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Breakfast with Socrates: An Extraordinary (Philosophical) Journey Through Your Ordinary Day Hardcover – March 9, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Modeled on the pop philosopher Alain de Botton's trademark blend of everyday observation and intellectual sophistication, this lively jaunt through the course of a day treats readers to such disquisitions as Thomas Hobbes on rush-hour traffic, Jacques Lacan on shopping, and Friedrich Nietzsche on work. Journalist Rowland Smith does a fair job of concisely explaining big ideas, and he offers a surprisingly colorful cast of thinkers from Carl Schmitt to Michel Foucault. He's at his best teasing out the little idiosyncrasies of modern experience, where simply washing your face in the morning betrays a remarkable optimism for the day ahead and fighting with your partner once in a while might actually be a good idea. While occasionally skirting into shallow discussions of some philosophers, the author maintains the central conceit of describing a typical day with admirable resourcefulness. This charming book wears its erudition with ease and suggests that despite what Socrates says, it is in fact the unexamined day that is not worth living. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

Oxford don turned management consultant Smith reminds us that philosophy is as much the study of the Big Questions of truth, reason, existence, knowledge, and values as it is the effort to apply the fruits of such studies to the effort to find truth and meaning in our daily lives. In a series of essays premised upon the variously mundane activities of modern daily life—commuting, working, watching TV, bathing—Smith ponders the philosophical import of quotidian activities, plucking relevant insights from the history of ideas. For example: during one’s gym workout, Smith suggests, we might consider whether our efforts to remake our bodies represent a challenge to Heidegger’s notion of an unyielding state of being; at mealtime, we might consider Pierre Bourdieu’s perspective on matters of taste. Although Smith’s philosophical observations are sometimes overshadowed by his clever, showy prose, the author is genuinely good at making connections between important ideas and lived experience, and successful in showing that philosophy can be a vehicle for making the trivialities of life more meaningful (and hence more bearable) than they otherwise might be. A follow-up, Driving with Plato, will be released in the UK in late 2010. --Brendan Driscoll

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1 edition (March 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439148678
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439148679
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.9 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,181,008 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Ripple on November 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In 'Breakfast with Socrates', subtitled A Philosophy of Everyday Life, former Oxford Fellow Robert Roland Smith takes various elements of a `typical' day and provides insight into what an eclectic collection of thinkers might have to offer to make these mundane routines more interesting. After all, as Socrates declared `the unexamined life is not worth living'.

My first thought was that Roland Smith leads an enviously full life since his typical day includes not only waking up, getting ready, travelling to work, being at work, taking a bath, cooking and eating, watching TV, reading a book and falling asleep, but he also manages to find time to go to the doctor, have lunch with his parents, bunk off, go shopping, head to the gym, book a holiday, go to a party, have an argument with his partner, have sex and book a holiday - which he no doubt needs after all that. It's a wonder he finds time to think at all with all that going on. It's a clever structure for the book though.

Both titles to the book are potentially a bit misleading. Socrates makes very limited appearances (the author suggests that the book may as well have been titled `Having a Bagel with Hegel' which appealed more to the inner Dr Seuss in me) and Roland Smith does not limit himself to traditional philosophers for inspiration. Here you will also find an eclectic mix of psychoanalysts, sociologists, painters, psychologists, political writers, anthropologists and writers as well as philosophers to offer their thoughts.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By gacleader1 on January 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Breakfast with Socrates certainly provides an interesting way of looking at life; it helps us challenge everything we do from the time we wake up, until the end of our day.

This is not a publication to read cover to cover, as most books are; rather it is one which should be read one chapter at a time, and in no particular order. If you are getting ready to have a meal with your parents, there is a chapter for that; preparing to take a bath, a chapter for that too; Breakfast with Socrates makes us think about everything.

I would like to read this book again, but next time, I want to read it with someone, and read it slowly. I want to read a paragraph, lounging under the sun, and share my thoughts on what I read with someone else, who is just as intrigued and just as challenged to think about what has been written as I have. I would like to take this book on vacation, sit under the stars, and just think about life, and what it really means.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Salpi Vartivarian on June 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was really happy to come across this book. It belongs to that nascent genre of "popular philosophy" (which counts Alain de Botton among its ranks, as was mentioned in another review). I am just getting into this genre and finding that it fills a gaping hole in my life.

I started my career in philosophy at UC Berkeley, where I undertook the most challenging courses (focusing on phenomenology), devoted every waking hour to the pursuit of wisdom, and left sorely disappointed in 2008 with a Bachelor's and a crushed spirit (and a 3.8 GPA). Since then I have more or less abandoned philosophy and turned to Linguistics. My philosophy education succeeded in communicating to me the futility and irrelevance (and I'm being polite) of professional philosophy (so much so that elsewhere I claim, grudgingly, and with some tongue in cheek, that my central interest in Linguistics lies in "Relevance Theory").

R. R. Smith is witty, erudite, but above all conversational. He heartily makes allusions to the Great Thinkers (not just to the philosophers of the Oxford canon, and indeed, not just to philosophers). He borrows insights from Nietzsche, Bourdieu, Montaigne, and Lacan, to give a very select sampling. The (slightly self-congratulatory, but forgivable) index gives some indication of this. His vocabulary is equally impressive. I disagree with one of the earlier reviews (by the so-called "English major") that this was a hard read. On the contrary, it was quite an easy read, with a very natural tone. Smith has a solid grasp on his subject matter and one can sense his authority shining through. It's coherent, well-conceived, and well-executed. I couldn't put it down, and finished it in record time.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Steven Ray Davidson on July 14, 2012
Format: Paperback
After reading the first chapter in store, I thought this book would have a good overview of different philosophers ideas - and it does. The book involves descartes, wittgenstein, marx, weber etc. The book is a very small overview of what you might think about in one day, most already involved and interested in philosophy would have already came across these ideas and philosophers. But for an absolute beginner, the book would be interesting and open the mind. I might even say that this book is a good one for high schoolers wanting to start looking at our day to day activities in a different way. I found chapters 1 and 7 most interesting.
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