MixedThe London Review of Books (UK)Clare Carlisle’s biography of Kierkegaard is impressively well researched, and brings its subject vividly alive. Almost everything you need to know about him as a man can be found here, along with a little more information than is strictly necessary. Since not much tends to happen to philosophers...a biographer needs to compensate for this lack of dramatic action with an excess of domestic detail. It is not vital to an understanding of Kierkegaard’s inner life that he once sent Regine Olsen, to whom he was engaged at the time, a bottle of lily of the valley cologne, but one has to fill one’s pages ... Even so, Carlisle provides us with some lucid, perceptive accounts of Kierkegaard’s writings, which make stringent intellectual demands on the reader ... There is a good deal of poetic licence ... Elitist, puritanical and deeply misogynistic, [Kierkegaard] defended censorship and monarchy, railed against the ‘mob’ and was a strict adherent of social hierarchy. His Lutheran combination of individualism and social conservatism led him to an impassioned support for family and fatherland. He may have been a Christian, but he was not a nice person at all. Carlisle, however, is far too nice to drive the point home.
A. C. Grayling
PanThe Guardian (UK)The History of Philosophy (note the authoritative \'The\') sees no dark side to the cult of Reason. And if reason can do little wrong, religion can do nothing right ... the briskly rationalist Grayling refuses the title of philosophy to any view of the world that involves religious faith. One wonders how Plato and Bishop Berkeley managed to slip into these pages ... Grayling has a high regard for philosophy but does not seem to find it much fun ... depth is sacrificed to breadth ... In a mixture of arrogance and provincialism, Grayling seems to think that it is analytic philosophers such as he who get to decide who is a philosopher and who is not. A section of his book on modern European thinkers commits some elementary blunders, but this doesn’t matter much because these writers aren’t really philosophers anyway. When it comes to affairs of the mind, Grayling is determined to have as little truck as possible with fancypants foreigners, unless like Kant and Hegel they have been dead for a decent amount of time ... In Grayling’s guide, continental thinkers such as Walter Benjamin, Jacques Lacan and Simone Weil don’t merit enough attention to have their ideas mangled. Instead, they receive honorary mentions ... Indian philosophy is summarised in around 15 pages, which is about the same amount of space devoted to John Locke, while African thought gets just short of seven pages, about half of what Grayling gives to Kant. All this lame gesture succeeds in doing is underlining how parochial the book actually is ... Grayling’s prose is lucid but lifeless. The lucidity, however, has its limits.
PositiveThe GuardianWitcraft complicates the familiar narrative of philosophy. Rather than whisking us from one prominent philosophical peak to another, it spends a lot of time wandering the fertile valleys between them ... The story Rée has to tell, from Shakespeare to the 20th century, is broadly chronological...Yet the book is far from a unified narrative. Borrowing from modernist literary techniques, Rée slices into British intellectual history at 50-year intervals from 1601 to 1951, while cheerfully admitting that these dates are pretty arbitrary. What we have, then, is less a lineage of Great Men than a series of cross-sections ... The history of philosophy usually tells us how one set of ideas gave birth to another. What it tends to overlook are the political forces and social upheavals that shaped them. Witcraft, by contrast, sees philosophy itself as a historical practice ... Rée’s book is stylish and entertaining...
Norberto Fuentes, Trans. by Anna Kushner
MixedThe Guardian[Fuentes\'] revenge is to steal his former comrade\'s psychological clothes, hijack his life-history and tell his story more truthfully than Castro presumably would himself ... the autobiographical technique is double-edged. Fuentes\'s fiction brings Castro magnificently alive, thus making what he presents as his casual brutality all the more repellent. Yet in doing so it can\'t help humanising the very figure it is out to discredit ... There is something curiously obsessive about Fuentes\'s fascination with Fidel. Stealing someone else\'s selfhood is a wickedly effective way of getting even with them; yet wanting to become someone else suggests admiration as much as antagonism. For all his imaginative ventriloquism, it is hard to feel that Fuentes is aware of these ambiguities, let alone that he has resolved them.
PositiveThe GuardianSeven Types of Atheism is an impressively erudite work, ranging from the Gnostics to Joseph Conrad, St Augustine to Bertrand Russell. In the end, it settles for a brand of atheism that finds enough mystery in the material world itself without needing to supplement it with a higher one. Yet this, too, is just as much a throwback to the Victorian age as Dawkins’s evangelical campaign against religious evangelism. Authors such as George Eliot, reeling from the death of God, took solace in the unfathomable intricacies of the universe. Gray condemns secular humanism as the continuation of religion by other means, but his own faith in some vague, inexplicable enigma beyond the material is open to exactly the same charge.
PositiveThe Irish TimesSeven Types of Atheism is an impressively erudite work, ranging from the Gnostics to Joseph Conrad, St Augustine to Bertrand Russell. In the end, it settles for a brand of atheism that finds enough mystery in the material world itself without needing to supplement it with a higher one. Yet this, too, is just as much a throwback to the Victorian age as Dawkins’s evangelical campaign against religious evangelism. Authors such as George Eliot, reeling from the death of God, took solace in the unfathomable intricacies of the universe. Gray condemns secular humanism as the continuation of religion by other means, but his own faith in some vague, inexplicable enigma beyond the material is open to exactly the same charge.
PositiveThe Guardian...[a] lively, compulsively readable biography ... This is revisionism with a vengeance. Hardly a word of rebuke for this admirer of the bloodstained Cesare Borgia passes Benner’s lips ... Despite her remarkably charitable treatment of 'Niccolo,' Benner does not overdo the fake dialogue and dreamed-up scenarios. There are a few clunky moments in this respect...On the whole, though, the book avoids too much fictional embroidery, not least because 16th-century Florentine history is dramatic enough in its own right. There are some fascinating accounts of conspiracies and intrigues, political trouble-making and diplomatic trouble-shooting, fanatical friars and military disasters ... Demonising Machiavelli does no justice to the complexity of his life and work, though idealising him isn’t the answer either. Even so, Be Like the Fox is a valuable demolition-and-salvage job, fluently written and unshowily erudite.
PanThe GuardianHe mixes the loquaciousness of the barfly with the fluency of the literary artist, and could not pen a dull sentence if he tried. Despite this virtuosity, the essays collected here are notably slighter than his usual output. A number of the political articles are too much Washington parish pump stuff to be really worth reprinting.