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All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age

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  • Posted June 9, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    How to live according to the masters

    I am a sucker for self-help books written by noted philosophers or serious academics. My virtual library is filled with titles like "How to Live," "Where is Wisdom to be Found" and "Shop class as Soul Craft" so when I saw this title co-written by philosopher Hubert Dreyfus I went for it like paparazzi at a Brangelina sighting. I don't think that philosophers and literary critics necessarily have any more wisdom than, say, someone like Mitch Albom or Deepak Chopra, it's just that the scholars usually write better and refer to more interesting/obscure sources. So that where Albom might view a dying social psychology prof as a fount of wisdom, someone like James Miller (author of "Examined Lives") will quote Aristotle, Seneca and Nietzsche. That being said, I found this volume a bit disappointing. It is well-written and well-researched but it works better on the level of literary analysis than on the level of imparting wise thoughts. Not that there is not some wisdom to be found within its pages. I just thought it dwelt overmuch on Herman Melville and "Moby Dick." I don't have anything against "Moby Dick" but it felt out of place in this work, which in earlier chapters focuses on Homer, Dante, Augustine and Kant. I found those chapters to be more illuminating than the one on Melville (this is ironic because Melville is one of my favorite writers). The authors rail against contemporary nihilism, which is a worthy effort. However, they offer nothing much more than the notion that sports provide modern society with "sacred moments," and we need those. The authors refer to such experiences as recognizing the need for practices to propitiate the divine. Okay, so what they are saying is that sports are contemporary society's new religions. I do not consider myself to be religious but I beg to differ with them. Religious practices, whether they are mainstream or counter-cultural, are still the most authentic means to achieve communion with the divine. True, being swept up by the emotions of the crowd at a sporting event is transcendental in its own way but to what ultimate effect? You experience going beyond the self to experience oneness with the crowd but there is no true transcendence in the sense that you experience the divine. Overall, while I disagree strongly with the book's conclusion, I do find it's premise to be thought-provoking, and we need more of that in books these days.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted April 15, 2011

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    Posted July 10, 2011

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