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A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living Paperback – December 27, 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Original edition (December 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062074245
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062074249
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,498 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“For everyone from the man in the street to the man in the Acropolis--A fine introduction to philosophy and its fundamental relevance to living a meaningful life.” (THOMAS CATHCART and DANIEL KLEIN, New York Times bestselling authors of Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar)

“This is a vital book. Luc Ferry rehabilitates the ancient question, ‘What is the best way of life?’ as though our lives depended on it. ... The reader will find her own experience clarified, and her horizon enlarged.” (MATTHEW B. CRAWFORD, New York Times bestselling author of Shop Class as Soulcraft)

“A philosophical survival kit, in which the reader will find brilliant ideas to help them think better and live better.” (L'EXPRESS)

“This superb primer proves that philosophy belongs at the center of life.” (PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (starred review))

“No dry academic, Ferry restores to philosophy a compelling urgency.” (Booklist (starred review))

“One of the best books that has come across my desk over the last year. … Readers who don’t know much about philosophy will find this book accessible; and those who do will find its approach fresh and stimulating.” (First Things)

“An engaging, accessible work... strong evidence for an important conception of philosophy’s enduring relevance.” (Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy)

“Lucid and accessible … Ferry defends human dignity against post-modern doubt … a serious thinker” (ROBERT ROYAL, First Things)

From the Back Cover

Eight months on the bestseller lists in France!

From the timeless wisdom of the ancient Greeks to Christianity, the Enlightenment, existentialism, and postmodernism, Luc Ferry’s instant classic brilliantly and accessibly explains the enduring teachings of philosophy—including its profound relevance to modern daily life and its essential role in achieving happiness and living a meaningful life. This lively journey through the great thinkers will enlighten every reader, young and old.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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See all 34 customer reviews
I enjoyed the book very much and still read over parts of it.
Seemed like a lot of words to complete a book for author & publisher.
A very easy to read and understand philosophy book for the masses.
R. Golen

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Jon Morris on January 11, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Luc Ferry's "A Brief History of Thought" is a rarity in the field of contemporary philosophy: it is intelligent, personal and provocative, without being condescending or jargon-riddled. Indeed, in his introduction he tells us that he wanted to write a book that would appeal to adults and children alike. On this count he succeeds marvelously, as the book's international sales record will confirm.

Ferry seems to have two other goals as well: 1) to provide, as the title suggests, a brief history of ideas; and 2) to attempt an answer to the question: What must we do to be saved? The answer to that question becomes the thread which weaves chapters on Stoicism, Christianity, Postmodernism, etc. together.

The first half of the book is the strongest. His discussion of the Stoics is informative and lively, as is his compelling look at the influence and import of Christian theology. The second half of the book seems to lose focus a bit. The chapter on postmodernity is essentially a very long chapter on Nietzsche and, while Nietzsche always makes for interesting reading (and he is cited extensively), midway through the chapter one feels as though Ferry has really digressed. Similarly, the last chapter, "After Deconstruction," meanders (interestingly) about, but never really makes a firm point.

Ferry's own answer to the question--Which way lies salvation?--is anticlimactic, though not without merit and sincerity. I won't go into his response here because I think it would be a bit of a spoiler. Suffice it to say that he does proffer a response, though I personally found it disappointing. By contrast, Andre Comte-Sponville's
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Michael C. Stephens on January 15, 2012
Format: Paperback
I read this in a few days and enjoyed it. Ferry's goal is to traverse Western philosophy from ancient Greece to deconstruction in about 260 pages. Rather than doing a selection of "great thinkers," he goes for broad movements: Stoicism, Christianity, Enlightenment Humanism, Deconstruction, After Deconstruction. Within these, he looks at three categories of thought: Theory, Ethics and Wisdom or Salvation. The benefit of this approach is that there are clear comparables. The deficit is that the categories themselves are so general that he tends to way oversimplify the movements he is explicating. Thus Christianity is reduced to the promise of eternal life. Missing is any notion of the complexity and diversity of Christian thought from, say St Paul to St Bernard of Clairvaux to Meister Eckhart and Jacb Boehme. If we pretend that Christian theology is this cartoon version then we can pretend we have understood its place in Western thought after reading Ferry. Deconstruction is reduced to Nietzsche. Ferry mentions Foucault and Deleuze and ignores Derrida's existence. So that's deconstruction. In the 20th century, Heidegger is present, but not Sartre. Given the enormous gaps and oversimplifications, this book is still enjoyable. Ferry is a good writer and there are insights in every chapter. Most of all, this book made me want to re-explore Western philosophy in more depth.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Book Fanatic TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 7, 2012
Format: Paperback
This book started out exceptionally well, bogged down in the second half, and then ended well. It's not a great book for the thinking general reader but it is a good book. It attempts to trace the history of major philosophic thought from the ancient Greeks to the present. In general I thought this effort was exceptional, especially up through chapter 4 on the birth of modern philosophy. I got bogged down in the long discussion of Nietzsche and postmodernism, but I thought the author ended the book well with his ideas on how modern philosophy could be useful as a guide to modern living.

The book is organized into the following long chapters:

What is Philosophy?
The Greek Miracle
The Victory of Christianity over Greek Philosophy
Humanism, or the Birth of Modern Philosophy
Postmodernity: The Case of Nietzsche
After Deconstruction: Contemporary Philosophy

The early chapters of this book, especially the one on Christianity, were exceptional.

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By H.J. van der Klis on March 11, 2012
Format: Paperback
Based on an advanced reader's e-proof courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers, I read A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide on Living, Luc Ferry`s accessible dive into philosophers and their ideas. Professor Luc Ferry teaches philosophy at the Sorbonne Universityin Paris. From 2002 to 2004 he served as French Minister of National Education. Ferry earlier wrote books like French Philosophy of the Sixties: an essay on Antihumanism, The New Ecological Order and Man Made God: The Meaning of Life. In A Brief History of Thought, Ferry seeks to satisfy two needs: that of an adult who wants to know what philosophy is about, but does not necessarily intend to proceed any further; and that of a young person who hopes eventually to further their study, but does not as yet have the necessary bearings to be able to read these challenging authors for herself or himself.
Philosophy, according to Ferry, starts from a very simple proposition, one that contains the central question of all philosophy: that the human being, as distinct from God, is mortal or, to speak like the philosophers, is a `finite being', limited in space and time. Consequently he cannot prevent himself from thinking about this state of affairs, which is disturbing and absurd, almost unimaginable. And, naturally enough, he is inclined to turn first of all to those religions which promise `salvation'. Faced with the supreme threat to existence - death - how does religion work? essentially, through faith. By insisting that it is faith, and faith alone, which can direct the grace of God towards us. The philosophical pride: the effrontery evident already in the earliest philosophers, from Greek antiquity, several centuries before Christ.
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