The Story of Philosophy: The Essential Guide to the History of Western Philosophy

Magee, Bryan
Dorling Kindersley 1998
ISBN 0-7894-3511-X
233pp
Date finished: 2003-07-03

Dorling Kindersley is well-known for their sumptuously illustrated introductory and reference books aimed at both children and adults, but does their picture-heavy approach work for a subject as non-visual as philosophy? It does, sort of.

The book is divided into many short chapters, each from 2 to 6 pages long. Chapters cover either a single philosopher (Socrates, Hume, Schopenhauer) or a theme such as medieval or Eastern philosophy. Pages are cluttered with little informative sidebars that can usually be skipped: a list of an author's works, a small picture of a title page, or a brief biography of another figure. The pictures are most helpful when they show artworks that were contemporary to a philosopher or were part of a movement influenced by his work; the portraits of the various philosophers are also frequently very well-chosen. Other illustrations are simply stock photographs that are sometimes relevant but also sometimes only tenuously connected to the subject at hand.

I read this book because I wanted to get a better idea of what philosophy is about and an understanding of the discipline's chronology. The book succeeds at this very nicely, though its explanation of the 19th century German philosophers -- Kant, Schopenhauer, Fichte, Hegel -- made them sound very vague and unsupported. For example, Schopenhauer asserted that compassion occurs because humans are undifferentiated in the noumenal; this doesn't seem like an explanation at all. I don't know if these theories really are content-free or if they just can't be explained in four pages; either way it probably isn't Magee's fault for trying.

Tagged: philosophy

Permalink: http://books.amk.ca/2003/07/Story_of_Philosophy.html

%T The Story of Philosophy
%S The Essential Guide to the History of Western Philosophy
%A Magee, Bryan
%I Dorling Kindersley
%G ISBN 0-7894-3511-X
%K philosophy
%D 1998
%@ 2003-07-03
%P 233pp

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