All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age

Hubert Dreyfus, Author, Sean Dorrance Kelly, Author
Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly, Free Press, $26 (280p) ISBN 978-1-4165-9615-8
Reviewed on: 11/29/2010
Release date: 01/01/2011
Eminently qualified philosophers Dreyfus (U.C. Berkeley) and Kelly (Harvard) attempt to trace the decline of the West from the heroic, inspired age of Homer to our secularized, nihilistic age without a sense of transcendence and exultation. Unlike the ancient Greeks, the authors claim, today we lack a sense of the meaningfulness of life, of being called by a transcendent force. They probe this loss through a nonchronological roll call of writers, thinkers, and religious figures central to Western culture: Homer, Jesus, St. Paul, Dante, Luther, Descartes, Melville, and, representing today's unheroic age, David Foster Wallace But this sincere book reads more like a series of set pieces. Ambitious it is, but by turns it drifts or jumps, giving a sense of randomness to its argument. Late in the book, a long section on Moby-Dick notes, "Ahab is a combination of Kant's theory of human beings as autonomous selves and Dante's religious hope for eternal bliss." Such grand statements are not backed by a fully coherent, or a gracefully structured and proportioned argument. (Jan.)
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