Jonathan Rée retells the history of philosophy, covering such figures as Descartes, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Sartre. But he also includes authors not usually associated with philosophy, such as William Hazlitt, George Eliot, Darwin, and W. H. Auden. Above all, he uncovers dozens of unremembered figures—puritans, revolutionaries, pantheists, feminists, nihilists, socialists, and scientists—who were passionate and active readers of philosophy, and often authors themselves. Breaking away from high-altitude narratives, he shows how philosophy finds its way into ordinary lives, enriching and transforming them in unexpected ways.
Jonathan Rée spans a vast ocean of ideas. He introduces us to their shapers and breakers, and gently captains us in 50-year stretches across the seas of English-language thought with astonishing skill as both map-maker and way-finder ... Rée lets a hundred flowers bloom. He teaches us differences. Witcraft declines to trace a single royal road through redundant errors towards an irrefutable truth. It doesn’t stick to the same small handful of big ideas, eternally recurring in one mind after another ... Witcraft may, or may not, please academic philosophers. Others should enjoy its riches slowly, and savour every generous, erudite and undogmatic page.
Witcraft 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...
I hope to persuade you,' Mr. Rée writes, 'that philosophy in English contains far more variety, invention, originality and oddity than it is usually credited with ... Mr. Rée fulfills these claims through his wide learning and impressive ability to make the most abstract, not to say abstruse, philosophy intelligible to those of us not in the business. He smoothly interweaves the lives and the thoughts of the philosophers he writes about into a continuous and lively story. Added to this is his consideration, often brief, sometimes lengthy, of writers and intellectuals ... [Rée's] lively chronicle of philosophy in English is a splendid accomplishment sufficient unto itself. Highly intelligent, always even-handed, quietly but consistently witty, Witcraft is an excellent guide along the twisted and tricky path of human thought.