Socrates: A Man for Our Times

Socrates: A Man for Our Times

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by Paul Johnson
     
 

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A brilliant portrait of the Greek philosopher who personified philosophy.

Socrates was undeniably one of the greatest thinkers of all time, yet he wrote nothing. Throughout his life, and indeed until his very last moment alive, Socrates fully embodied his philosophy in thought and deed. It is through the story of his life that we can fully grasp his

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Overview

A brilliant portrait of the Greek philosopher who personified philosophy.

Socrates was undeniably one of the greatest thinkers of all time, yet he wrote nothing. Throughout his life, and indeed until his very last moment alive, Socrates fully embodied his philosophy in thought and deed. It is through the story of his life that we can fully grasp his powerful actions and ideas.

In his highly acclaimed style, historian Paul Johnson masterfully disentangles centuries of scarce sources to offer a riveting account of a homely but charismatic middle-class man living in Athens in the fifth century b.c., and how what this man thought still shapes the way we decide how to act, and how we fathom the notion of body and soul. Johnson provides a compelling picture of the city and people Socrates reciprocally delighted in, as well as many enlightening and intimate analyses of specific aspects of his personality. Enchantingly portraying "the sheer power of Socrates's mind, and its unique combination of steel, subtlety, and frivolity," Paul Johnson captures the vast and intriguing life of a man who did nothing less than supply the basic apparatus of the human mind.

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Editorial Reviews

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.)
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
From the Publisher
Praise for Socrates by Paul Johnson:

“An admirably concise view of a remarkable life whose influence remains central to the foundations of Western thought.”
Publishers Weekly

“[Johnson’s] genuine love of the demos makes him an all-too-rare figure in today’s chattering classes.”
First Things

“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.”
Washington Times

“Robust.”
The New Republic

“With effortless erudition, Paul Johnson brings to life the world of the great philosopher.”
Women's Wear Daily

“A succinct, useful exploration of life in ancient Athens and of the great philosopher’s essential beliefs.”
Kirkus Reviews

“A wonderfully readable account of life in Athens, its political quarrels, and its failures. As good as a murder mystery, Johnson’s narrative is exciting.”
Library Journal

“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.”
History Book Club

“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.”
The Washington Independent Review of Books

“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.”
Zócalo Public Square

“Spectacular...a delight to read.”
The Wall Street Journal

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
“Robust.”
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.”
Booklist
“Delivered in his typically robust, confident manner, this work reconfirms Johnson as one of the most popular of popular historians.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780670023035
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/13/2011
Pages:
224
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Praise for Socrates by Paul Johnson:

“An admirably concise view of a remarkable life whose influence remains central to the foundations of Western thought.”
Publishers Weekly

“[Johnson’s] genuine love of the demos makes him an all-too-rare figure in today’s chattering classes.”
First Things

“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.”
Washington Times

“Robust.”
The New Republic

“With effortless erudition, Paul Johnson brings to life the world of the great philosopher.”
Women's Wear Daily

“A succinct, useful exploration of life in ancient Athens and of the great philosopher’s essential beliefs.”
Kirkus Reviews

“A wonderfully readable account of life in Athens, its political quarrels, and its failures. As good as a murder mystery, Johnson’s narrative is exciting.”
Library Journal

“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.”
History Book Club

“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.”
The Washington Independent Review of Books

“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.”
Zócalo Public Square

“Spectacular...a delight to read.”
The Wall Street Journal

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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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