A solid compendium on the principal works of selected Western philosophers

January 9, 2010

Philosophy Classics

(2006, SparkNotes Literature Guide Series)

Philosophy Classics (SparkNotes Literature Guide Series) is intended as a study guide for college students taking a survey course in philosophy. Nevertheless, both philosophy majors and lay readers in general stand to benefit handsomely from the smart and very readable summaries presented in this handbook. Nineteen philosophers and their major works are covered: Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Thomas More, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Mill, Kierkegaard, Marx, Nietzsche, Russell, Wittgenstein, and Sartre. Socrates is also discussed in several chapters devoted to other thinkers, mainly Plato, of course. 

The handbook provides a brief introduction to philosophy and five of its major branches: epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, political philosophy, and logic. Aesthetics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and philosophy of history are also approached in varying degrees throughout the main text. The rest of the book consists of nineteen chapters, each focusing on a particular philosopher. Each chapter begins with a "Context" section that provides a biographical sketch and historical circumstances for each thinker. Then a section entitled "Themes, Arguments & Ideas" follows which highlights the major problems addressed by the philosopher in question. Each chapter ends with a substantial "Summary & Analysis" section where the thinker's most important works are discussed in ample detail and his key ideas are analyzed and contrasted to those of other philosophers, a number of whom do not figure in the chosen nineteen, thus extending the reach and usefulness of the book. The quality of the discussion in each section is very good. On average, each philosopher is devoted 22 pages. Readers should find these chapters very useful as preparation for reading the philosophers' original works. 

Lamentably, the handbook does not have an index, which detracts somewhat from its intended aim as a study guide. In a few chapters towards the end of the book minor errors passed undetected by editorial revision, but these are rare and can be spotted and corrected by the alert reader from the context of the discussion. Actually, considering this is a first edition, the book is remarkably accurate. These weaknesses pale in significance when compared to the considerable intellectual panorama this handbook manages to present. All in all, despite the lack of an index,
Philosophy Classics merits a five-star rating. I do hope the editors follow this volume with a second one covering other major philosophers not included in this edition. 

(This review was originally written on 29 November 2006.)


Beer-hall politics lite: streamlined narrative . . . less filling

December 30, 2009

An Illustrated Life

by Robin Cross (2009, Quercus)

Adolf Hitler is big business. He commands as much prime-time real estate on the edutainment cable channels as he ever did in Fortress Europe, maybe more. And as "Der Untergang" showed, he can easily blitzkrieg the pants off das Zelluloid along with its pusillanimous award-givers. Moreover, in cable and film WWII never ends. So why bother with another downsized Hitler bio that unabashedly breaks no new ground? 

To see why, one must first b...

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A fine biography of a very fine gentleman

November 23, 2009

The Authentic Adam Smith:
His Life and Ideas

by James Buchan (2006, Norton)

Novelist and critic James Buchan employs his considerable writing skills to sketch out a concise yet intellectually comprehensive profile of one of the leading figures of the Scottish Enlightenment. The person of Adam Smith has long been used as an icon by political conservatives and free marketeers to propagandize their laissez-faire ideology, an anti-Marx effigy paraded before the masses to ward off the evil spirits of...

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A very fine history of Western Philosophy

November 23, 2009

Historia de la Filosofía

Julián Marías

Dover Edition

Julián Marías's "Historia de la Filosofía," translated by Stanley Appelbaum and Clarence C. Strowbridge, is an excellent introduction to the history of Western philosophical thought. First published in Madrid in 1941, it has gone through 22 editions in Spanish and has become the standard classroom text on the subject throughout the Spanish-speaking world. The book covers virtually all the major philosophers and schools from the Pre-Socra...

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A masterpiece of historical cinematography

November 23, 2009


Der Untergang (Downfall)


Oliver Hirschbiegel, Director

Bruno Ganz (Adolf Hitler)

Alexandra Maria Lara (Traudl Junge)

Corinna Harfouch (Magda Goebbels)

Ulrich Matthes (Joseph Goebbels)

Juliane Köhler (Eva Braun)

Christian Berkel (Prof. Dr. Ernst-Günter Schenck)

A superb dramatic production, Downfall (Der Untergang) has set the standard of excellence for historical films. Based on Inside Hitler's Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich by Joachim Fest, Until the Final Hour: Hitler's Last Secretary...

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About the Reviewer

Diego Azeta is a purely abstract cognitive entity functionally existing in the æther of cyberspace. The name is the emblematic pseudonym of Don Diego Alonso de la Vega y Quijano, itself a cryptic nom de plume intended to encode indecipherable minutiae.



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