellent, but I would be curious how others have tackled the topic.

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  • Joana
  • 05-17-16

I loved this book

I am an architect with a keen interest in philosophy and I found this book to be a great introduction to philosophy. Beautifully written, as it was to be expected from Russel, and great narration. I cannot recommend this book enough for anyone who did not study western philosophy but wants to have a general understanding of the subject.

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  • Craig
  • 08-20-16

Brilliant

Couldn't have chosen a more suitable narrator, speed was a slight issue however. And if one attempts to hurry the narrator by doubling the speed, it simply skips sentences rather than speeding them up. other than that a comprehensive masterpiece.

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  • grey
  • 07-07-14

A master teacher

Would you consider the audio edition of A History of Western Philosophy to be better than the print version?

Equally good.

What was one of the most memorable moments of A History of Western Philosophy?

Not an appropriate question.

Have you listened to any of Jonathan Keeble’s other performances? How does this one compare?

No

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Not an appropriate question.

Any additional comments?

There are some brilliant lecturers out there on audible and there are many engrossing and well structured courses on philosophy but they cannot compare to Russell. He is a master teacher who grasps the breadth of subject and makes it his own as a philosopher himself. Not easy and perhaps caught in its time but still an incomparable guide to western philosophy. It should be read by everyone who wants to ponder these things ... Well read too.

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  • Josh
  • 03-10-16

Make sure that this is the book that you're looking for.

I have no doubt that this book is highly regarded in some circles, and Bertrand Russell an authority on the matter. But as a layperson trying to expand my horizons, this hasn't quite helped me to access Russell's writings. It's a dense book, and the sort of writing that I'd rather have on a page to ponder and re-read as necessary.

You might have different expectations, and if this is the case, then I can't fault the performance or the recording quality. But be warned - know what you're getting yourself into.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 08-25-20

In depth, Inspiring and Educational

There aren't many giant books that I can enjoy listening to on a daily basis, however this is so well delivered that it makes the journey through the minds if our best thinkers enjoyable. I recommend this as a start and stop, thought provoking read for the already thoughtful person. 10/10 for his analysis of philosophical concepts.

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  • Brian
  • 11-13-16

An amazing read

Fantastic book, very comprehensive. A long read, but we'll worth it if you are interested in the subject.

exceptionally narrated.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 05-26-15

The Definitive History

Fascinating look over the not only the philosophy, but also the circumstances surrounding the philosophers themselves. This is THE book for anyone interested in getting into Philosophy.

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  • Grant
  • 04-28-15

Delivers on the promise of the title

A thorough, and accessible, tour of the history of western philosophy. It's a worthwhile primer for an undergraduate starting out.

Notably it's a routine source used in the popular podcast philosophise this. It takes a fair bit of commitment to get through but it is excellent.

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  • Matthew
  • 03-03-21

A Concise and Inform Introduction into Philosophy

I really enjoyed this book. I found it, a great introduction to the subject.
I was fascinated by the history as well as the parallels one can draw to modern society and thought process.

I would recommend this book to anyone beginning their journey or just a passing interest in the philosophical discipline.

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  • Sam B
  • 01-20-21

An epic and reassuring read

'A History of Western Philosophy' seems like an incredibly ambitious undertaking, but Russell was an incredible man. This is such a lucid account of Western thought, from Plato to Dewey and all the major philosophers in between, it's well worth the 30-plus hours listening time. The performance is very good, too. Jonathan Keeble sounds how I expect Bertrand Russell to sound. I only wish I had read it sooner.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 10-31-20

Very well structured

Very well structured to provide a timeline of philosophy from the ancients. Reading cover to cover I struggled to get through multiple sections particularly the dark ages. In future I will refer to more as a text book on certain eras or philosophers but do not recommend reading in one short go. Each philosopher is explained thoroughly including the context of their times and cultural customs which helped my understanding strongly.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 12-02-19

I love it

if you read mythos by Stephen fry before this , it's so relaxing.. I love it

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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-17-19

Brilliant

One of the finiest philosophical overviews I have ever llistened to/read. The writing is clear, concise, and only technical when neccessary. The voice actor suits the subject matter perfectly.