Socrates: A Man for Our Times

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Acclaimed historian and best-selling author Paul Johnson's books have been translated into dozens of languages. In Socrates: A Man for Our Times, Johnson draws from little-known resources to construct a fascinating account of one of history's greatest thinkers. Socrates transcended class limitations in Athens during the fifth century B.C. to develop ideas that still shape the way we think about the human body and soul, including the workings of the human mind.

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Socrates: A Man for Our Times

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Acclaimed historian and best-selling author Paul Johnson's books have been translated into dozens of languages. In Socrates: A Man for Our Times, Johnson draws from little-known resources to construct a fascinating account of one of history's greatest thinkers. Socrates transcended class limitations in Athens during the fifth century B.C. to develop ideas that still shape the way we think about the human body and soul, including the workings of the human mind.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

In this wonderfully readable brief, renowned historian Paul Johnson (Churchill; A History of the American People), makes a persuasive case that ancient Greek philosopher Socrates (c.469 BC-399) is a man of our times. A fascinating reconstruction of the life of a thinker who wrote nothing, yet influences us still.

Tim Flannigan

Publishers Weekly
In this brisk account of Socrates’ life, ideas, and era, written to be useful for contemporary readers, Johnson (Churchill) chronicles the rise and fall of Athens under Pericles and his successors, establishing both the context of Socrates’ influence and his motivations. “He saw that science, or the investigation of the external world, was for him, at least, unprofitable. But the investigation of the internal world of man was something he could do and wanted to do,” writes Johnson. Because Socrates himself did not record his thoughts, Johnson does well to summarize the writings of the philosopher’s admirers, acolytes, and rivals. The summary of the Socratic dialogue of Laches provides an admirably concise view of the philosopher’s methods and rhetorical tactics in exploring courage, moral purity, and mortality. Likewise, Johnson is able to deftly explain how Socrates’ dedication to Athenian ideals helped seal his fate as Athens spiraled into political and military decline and he was tried and convicted of “corrupting the young” of the city-state. In the end, when he drank hemlock under a death sentence, it was “his determination to uphold the dignity and sovereignty of Athenian law by submitting to it” that accounted for the end of a remarkable life whose influence remains central to the foundations of Western thought. (Oct.)
First Things
“[Johnson’s] genuine love of the demos makes him an all-too-rare figure in today’s chattering classes.”
The Wall Street Journal
“Spectacular...a delight to read.”
Washington Times
“Johnson writes more concisely than most scholars and brings to his prose a wealth of anecdote and asides unknown to most academics. His Socrates comes alive not through arguments over Platonic dating or Pythagorean influence, but by wit and allusion to Jane Austen novels, Samuel Johnson, John Maynard Keynes, firsthand remembrances of Winston Churchill's speeches and Richard Dawkins. A valuable overview.”
The New Republic
Women's Wear Daily
“With effortless erudition, Paul Johnson brings to life the world of the great philosopher.”
History Book Club
“Enlightening.... Johnson disentangles centuries of scarce and questionable sources to offer a riveting account of a homely but charismatic middle-class man whose ideas still shape the way we decide how to act, and how we fathom the notion of body and soul.”
The Washington Independent Review of Books
“Johnson is an accomplished historian and writer with a fluid, unpretentious style and an honest voice. These gifts, which have made his 12 previous books enjoyable and popular, are no less evident in Socrates.”
Zocalo Public Square
“This snappy biography goes down easy while offering a full portrait of Socrates—the man, the thinker, the celebrity—and the world he lived in.”
“Delivered in his typically robust, confident manner, this work reconfirms Johnson as one of the most popular of popular historians.”
Library Journal
The prolific Johnson (The Birth of the Modern) wants to rescue Socrates from the manipulations of Plato. He thinks Socrates was essentially a moral philosopher with little taste for unworldly metaphysics and a positive distaste for Plato's authoritarian politics. Johnson has his work cut out for him, for almost all we know about Socrates that doesn't come from Plato comes from a memoir by Xenophon and some satirical references in Aristophanes' Clouds. Johnson gives us a wonderfully readable account of life in Athens, its political quarrels, and its failures and makes sense of what we learn from Plato's earlier (more "Socratic") dialogs. He is good at explaining Socrates' disastrous defense in front of the Athenian jury. His Socrates is a "conservative radical" who sympathizes with popular religion, defends the individual, and understands human frailty, while his Plato is a "radical conservative" who espoused "absolutist dogma." VERDICT This is a charming book, much of it according with Gregory Vlastos's Socrates, the standard work. As good as a murder mystery, Johnson's narrative is exciting, but readers should remember that people who don't like Plato's metaphysics have been saying these things for 2500 years! [See Prepub Alert, 4/18/11.]—Leslie Armour, Dominican Univ. Coll., Ottawa
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781461841777
  • Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
  • Publication date: 11/7/2011
  • Format: CD

Meet the Author

Paul Johnson’s many books, including A History of Christianity, A History of the Jews, Modern Times, Churchill, and Napoleon: A Penguin Life, have been hailed as masterpieces of historical analysis. He is a regular columnist for Forbes and The Spectator, and his work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and many others publications. He lives in London.

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Table of Contents

I Living Man and Ventriloquist's Doll 3

II The Ugly Joker with the Gift for Happiness 17

III Socrates and the Climax of Athenian Optimism 37

IV Socrates the Philosophical Genius 71

V Socrates and Justice 103

VI The Democralization of Athens and the Death of Socrates 137

VII Socrates and Philosophy Personified 183

Further Reading 197

Index 199

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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