MixedThe Guardian (UK)Percival is not always so rational...A whole chapter on \'murder\' follows, yet he never provides an argument for why this is the right word to use for animal slaughter ... He doesn’t seriously consider the possibility that there is no irresolvable paradox after all, just an uncomfortable tension, as there always is in the interdependence of life and death ... his provocative book presents a challenge that most haven’t even begun to confront – and few are ready to meet.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... the author’s mother becomes a recurring character in this extraordinary exploration of selfhood, which blends humane sensitivity with acute philosophical insight ... Ms. Arikha’s quiet but insistent call is for us to see ourselves and others holistically and not to separate out our subjective, social and biological dimensions ... Perhaps the most unsettling idea that Ms. Arikha’s consistently arresting book forces upon the reader is the one claiming that our ordinary experience of the world is always constructed, never simply given ... One tension that The Ceiling Outside leaves unresolved is the relationship between the “core self”—that is, the embodied sense of identity that enables us to recognize our thoughts and experiences at any time as our own—and the autobiographical self, the one that allows us to construct a sense of identity over time ... Ms. Arikha’s book illustrates, among much else, how an intellectual fascination with the world can be a saving grace, allowing us to step outside of ourselves and marvel at what from within is fraught and difficult ... Her book makes just these movements, seamlessly, thoughtfully. Life’s tribulations didn’t interrupt her philosophizing; they enriched it.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... an enjoyable next step for anyone who watched [The Good Place] and for anyone else who wants to learn about moral philosophy while avoiding the usual dry earnestness ... The narrative voice is not that of a gentle professor but of a slightly manic bar-room joker who is actually funny and genuinely excited to share his passion with anyone who will listen—and anyone who won’t ... does a good job of covering the basics ... it also manages to put its finger on key problems with the philosophies discussed ... Someone must have told Mr. Schur that if he was going to write a proper book about ethics, it needed to have footnotes. He decided to follow the letter rather than the spirit of this law. His footnotes are more akin to the bonus clips on a DVD than scholarly references. It probably doesn’t sound funny if I say that one footnote attached to the sentence \'You can imagine how popular I was at parties\' reads: \'Not very\'. But there’s something about having to look down to the bottom of the page to see it that makes it work ... At times the levity threatens to be too much, but somehow it never is ... This self-deprecation saves the book from coming across as moralizing or self-satisfied, which is always a risk when you dare to write about how we should live. Mr. Schur rightly spends some time discussing how the same moral standards can’t be applied in all circumstances ... there is no more to quibble over here than there is in any academic text. That makes How to Be Perfect one of the most accessible entry points to philosophical ethics available—in short, a very good place to start.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalIf you only read one book about consciousness, it must be [Seth\'s] ... Mr. Seth is meticulously precise in his use of language, for the purposes of clarity and rigor ... But to call these representations [of consciousness] \'hallucinations\' invites the misunderstanding that we never have a grip on reality at all. Such minor concerns aside, Being You is an impressive work that handles complex issues with exceptional insight and beautiful clarity. Mr. Seth’s chapter on free will should be read ahead of any book-length treatment of the subject ... \'Every time science has displaced us from the center of things,\' he says, \'it has given back far more in return.\' It’s a truth that this book exemplifies on every luminescent page.
PositiveFinancial Times (UK)In recent years it has become more fashionable to dismiss Pinker as a naive whig than to laud him as an inspiring prophet ... Read without prejudice... Rationality does a very good job of delivering on it subtitle’s promise to explain what rationality is, why it seems scarce and why it matters ... The majority of the book is in effect an unusually readable textbook on critical thinking. For devotees of the smart thinking genre, much of this is familiar ... Even when the basic material is well-worn, Pinker has a talent for highlighting a striking example, drawing out an interesting corollary or leading us effortlessly through the maths ... At times, Pinker is too uncharitable about what he perceives as irrational belief ... These slips matter because they suggest that for all his clear thinking, Pinker still doesn’t quite understand how ambiguity and uncertainty, as well as illogicality and cognitive biases, limit the reach of rationality.
