Open-ended epistemological meditations, occasionally stumbling into platitudes.


A smattering of brief, mildly engaging essays for the lay reader on art, literature and culture.

Largely written for his weekly column in the London Times, these levelly composed, rather sketchy and miscellaneous pieces range over topics Grayling (Philosophy/Birbeck Coll., London) has glanced upon during academic research and many trips to the British Museum: Hitler as an art collector, the distressing trend away from classical studies, the relation between liberal-left sentiments and high culture, the understated achievements of Mesopotamia and the useful service genetics performs in destroying myths about race, among others. Many of the selections are subtly framed around a book review. In “Shakespeare’s Genius” (one of the few essays with some meat), Grayling expands on Harold Bloom’s point in Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human that the Bard was “one of the founders of modern consciousness because he puts individuals (not types or tokens, as his fellow dramatists did) before us.” He ponders “the strange admixture of tenderness and sharpness” in “William Burroughs’ Last Journals,” wondering whether the Beat writer would have achieved higher status in the literary pantheon had he not been so wrecked by drugs. “Five Women Speaking French” looks anew at the achievements of Simone de Beauvoir, Louise d’Épinay, Madame du Deffand, Charlotte and Emily Brontë (in Belgium). The last two sections treat currents in history and science. In “The Bible as History,” Grayling discusses Thomas Thompson’s controversial thesis that “the Old Testament is not a record of Israel’s origins . . . but a later attempt to provide Israel with a heritage.” That sense of heritage helped Jews endure centuries of oppression that culminated with the horrors examined in “Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.” Grayling ventures wherever his intellectual curiosity (or the academic wind) takes him and even deigns to join the controversy on alien abductions, sagely reminding us that “the spirit of rational inquiry is not reserved to science.”

Open-ended epistemological meditations, occasionally stumbling into platitudes.

Pub Date: July 15, 2005

ISBN: 0-297-64559-5

Page Count: 230

Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson/Trafalgar

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2005

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Worthwhile reference stuffed with facts and illustrations.


A compendium of charts, time lines, lists and illustrations to accompany study of the Bible.

This visually appealing resource provides a wide array of illustrative and textually concise references, beginning with three sets of charts covering the Bible as a whole, the Old Testament and the New Testament. These charts cover such topics as biblical weights and measures, feasts and holidays and the 12 disciples. Most of the charts use a variety of illustrative techniques to convey lessons and provide visual interest. A worthwhile example is “How We Got the Bible,” which provides a time line of translation history, comparisons of canons among faiths and portraits of important figures in biblical translation, such as Jerome and John Wycliffe. The book then presents a section of maps, followed by diagrams to conceptualize such structures as Noah’s Ark and Solomon’s Temple. Finally, a section on Christianity, cults and other religions describes key aspects of history and doctrine for certain Christian sects and other faith traditions. Overall, the authors take a traditionalist, conservative approach. For instance, they list Moses as the author of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) without making mention of claims to the contrary. When comparing various Christian sects and world religions, the emphasis is on doctrine and orthodox theology. Some chapters, however, may not completely align with the needs of Catholic and Orthodox churches. But the authors’ leanings are muted enough and do not detract from the work’s usefulness. As a resource, it’s well organized, inviting and visually stimulating. Even the most seasoned reader will learn something while browsing.

Worthwhile reference stuffed with facts and illustrations.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2005

ISBN: 978-1-5963-6022-8

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2010

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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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