PositiveThe Washington Post\"... engrossing ... a narrative sustained with appealing clarity and energy ... Indeed, readers of this biography are likely to be impressed by the scope of Diderot’s thought and by his courage, as he risked persecution to ask and answer taboo questions, thereby making it easier, and safer, for us to do the same.\
RaveOrionWhy did Watson’s neighbors conspire to kill him? And which of the many violent deeds attributed to him did he actually commit? These are the questions that drive the narrative, yet they are less compelling than the question of why the white settlers of southern Florida so ruthlessly displaced or slaughtered the native people, abused the descendants of slaves, and exploited nearly to the point of extinction every commercially valuable species, from egrets and alligators to clams … In Matthiessen’s telling, the legend of Edgar J. Watson is the story, in miniature, of the American frontier. As Watson regarded the Everglades and the ‘virgin coast’ of Florida as raw material ‘awaiting man’s dominion,’ so our ancestors looked on this entire continent as ‘a huge wilderness to be tamed and harnessed.’
PanThe Washington Post...indictments against empathy are announced in the opening pages and repeated often in the pages that follow, as if out of concern that readers, like jurors, might forget the bill of particulars. More likely, this repetitiveness reflects the book’s origins. Bloom mentions having 'published articles in popular outlets describing earlier versions of these ideas' — outlets including the New Yorker, the Atlantic and the New York Times. Had the overlapping material from those articles been edited out, and had key claims against empathy been examined in greater depth, this would have been a leaner and more cogent book ... we also draw on the evolutionary legacy that Bloom believes we would be better off without: our ability to feel what others feel. That ability is more capacious than he suggests.
PositiveThe Washington PostBecoming Wise challenges all forms of dogma, in science, politics and philosophy as well as religion, and it affirms the holiness of the body and the glory of the inquiring mind. While our dominant media suggest that humans are incorrigibly selfish and greedy and cruel, Tippett and her conversation partners demonstrate that the longing to lead a good life, a moral life, remains powerful and pervasive in our day.