The Story of Philosophy
By Bryan Magee

Synopsis: This book gives a history of philosophy from the pre-Socratic era to modern times, informing the reader about the major thinkers and breaking down their ideas.

Strong Points: This book is striking and beautiful, filled with wonderful paintings and illustrations which attract the reader’s eye and entice him through the book. The book doesn’t just tell you about the philosophers and their ideas, it also gives you a sense of the impact that their ideas had on other philosophers and the world. For instance: before I was familiar with Kant, but now I appreciate the scope of his revolutionary influence on philosophy. The book also categorizes the philosophers in a way that seems sensible for the reader to understand, and helps the reader remain clear about the difference between the rationalists and the empiricists, for instance. The book also does a good job of informing the reader how certain philosophers’ ideas influenced later sociopolitical movements. For example, Hegel’s philosophy was foundational to both communism and fascism, which the book acknowledged. Likewise, Locke’s philosophy was acknowledged to be foundational to the principles of the American Revolution. It gives the reader a better sense of who to admire and who to loathe in the world of philosophy. Additionally, I was surprised by how unflattering the book was toward Marx and communism. Usually academics shower glowing praise upon those blights on humanity, but this book offers a fair assessment. There is also a handy glossary at the back of the book to help with all the philosophical jargon and concepts.This book is not just educational, but a pleasure to read. If you’re looking for a book to summarize the world of philosophy, look no further than this volume.

Weak Points: While it was good to see the book acknowledging the influence that Nietzsche had on fascism, the book made an obvious attempt to divorce Nietzsche from that political ideology because he was not anti-Semitic. But anti-Semitism is not a fundamental characteristic of fascism, but rather a superficial feature. It is clear that fascist leaders like Hitler and Mussolini appreciated Nietzsche for his philosophy for reasons other than his feelings about Jews. Also, the book was very generous to John Dewey giving him a glowing tribute, but I was hoping for a more balanced treatment of him and his role in the decline of education in America. Also, while this book is written for the layman and is very good for reaching that audience, it is by no means light reading. It may take some time to read through the book, despite the fact that it is a mere few hundred pages long.

Interesting: 4/5

Must Read: 3/5

Overall: 4/5

Pages: 240

Selected Quote: “What led in the end to the withering away of most of [the Marxist schools of thought] was the fact that wherever Marxist political movements came to power the result was, invariably and without exception, a bureaucratic dictatorship, a society not in the least like the one the theory had claimed was inevitable. Also without exception the economies of such societies failed, so instead of prospering they became impoverished. Marxist government, then, gave people both poverty and tyranny. In the long run this caused all but a handful of people to conclude that there must be something wrong with Marxist theory. But by this time the indirect influence of Marx’s ideas had spread throughout modern culture; so although Marxism now retains few wholehearted adherents it nevertheless remains a significant element in the worlds of what are generally thought to be ‘modern’ ideas, including not least literature and the arts.” (p. 170).


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