"Occasionally brave philosophers do leap out of their professional lanes and illuminate things for the wider public. Hubert Dreyfus of Berkeley and Sean Dorrance Kelly of Harvard have just done this with their new book, “All Things Shining.” They take a smart, sweeping run through the history of Western philosophy. But their book is important for the way it illuminates life today and for the controversial advice it offers on how to live. A rejection of the excessive individualism of the past several decades, the emphasis on maximum spiritual freedom. In this, it’s a harbinger of future philosophies to come."David Brooks, The New York Times
"Fascinating. Even if you don’t agree that we are caught in an age of nihilistic indecision, if you attune yourself to the authors’ energetic intelligence and deep engagement with key texts in the West, you will have much to be grateful for." Michael Roth, The New York Times
"An inspirational book but a highly intelligent and impassioned one. The authors set out to analyze our contemporary nihilism the better to remedy it. "All Things Shining" provides a concise history of Western thought, beginning with Homer and concluding with Descartes and Kant. But there are extended discussions as well of such contemporary authors as the late David Foster Wallace and, even more startling, of "chick lit" novelist Elizabeth Gilbert.The authors' general theme, and lament, is that we are no longer "open to the world." We fall prey either to "manufactured confidence" that sweeps aside all obstacles or to a kind of addictive passivity, typified by "blogs and social networking sites." Both are equally unperceptive. What makes their case finally compelling is their insistence on the importance of openness, on attentiveness to the given moment, on what they call "a fully embodied, this-worldly kind of sacred." If, as they claim, "the story of how we lost touch with these sacred practices is the hidden history of the West," they have offered some small but shining hints on how we might hope to recover them." Eric Ormsby, The Wall Street Journal
"Fascinating insights about the search for meaning in our time, and the threat of nihilism. All Things Shining raises fundamental questions about the religious and ethical developments of humanity since the Axial Age. This book tackles big issues, ones that really matter in our lives today."
Charles Taylor, author of A Secular Age
“In All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age, two distinguished philosophers, Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly, have written an extraordinary, ambitious, and provocative tour de force that frames one of the central questions of our age: how we have passed “from the intense and meaningful lives of Homer’s world to the indecision and sadness” that too often characterizes modern times. This is compelling reading because in examining the great literary works produced in the history of the West, the authors find new ways of configuring issues of choice, autonomy, fanaticism, solace, and most importantly, the ties that bind us to the past. The book is both brief and yet remarkably comprehensive as it delves into the transcendent values of the classic works that have helped to advance modern thought and inform the development of the Western world. I found myself particularly fascinated by Chapter 5, ‘The Attractions and Dangers of Autonomy.’ As with the rest of the book, reading this chapter, I could hardly put it down”
—Vartan Gregorian, President, Carnegie Corporation of New York
"Dreyfus and Kelly would initiate us into a this-worldly piety of wonder and gratitude; of attunement to moments when something transcendentally excellent shines forth in the mundane. The new age that Dreyfus and Kelly hope for is a polytheistic and basically aristocratic corrective to the leveling of modern culture, which they attribute to the mindsets of monotheism and technology. You will be arrested by their reading of the tradition, and of our current situation. If you find yourself high-fiving strangers when Tom Brady connects with Randy Moss in the end zone from downtown, or would like to, this book is for you. "
-Matthew Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft
“There is a world out there that is as concealed as it is crucial to the good life. Dreyfus and Kelly have lifted the veil with pedagogical skill and striking insights. It's a world of things shining that can lend grace and depth to our lives. The book is itself a shining thing.”
—Albert Borgmann, author of Real American Ethics
“Stunning! This is one of the most surprising, demanding, and beautiful books I have ever read. My compliments gentleman, and I hope thousands of others share my admiration—and awe.”
Charles Van Doren, author of A History of Knowledge
Dreyfus and Kelly (philosophy, Univ. of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Univ., respectively) explore the history of Western literature and philosophy with the aim of exposing how the ancients were able to mine meaning from such pieces while contemporary Westerners are so overwhelmed by choices that they have become blind to the elevating qualities that reflection can provide. Writing in a style that is straightforward and readily accessible to general readers, the authors consistently provide their audience with both reason and model for reengaging wonder at intellectual wonder itself. As they unwind Western intellectual history from Homer, Aristotle, and Augustine to Kant, John Foster Wallace, and beyond, they point to the mechanism by which one generation or era posits meaning on its literary tradition and how that "new idea" suppresses earlier visions of enlightenment. Thus, by the new emerging, the older ideas and ideals necessarily become different from what they were in their own time of mergence. VERDICT Successful in every way: as a clear-eyed history and as a call to move from bloodless analysis to a return to ancient wonder; recommended.—Francisca Goldsmith, Infopeople Project, Berkeley, CA
Two distinguished professors seek mankind's salvation in the ancient Greek gods.
At first glance, this book would seem to be a rebuttal of the spate of arguments for atheism, and a ringing defense of polytheism, or an academic version of a self-help book, showing how to live a richer, more meaningful life by returning to precepts that preceded individual autonomy. In fact, Dreyfus (Philosophy/Univ. of California, Berkeley; On the Internet, 2001, etc.) and Kelly (Philosophy/Harvard Univ.) audaciously promise "nothing less than a philosophical and literary history of the West" in little more than 200 pages, aimed at the "nonspecialist audience" and "general reader." The authors successfully leapfrog through literary-philosophical history to suggest how we can reclaim redemptive qualities sacrificed to modernity. "When we develop in ourselves the ability for this kind of wonder and gratitude then we become a standing invitation to the gods," they write, asserting that one need not believe in those gods to recognize that one's feelings and fate are often shaped by forces outside the self and that there are limits to individual freedom and responsibility. In response to a metaphysical debate framed by Pulp Fiction, the authors write that "[t]he question that really matters...is not whether God was the causal agent but whether gratitude was an appropriate response." In other examples, Dreyfus and Kelly explore meaning (or the nihilism of meaninglessness) in the suicide of David Foster Wallace, the throwing problems of former baseball star Chuck Knoblauch and the rejection by Martin Luther of Aristotle. The book's wide scope is occasionally exasperating in its concision—"But before we move on to Descartes and Kant we will have to make a detour by way of St. Thomas Aquinas and Dante, who draw on Aristotle rather than Plato to make Christianity intelligible in Greek terms"—but the end result, detours and all, suggests a road map to the divine.
A provocative, illuminating and inspirational exhortation to "Ask not why the gods have abandoned you, but why you have abandoned the gods."