There is a pernicious, but widely held, belief that turning over a new leaf always involves turning our worlds upside down, that living a happy, well-adjusted life entails acts of monkish discipline or heroic strength. The genre of self-help lives and dies on this fanaticism…In our culture, virtuous moderation and prudence rarely sell but, taking her cues from Aristotle, Hall offers a set of reasons to explain why they should.
Aristotle's Way] clears a rare middle way for her reader to pursue happiness, what the ancient Greeks called eudaimonia, usually translated as well-being or prosperity. This prosperity has nothing to do with the modern obsession with material success but rather "finding a purpose in order to realize your potential and working on your behavior to become the best version of yourself." It sounds platitudinous enough, but it isn't, thanks to Hall's tight yet modest prose…Hall excels when she is at her most frank. For Aristotle, there is latitude when it comes to which endeavors merit our pursuit, but authenticity and self-knowledge are nonnegotiable.
The New York Times Book Review - John Kaag
Hall ( Introducing the Ancient Greeks), a professor of classics specializing in ancient Greek literature at King’s College, delivers an expansive, practical assessment of Aristotle intended to help readers navigate life. “Wherever you are in life,” Hall writes, “Aristotle’s ideas can make you happier.” Concerns such as living up to one’s potential, making important decisions, and assessing another person’s intentions as factors in moral responsibility are Hall’s main concerns. Aristotle was the first philosopher, in Hall’s estimation, to question the traditional notion of happiness as being synonymous with good health, loving family, and freedom from poverty or destitution. Instead, he wondered whether happiness is an internal state that cannot be measured empirically. With reference to modern neuroscience and physiology, Hall applies Aristotle’s core ideas to an array of modern situations. She handles weighty, difficult topics such as depression and everyday tasks such as preparing for an important meeting or job interview with the same measured, clear prose. General readers might struggle with Hall’s level of philosophical discourse; however, for academics or the philosophically inclined, her book is an engaging, thrilling approach to Aristotle’s pragmatic thought. It is a useful introduction to the ideas of one of the most important philosophers in world history. (Jan.)
Hall’s new book clears a rare middle way for her reader to pursue happiness . . . Aristotle’s Way carefully charts the arc of a virtuous life that springs from youthful talent, grows by way of responsible decisions and self-reflection, finds expression in mature relationships, and comes to rest in joyful retirement and a quietly reverent death. Easier said than done, but Aristotle, Hall explains, is there to help.” — New York Times Book Review
“Hall explains some of the philosopher’s most complex ideas in an approachable way, covering his notes on everything from the power of community to understanding your goals and why you should always consult a third party when making a decision . . . When it comes to happiness, perhaps it’s actually time to say out with the new and in with the old.” — TIME Magazine “In clear, patient language, Hall deftly weaves threads pulled from this daunting range of material into lessons that pertain directly to dilemmas of modern life . . . We are told that Hall “first encountered Aristotle when she was twenty, and he changed her life forever”; one of the book’s strengths is her tone of unmistakable sincerity.” — American Scholar “[A] lucid account… nontechnical but deeply grounded… Can happiness come from virtue? This lively book makes a good argument in the affirmative.” — Kirkus Review "Delivers an expansive, practical assessment of Aristotle... She handles weighty, difficult topics such as depression and everyday tasks such as preparing for an important meeting or job interview with the same measured, clear prose... her book is an engaging, thrilling approach to Aristotle’s pragmatic thought. It is a useful introduction to the ideas of one of the most important philosophers in world history." — Publishers Weekly “With vivid, page-turning prose, Aristotle’s Way invites you into the wise, practical, intentional, self-determined world of Aristotle’s mind. Nearly everything that psychological scientists have discovered about happiness was anticipated by Aristotle 23 centuries ago. You will be a slightly different person after finishing this beautiful book than you were before you started.” —Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness “A wonderfully lively and personal guide to Aristotle's philosophy of well-being. Read it and flourish!” —Sarah Bakewell, author of How to Live: A Life of Montaigne “Where there’s a will, there’s a way: Aristotle did it his way, Edith Hall – magnificently – does it hers, in this combined critical appreciation and celebration of the philosopher-scientist whom Karl Marx hailed as a ‘giant thinker’. Readers keen to live a Good Life – and prepare for a Good Death – should dive head first into this fount of ancient but still modern wisdom.” —Paul Cartledge, A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture Emeritus at the University of Cambridge
Call no one happy until after he is dead, goes the old Greek adage. Hall (Classics/King's Coll., London;
Introducing the Ancient Greeks: From Bronze Age Seafarers to Navigators of the Western Mind, 2013, etc.) takes a rosier view, drawing on Aristotelean philosophy to cheer us up in grim times.
By the author's account, Aristotle was the first philosopher to consider the question of happiness subjectively and, from that consideration, to offer "a sophisticated, humane program for becoming a happy person." The active quality of that clause should be kept in mind, for the process of happiness is ongoing and involves effort on the part of the person who wishes to be happy, requiring that one work on controlling the baser qualities and highlighting the better ones. In the
Nicomachean Ethics, Hall points out in her nontechnical but deeply grounded discussion, Aristotle writes that happiness "comes as the result of a goodness, along with a learning process, and effort." That a person can "think herself into happiness" works on a principle that is profoundly democratic: Anyone can do it, and after doing so, happiness becomes a matter of "self-conscious habit" and resolution. Hall charts the evolution of the idea of happiness as the exercise of virtue into the thinking of Thomas Jefferson, who was quite deliberate in the use of the term "happiness" as the goal of an inalienable right. What works against happiness? There are several agents, among them weakness of will and "sheer bad luck," though recognizing that this bad luck is (usually) beyond one's control is key to creating a better mood. Other aspects of happiness, as Hall's lucid account demonstrates, include generosity, ongoing education and appreciation of the arts, the study of history and literature (as a vehicle for understanding, or, as she puts it, "a gymnasium for developing our ethical muscles"), and the application of one's intellect to real-world problems such as landing a job.
Can happiness come from virtue? This lively book makes a good argument in the affirmative.
Perhaps because of its late medieval associations, Aristotle's work is often consigned to a prescientific age best forgotten. Hall (classics, King's Coll., London;
Introducing the Ancient Greeks) corrects this impression by focusing on Aristotle's exceptionally practical advice on living life well. The author's aim is to apply Aristotle's observations to the everyday business of living and particularly the pursuit of happiness. Hall starts by outlining just what Aristotle meant by happiness and why that state—so conceived—is worth the pursuit. She then moves through those areas of Aristotle's philosophy that support the search, such as his views on deliberation, the development of virtues, the cultivation of friendships, the maintenance of high-functioning societies, and understanding the limits of life. Her ability to link Aristotle's experience to her own personal observations make these applications clear. Professionals may dispute some of the arguments Hall uses to blunt some of Aristotle's anachronistic views, such as those of politics, slavery, and the status of women, but none of this ultimately detracts from a brilliant discussion. VERDICT More a practical guide than an introduction to philosophy, this work communicates what the ultimate purpose of philosophy is: living a full life. —James Wetherbee, Wingate Univ. Libs., NC