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American Philosophy Audiobook

American Philosophy: A Love Story

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Publisher's Summary

The epic wisdom contained in a lost library helps the author turn his life around.

In American Philosophy, John Kaag - a disillusioned philosopher at sea in his marriage and career - stumbles upon a treasure trove of rare books on an old estate in the hinterlands of New Hampshire that once belonged to the Harvard philosopher William Ernest Hocking. The library includes notes from Whitman, inscriptions from Frost, and first editions of Hobbes, Descartes, and Kant. As he begins to catalog and preserve these priceless books, Kaag rediscovers the very tenets of American philosophy - self-reliance, pragmatism, the transcendent - and sees them in a 21st-century context.

Hocking was one of the last true giants of American philosophy. After studying under Harvard's philosophical four - William James, George Santayana, Josiah Royce, and George Herbert Palmer - he held the most prestigious chair at the university for the first three decades of the 20th century. And when his teachers eventually died, he collected the great books from their libraries (filled with marginalia) and combined them with his own rare volumes at his family's estate. And there they remained for nearly 80 years, a time capsule of American thought.

Part intellectual history, part memoir, American Philosophy is an invigorating investigation of American pragmatism and the wisdom that underlies a meaningful life.

©2016 John Kaag (P)2016 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.9 (246 )
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3.9 (222 )
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4.2 (223 )
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  •  
    karen Chicago, Il United States 12-04-16
    karen Chicago, Il United States 12-04-16 Member Since 2016
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    "Compelling!"

    Interesting philosophical lesson interwoven with a compelling story. Narration was superb with changes in intonation for different poems and characters.

    26 of 28 people found this review helpful
  •  
    August 10-19-16
    August 10-19-16
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    "American Philosophy In Action"
    Would you listen to American Philosophy again? Why?

    For sure. It's packed with great historical information and then put into in a present day narrative. In this case, it's the author's own life showing us why knowing American philosophy is applicable and necessary. Loved the info on the editions of the books as well.
    A must for any book collector!


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

    This is the first one I have heard. He does a great job.


    If you could give American Philosophy a new subtitle, what would it be?

    How to live an American life according to the pioneers who came before...


    30 of 34 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joe Kraus Kingston, PA, United States 05-18-17
    Joe Kraus Kingston, PA, United States 05-18-17 Member Since 2011
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    "A Messy Book about a Messy Philosophy of Love"
    Which character – as performed by Josh Bloomberg – was your favorite?

    Bloomberg reads well, but he needed a coach for some of the pronunciation. For most of the book he mispronounces C.S. Pierce as "Peer-ce" (which, to be fair, is how it looks). For the introduction and last chapter and a half, though, he gets it right -- to sound like "Purse."

    There are other technical terms -- such as "misanthropy" -- that he just misses too.

    I know I'm being picky, but this is philosophy, and it's distracting to get the sense that our narrator may not know it as well as our author does.


    Any additional comments?

    Inasmuch as this is a story, it comes up short. Ostensibly the account of how our narrator dug himself out of an experience of what we might call false consciousness – life in an unhappy marriage with a range of career choices before him – most of this is instead a record of the cataloguing of the library of William Ernest Hocking, a mostly forgotten one-time titan of American philosophy. We don’t get the details of a traditional love story – in fact, all of the romance between Kaag and the woman he eventually marries would fit in a handful of pages.

    Of course, I realize the intent of that subtitle. It’s a reference to any number of potential love stories: not just Kaag and Carol, but also Kaag and the library, Hocking and his own wife, Hocking and life itself, and Kaag and a discipline he’d embraced only through his intellect rather than his full emotional register. We don’t get details of the meaningful but mundane romance that brings Kaag his new wife. Instead, we get a range of biographical sketches and interpretations of philosophical trends.

    I am, in many ways, the target audience here. I’m a scholar of American literature, and I know the literary siblings of the philosophers who stand on center stage here. (That’s literally true in the case of William and Henry James, but it’s metaphorically true of the many writers who come in as friends of the philosophers in question.) I know the joy of finding some puzzle piece of information or insight in a forgotten text, and I have tried to share it with others myself. (And I have generally failed.)

    So, my verdict is that this one is too much of a mess to be a full success. It’s part memoir, though I took it for fiction, and it’s part philosophical treatise. It fails to come entirely together… but I want to put an asterisk to that observation.

    It takes a while, but Kaag eventually gives us a wide and working definition of what distinguishes American philosophy from the more familiar continental strain. There are vast schools of thought that find their roots in Descartes, that take as axiomatic that we begin thinking as individual selves. As Kaag develops a series of interconnected arguments, he presents us with a compelling alternative. That is, some thinkers (such as C.S. Pierce) proposed that our experience originates not in the self but in our interaction with others. It is not so much the thunderbolt of “I think, therefore I am,” as it is – and I paraphrase from my own understanding – “We love one another, therefore we are.”

    That, of course, is the central notion of “love” at the heart of the subtitle, and it’s a powerful one. (It’s just one that I’m convinced could have come more efficiently and with more power in some other form – memoir would be fine, but it would need to be memoir that didn’t so fully parrot the structure of the novel and instead found some fresh approach.)

