American Philosophy: A Love Story

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Oct 11, 2016 - Philosophy - 272 pages
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The epic wisdom contained in a lost library helps the author turn his life around

John Kaag is a dispirited young philosopher at sea in his marriage and his career when he stumbles upon West Wind, a ruin of an estate in the hinterlands of New Hampshire that belonged to the eminent Harvard philosopher William Ernest Hocking. Hocking was one of the last true giants of American philosophy and a direct intellectual descendent of William James, the father of American philosophy and psychology, with whom Kaag feels a deep kinship. It is James’s question “Is life worth living?” that guides this remarkable book.

The books Kaag discovers in the Hocking library are crawling with insects and full of mold. But he resolves to restore them, as he immediately recognizes their importance. Not only does the library at West Wind contain handwritten notes from Whitman and inscriptions from Frost, but there are startlingly rare first editions of Hobbes, Descartes, and Kant. As Kaag begins to catalog and read through these priceless volumes, he embarks on a thrilling journey that leads him to the life-affirming tenets of American philosophy—self-reliance, pragmatism, and transcendence—and to a brilliant young Kantian who joins him in the restoration of the Hocking books.

Part intellectual history, part memoir, American Philosophy is ultimately about love, freedom, and the role that wisdom can play in turning one’s life around.

 

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User Review  - meandmybooks - LibraryThing

An odd but interesting mix of memoir and history of a branch of American philosophy, American pragmatism, with an emphasis on how the personal lives of various philosophers affected their work, and ... Read full review

Contents

Maybe
3
Finding West Wind
21
PestilenceStricken Multitudes
39
Walden and Frozen Lakes
64
PURGATORY
79
Divine Madness
101
On the Mountain
120
Evolutionary Love
142
On the Steps
175
Knew a Phoenix
200
East Wind
209
The Cult of the Dead
231
Index
247
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About the author (2016)

John Kaag is a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. He is the author of Idealism, Pragmatism, and Feminism and Thinking Through the Imagination. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and many other publications. He lives outside Boston with his wife and daughter.

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