Geo.Santayana: A Biog

John McCormick, Author
John McCormick, Author Alfred A. Knopf $30 (612p) ISBN 978-0-394-51037-8
Reviewed on: 02/01/1987
Release date: 02/01/1987
Calling the current neglect of Santayana a scandal, McCormick wants us to see him not only as a great philosopher but as an important novelist, poet, literary critic and master of the epigram. Born in Madrid in 1863, Santayana became a leading figure at Harvard where he tired of academic politics; his disdain for Americans' worship of ""material achievement, good humor and football'' drove him back to Europe. This Jamesian personality lived his own philosophy of serene detachment. He saw religion, art and science as a harmonious whole and tried to synthesize Plato and Lao-tsu. His idealistic philosophy upheld concepts like soul and psyche in the age of Einstein without invoking mysticism. The Last Puritan, his only novel, charts the inevitable decline and extinction of its hero with tragic force. What are we to make of Santayana's sympathies with Italian Fascism, his anti-Semitism, total opposition to liberalism and ultra-traditionalism in art, which led him to brand Shakespeare and Browning as barbarians? McCormick, author of four scholarly books, spends much of this intimate 608-page biography acting as an apologist, yet he succeeds in engaging the reader in an active dialogue with Santayana's thought. Photos not seen by PW. (February 16)
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