On Consolation: Finding Solace in Dark Times

Michael Ignatieff. Metropolitan, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-8050-5521-4
Great minds find meaning in great sorrow in this searching meditation from historian Ignatieff (Fire and Ashes). Old texts, Ignatieff writes, are “still there to help us in our hour of need, to perform their ancient task once again,” and he surveys a variety of thinkers’ responses to death, bereavement, sickness, political disappointment, and civilizational collapse. These include Job’s questioning of a seemingly callous God, Paul’s promise that suffering leads to eternal life with Christ, and the stoic acceptance of misfortune by Roman statesmen Cicero and Marcus Aurelius. He also covers the humanist tradition of essayist Michel de Montaigne, philosopher David Hume, and sociologist Max Weber, who eased mortality’s sting with a focus on life’s daily pleasures, self-actualization, and devotion to one’s calling; Holocaust survivor Primo Levi’s project of bearing witness to the horror of Auschwitz; and hospice movement founder Cicely Saunders’s vision of dying as a valedictory summation of life. Ignatieff’s explorations of mainly post-religious discourses of consolation are erudite and elegant, though more impactful are his vivid biographical sketches of his subjects holding themselves together through failures, terminal illness, or looming execution, sometimes with the help of others’ kindness. These stories of perseverance inspire and, in their way, console. (Nov.)
Reviewed on : 09/13/2021
Release date: 08/31/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
Book - 978-1-250-81008-3
Hardcover - 304 pages - 978-0-7352-8199-8
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