Philosophical Classics: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Great Philosophical Books by James M. Russel

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Ambrose Bierce once laconically remarked “All are lunatics. But he who can analyse his delusions is called a philosopher. James M.Rusell in his work takes on the unenviable task of penetrating the veil of delusion surrounding his reader. In his hope of making his reader a more credible and evolved lunatic, the author embarks on a whirlwind analysis of 67 (yes you read that right!) major philosophical classics bearing the imprimatur of an equal number of handpicked philosophers. The selection criteria is based on factors such as popularity, relevance, test of time etc.

From Metaphysics to Meta narratives, from existentialism to situationism (among other ‘isms’), ‘A Brief Guide…’ is a heady cocktail of the opaque and the obdurate; the fundamental and the fanatical. James M.Russell’s gallery of greats both delight as well as disappoint. While the narration of the distillation of thought processes, writing styles ranging from the condescending (Bertrand Russell and Wilhelm Freiderich Nietzsche) to the caring (Peter Singer and Ted Honderich) provides an indispensable guide to the inner motives of the authors, the dense and oblique descriptions of the works of Jacques Derrida, the incomplete theorems of Kurt Godel and the concept of Wilhelm Freiderich Hegel’s “The Other” bring the reader to the very brink of catatonic insanity!

A refreshing feature of this collection is the inclusion under the broad sweep of philosophy ‘non-mainstream’ books such as ‘The Prince’ by Antoine Saint-de Exupery and ‘Moominpappa At Sea’ by Tove Jansson. Whoever thought that childrens’ books would be at a far remove from the rigours of philosophy obviously thought wrong!

A glaring omission from the phalanx of philosophers is the brilliant Karl Popper. Popper’s magnum opus, “The Open Society” not only represents a society society as standing on a historical continuum reaching from the organic, tribal or closed society, but also has had the effect of spawning a new revolutionary and revealing school of philosophical thought. Another notable exclusion is the French philosopher Henri Bergson.

The most captivating feature of the book is a ‘Speed Read’ box at the end of each Chapter providing an excerpt/extract from the work discussed in the concerned chapter.

A Brief Guide to Philosophical Classics – still leaves the reader a delusional lunatic struggling to evolve!

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