cover image A Brief History of Thought: 
A Philosophical Guide to Living

A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living

Luc Ferry. Harper Perennial, $14.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-207424-9

This scintillating pop-philosophy survey, a bestseller in France, brushes off the cobwebs and gives the subject compelling immediacy. Sorbonne professor Ferry (What Is a Good Life?) offers a thematic introduction to continental philosophy constructed around the biggest questions: how can we lead a meaningful life knowing that we will die but without the consolation of religion? (Ferry denies Christianity the status of a real philosophy, but considers its intellectual legacy so fundamental that the book is in many ways a search for an atheistic Christianity.) The author’s episodic treatment starts with the Stoic concept of man as a fragment of a harmonious cosmos, moves on to Descartes, Rousseau, and Kant and their establishment of philosophy based on reason and individual freedom, climaxes with Nietzsche’s demolition of modernist certitudes—a stance he finds both thrilling and unsatisfying—and ponders the abiding need to embrace a world we must ultimately lose. Ferry has a knack for translating difficult concepts into laymen’s terms; he even makes Heidegger’s opaque mysticism not just coherent but actually relevant to the global economy. Neophytes and scholars alike will find in this superb primer proof that philosophy belongs at the center of life. (Jan.)