MixedThe Wall Street Journal... absorbing ... None of these claims by itself is new, but Mr. Slingerland’s book-length synthesis is original ... He isn’t always careful to distinguish what degree of intoxication is beneficial, overplaying the so-called delights of oblivion...Exactly what degrees of drunkenness benefit us matters because, as Mr. Slingerland acknowledges toward the end of his book, the fact that alcohol has served us well historically doesn’t mean that it continues to do so now ... Although Mr. Slingerland ultimately provides balance, most of the time his arguments read more like those of a defendant than an impartial judge. This leads him to add some dodgy data to his dossier ... Mr. Slingerland makes a compelling case that human societies have been positively shaped by alcohol, although the conclusion that \'we could not have civilization without intoxication\' is too strong. It’s pure speculation to suggest that without liquor we’d not have found other ways to bond, build trust and alleviate stress. While it’s refreshing to see that demon drink has angelic qualities, the bitter truth is that its dark side now threatens to overshadow them. We may have started relaxing with Dr. Jekyll, but we risk ending up wasted with Mr. Hyde.
PositiveFinancial Times (UK)It has become a truism that the atomisation of society is responsible for the decline of community, the loss of trust, the rise of selfishness and an epidemic of loneliness. In Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times, former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks attempts to add more substance to this thesis ... Though much of what Sacks says may ring true, it doesn’t always stand up to scrutiny ... Sacks’s biggest and most powerful idea is also one of his oldest, having appeared in his 1997 book The Politics of Hope. He argues persuasively that we have increasingly moved from a society that rests on covenants to one that relies on contracts ... He may be optimistic when he says \'It is my firm belief that the concept of covenant has the power to transform the world,\' but it could at least help to change it for the better.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal...a fascinating and accessible account of what the book’s subtitle refers to as \'the decade that reinvented philosophy\' ... The ghost at Mr. Eilenberger’s feast is the knowledge that most readers will have of Heidegger’s enthusiastic membership in the Nazi Party. Surprisingly, the author mentions this fact only in a short epilogue detailing what happened to the four philosophers in the years following the decade he surveys. Should the reader care to look, however, the line between Heidegger’s elitist philosophy and his National Socialism is clear and chilling enough ... The book’s sprightly prose, delivered in short, subheaded sections, creates a sometimes dizzying narrative in which the characters come to life more than their ideas. One reason is that the philosophies of all four men are difficult to pin down and even harder to summarize. Another is that, with so much ground to cover, a lot is glossed over, alluded to or omitted. The reader is left wanting more but sometimes unsure as to what that more even is.
PositiveThe Financial Times (UK)The insights of the dead are often mined and recast to suit the desires and tastes of the living. Clare Carlisle’s engrossing new life of Søren Kierkegaard...refuses to be so accommodating to contemporary fashions, in keeping with the iconoclasm of its subject ... Carlisle has pulled off the feat of writing a truly Kierkegaardian biography of Kierkegaard. Her non-linear narrative goes back and forth in time, bringing to life Kierkegaard’s ideas about the impossibility of repetition: every time an incident recurs we see it from a different angle in a different context, and its meaning changes. Just as Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous writings were meant to enable the reader to understand different modes of existence from the inside, Carlisle’s biography takes us inside Kierkegaard’s troubled, complicated life, portraying a man who both compels and repels in turn.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalPhilip Goff’s exploration of consciousness in Galileo’s Error may not be entirely convincing, but it is at least interesting ... Mr. Goff’s version of materialism, however, is misleadingly crude. Indeed, any number of materialists will be furious at how Mr. Goff portrays them ... If we could be persuaded of the truth of panpsychism, Mr. Goff says in his final chapter, it could transform our worldview ... This section of Mr. Goff’s argument warms the heart more than it persuades the mind ... Read as a provocative polemic, Galileo’s Error gives the reader plenty to think about as well as to shout at. His philosophical opponents may test the limits of his new-found love for all sentient life.
