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

Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly, Free Press, $26 (280p) ISBN 978-1-4165-9615-8
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.)
Reviewed on: 11/29/2010
Release date: 01/01/2011
Paperback - 254 pages - 978-1-4165-9616-5
Compact Disc - 978-1-61174-452-1
Ebook - 288 pages - 978-1-4391-0170-4
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