The Book of Dead Philosophers (Vintage)
The Book of Dead Philosophers (Vintage)

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¡°To philosophize is to learn how to die.¡± ¡ªCicero; assassinated by order of Mark Antony

¡°One who no longer is cannot suffer.¡± ¡ªLucretius; suicide, allegedly driven mad by a love potion

¡°Life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.¡± ¡ªHobbes; died in bed, age 91

In this collection of brief lives (and deaths) of nearly two hundred of the world's greatest thinkers, noted philosopher Simon Critchley creates a register of mortality that is tragic, amusing, absurd, and exemplary. From the self-mocking haikus of Zen masters on their deathbeds to the last words of Christian saints and modern-day sages, this irresistible book contains much to inspire both amusement and reflection.

Informed by Critchley's acute insight, scholarly intelligence, and sprightly wit, each entry tells its own tale, but collected together they add up to a profound and moving investigation of meaning and the possibility of happiness for us all.

Amazon Best of the Month, February 2009: For professor Simon Critchely, how we die is possibly more important than how we lived. In The Book of Dead Philosophers, Critchley presents a lineup of nearly 200 famous (and not so famous) philosophers and explores how, through their deaths, one might be inspired to lead a richer life. From a few words to a few pages, each great thinker's death is examined in an enlightening and entertaining manner as the author waxes on the often brutal (and odd) ways they left this mortal coil. And along with natural causes, murders, and suicides, you'll discover what dark departures from suffocating in cow dung, indigestion, and lethal insect stings have to do with how we live today. At times the "sobering power of the philosophical death" might seem more like a morbidly ironic punchline to the life each philosopher led, but Critchley writes, "My hope is that, if read from beginning to end, a cumulative series of themes will emerge that will add up to a specific argument about how philosophy might teach one how to die, and by implication, how to live." --Brad Thomas Parsons

Customer Reviews:

  • Informatively Flawed
    The author, Simon Critchley, needed to tone down the editorializing; his own professorial, high-handed voice definitely watered down the strength and profundity of some of his subjects. Also, the sense of "humor" utilized by the author makes it clear that the humor itself was an afterthought, that despite the intrinsically humorous subject matter (philosophers drowning in manure, or flinging themselves into volcanoes), he felt it necessary to include "jokes" as a professor would include in his lecture to the quiet, placative faux-amusement of his students. Now and then, the subject matter is too serious in print to warrant flippancy. It softens the voice even more, and I know the author meant for this book to be widely read and accessible, but it does no one any good to water down and soften the profound messages of 3000 year old philosophers in order to accommodate a more common ear. The strength and purpose of this book is in the facts, what the philosophers said, and how they died. It is not hard to relate one to the other, and I wish the author had kept his opinions and extrapolations and interpretations and associations to himself. Those who are interested in philosophy will buy a book for the merits of its philosopher(s); an example is Isiah Berlin's "Russian Thinkers." Serious, strong, and clear, with facts upon facts, in a very readable style. It sold quite well.
    Otherwise, "The Book of Dead Philosophers" is informative, detailed, and a work of the author's own passion. I just wish the passion could have been a little more reverent, a little more pure, a little more evident in the scholarship department, even if Critchley is a professor....more info
  • Should Have Stuck with Philosophers He Knows Best
    I do not deny that there many places in this book that show real insight into the nature of philosophy as a way of life (and death). My criticism is that Critchley, in an attempt to provide a comprehensive listing of philosophers, treats the philosophers he does not know rather superficially and relies on popular caricatures to fill in the gaps.

    Two examples to illustrate this point: In his entry on Leibniz, Critchley basically repeats Bertrand Russell's distorted view that the Theodicy was just an attempt to appease L's patroness, and that L was really a logician--never mind the bizarre metaphysics. The view of Russell is now almost universally recognized by Leibniz scholars as a caricature. One wonders if Critchley simply borrowed his account uncritically from Russell's history of philosophy.

    Similarly, when writing about Schelling, Critchley repeats the caricature propogated by Hegel and his followers that Schelling was constantly changing his colors and never could settle on one position. Again, I wonder what the value is of repeating such a distorted account--it certainly doesn't add any insights to the nature of a philosophical life or death.

    Critchley would have done much better in selecting just a few philosophers that he knows well and in developing his theme with respect to these. Better to have smaller breadth than wider if one has to resort to trite sayings and caricatures to fill in the gaps. ...more info
  • The Book of Dead Philosphers
    Little more than a primer of conventionally recognized philosophers. Good for entry level students, or as an index of philosophers for further study....more info
  • Quick, Witty, Endearing
    This book should be a standard on everyone's bookshelf. Each chapter is about a different philosopher make this book easy to pick up for a quick read whenever you have a spare minute or two. Quick and witty, and though about death, still very endearing....more info
  • boring
    i thought that this book would read more as a novel, but was disappointed that it read as an encyclopedia. The subjects were listed in chronological order, but that is where the context ends.
    i bought this book for a fun read, but am sorry to say it will end up occupying space on my bookshelf.
    it'll looks cool on that shelf, though....more info


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