    In fact, while I find the form of this book disappointing, I’m genuinely inspired by what Kaag has to share in these seemingly dry old characters. As he tells us, American philosophy stood in contrast to the continentals in that it attacked the problems of what it means to live an everyday life. It found a middle ground between pure logic and the abstract contemplation of morality. Because the founders of American philosophy, from Emerson through William James, Pierce, Josiah Royce, and eventually Hocking himself, wanted always to explore “experience” (something I knew to be at the heart of Emersonian thought but that it has taken Kaag to help me understand in this new light) they wrote about overlapping ideas.

    In other words, one reason we have seen the tradition of American philosophy wither is that it is, from its axiomatic beginnings, messy. It doesn’t start with self, but with community, with a people between or among whom lies the potential for love. (For Emerson and his literary sibling Whitman, that love is both between individuals and in the nature of citizenship.)

    So, to the asterisk in my judgement of the book over all: Kaag’s very moving take on the nature of this tradition is messy enough that it seems to have inspired a messy structure in its work. (And, if you want to see “messy” done masterfully, check out almost any of Emerson’s essays.) I think this book falls short of the masterpiece it suggests, but I think it does so in part because Kaag, for all that he embraces this tradition, sees it as a tradition that failed to keep its foothold in our culture. To put it sadly, he’s fallen in love with a ghost, and he can’t quite bring himself to pronounce his new love dead.

    There’s real potential in the metaphor of the library, a decaying place that stood for a generation as the ultimate coming together of a century of the finest thinkers our nation could produce. And note that the library, put into an order that perhaps only Hocking himself fully understood, is beautifully and inspirationally messy.

    I am certainly glad I read this one, but I can’t recommend it entirely to others. I’ll keep thinking about it, I’m sure, but I’ll be as aware of the faults in its structure as I am in the deep wisdom – and love – that it circles around so messily.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kye Sonne 04-02-17
    Kye Sonne 04-02-17
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    "Awesome Book! But.."
    Would you consider the audio edition of American Philosophy to be better than the print version?

    Yes, except the reader keep pronouncing Peirce's name wrong. Charles Sanders Peirce's last name should be pronounced like "purse" not "pierce."


    What did you like best about this story?

    The blend of American philosophy and the author's own search for meaning.


    What about Josh Bloomberg’s performance did you like?

    Remember, Peirce-->purse not "pierce."


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

    Pretty much!


    37 of 53 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rosemarie Falanga 05-14-17 Member Since 2016
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    "Fascinating book marred by uneven narration"

    The book presents a fine overview of the history of philosophy in America. I am usually flexible when it comes to narrators, but Bloomberg made so many pronunciation errors my eyes got tired of wincing. Still recommended but with a warning.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lynn 06-26-17
    Lynn 06-26-17 Member Since 2016
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    "Entertaining, educational and emjoyable"

    A refreshing new memoir. No whining, no bragging ~ a simple storyline of discovery. And oddly dishy about some of our philosophers. i really enjoyed it.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bond James Bond 06-11-17 Member Since 2008

    silentsun

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    "between 3 and 4 stars"

    better than 3, not as good as 4. A decent one to listen to. Probably won't listen to it again.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robert F. 06-09-17
    Robert F. 06-09-17

    I'm too embarrassed!

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    "MORE THAN A LOVE STORY"
    If you could sum up American Philosophy in three words, what would they be?

    HEIDGIGER AND THE WHOLE GERMAN CROWD ARE A FOOT NOTE TO US.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    THE AUTHOR:HE SHOULD BE ON GREAT COURSES--A GIFTED TEACHER--I FINALLY UNDERSTAND MODERN PHILOSOPHY


    Which scene was your favorite?

    THE ROMANCE AT THE AIRPORT


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    THE AUTHOR AND HIS PARAMOR CLIMBING UP THE MOUNTAIN


    Any additional comments?

    IF YOU'RE AFRAID OF PHILOSOPHY AND YOU WANT AN ABSOLUTELY PAINLESS INTRODUCTION TO MODERN PHILOSOPHY--EUROPEAN AND AMERICAN--READ THIS.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bryan San Diego, CA, United States 06-07-17
    Bryan San Diego, CA, United States 06-07-17 Member Since 2015
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    "For Bibliophiles and Philosophers"

    This is actually a true story about a New England philosophy professor who accidentally found a treasure-trove of rare, invaluable philosophy books on an old farm. The family let him and his colleague curate the books. So I'd recommend this book for bibliophiles and philosophers. Some of the collection ended up at his university; he didn't say where the rest of the books went to. I'm assuming the family found new homes for them somewhere. As a bibliophile I hate to see books lost and never again opened. Books represent the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of our times.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    BannerQueen 06-03-17
    BannerQueen 06-03-17
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    "An easy walk into heady territory"

    Using the novel form, it was a nice way to bring the world of philosophical thought down to (for me) a tangible level. I thought the reader was good (with inflections and diction) but he frequently mispronounced words which felt incongruous with the weight of the subject matter, and made it hard to forgive the distraction.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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