PositiveThe Financial TimesThe book sits at the intersection of ongoing debates about post-truth, the assault on reason, the privileging of personal feelings and the rise of populism. Nervous States stands out for its sincere attempt not simply to lament these trends but to understand them ... When it comes to pointing a way out of our current predicament, however, Davies has little concrete to offer ... makes a compelling case for paying more attention to the role of feelings, alongside that of reason, in modern life.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalUnlike Plato, who saw the passions as unruly beasts to be tamed, Aristotle thought that our job was to tune them ... Ms. Hall does a good job of explaining this and many other Aristotelian ideas, bringing them to life with vivid examples ... But on many occasions Ms. Hall brings too much of herself to her subject, presenting her contemporary version of Aristotle rather than the ancient Greek original ... Aristotle’s Way has much to commend it: It raises the profile of the great philosopher, makes the relevance of his key ideas plain and will encourage people to read his classic Nicomachean Ethics. But while it preserves most of the gold to be found in the ancient source material, the effort to mine Aristotle’s thought for a happiness-seeking age makes the book’s message, if more palatable, less potent.
Michael S. Gazzaniga
RaveThe Wall Street Journal...the author displays a rare ability to combine breadth and depth of scientific learning with good, grounded philosophical judgment. As a result, The Consciousness Instinct could be the clearest and most compelling attempt to demystify the mind yet written ... Mr. Gazzaniga is very good at looking under the hood of consciousness to explain how its workings naturally follow from the ways in which the brain is organized. It is a hugely complex system with a layered, modular architecture, which enables it to 'efficiently process multiple types of information concurrently' ... he is almost certainly wrong in some details. But on all the main points, his instincts on consciousness are sound. Awareness is not the 'special sauce' that brings dumb biological processes to subjective life but an emergent property of immensely complex neurological processes. This does not so much eliminate the mystery of consciousness as make it no more or less mysterious than the ultimately inexplicable existence of the universe itself.
Jordan B. Peterson
PanThe Financial TimesPeterson has a knack for penning sentences that sound like deep wisdom at first glance but vanish into puffs of pseudo-profundity if you give them more than a second’s thought ... Peterson peddles a kind of academic populism in which the philosophies of Heidegger and Kierkegaard are drafted in to support the will of the people and the wisdom of tradition. No one trying to understand how to live should read this book. Anyone interested in the growing assault on liberal values, however, should study it with fear and trembling.
PositiveThe Financial TimesBenner provides us with a long list of dramatis personae at the start of the book, but it takes a reader with a better memory than mine to keep track of who’s vanquishing who, politically and bloodily. There are heads stuck on spears, rape and pillage even of convents, gruesome torture, sieges to starvation. Some of the worst offenders were popes ... Although Machiavelli received last rites, Benner sees some truth in the apocryphal story that he claimed he’d rather be in hell with Plato, Plutarch and Tacitus than in a heaven that banished them. In her compelling biography, Benner shows why, although Machiavelli was no saint, he deserves to be in their company and spared the flames.
MixedThe Financial TimesAgainst Empathy sounds iconoclastic but, like so many books with sweeping titles, two pages in the reader discovers that a much more qualified claim is being made. Bloom admits in the prologue that the book might have been called Against the Misapplication of Empathy or Empathy Is Not Everything. He gives a rational defence of his bolder choice but surely the marketing case was stronger ... Bloom takes more care to distinguish the forms of empathy and how they differ from other types of kindness and comprehension...Having narrowed his target, Bloom further limits his fire by accepting that empathy might be good in many contexts, such as art appreciation ... Bloom is surely right that empathy is alone is not enough. However, I’m less convinced that we’d be better off without it ... Nor is it as 'self-evident' as Bloom claims that morality should be objective and fair, if that means taking a God’s-eye view and treating everyone equally. To make no distinction between family or loved ones and the rest of the world is not so much moral as inhuman.
PositiveThe Financial TimesThe Dream of Enlightenment is not quite the long-awaited sequel, since it only advances to the middle of the 18th century. Based on the evidence so far, however, even if the third volume does not appear for another 16 years it will be worth the wait ... [Gottlieb] wears his learning lightly with an engaging and entirely comprehensible sequence of crystal-clear paragraphs ... Gottlieb succeeds in the task he sets himself to place these thinkers in their contemporary context.