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In Search of Civilization: Remaking a Tarnished Idea Hardcover – March 29, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press; First Edition edition (March 29, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555975801
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555975807
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,199,434 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“[Armstrong] is out to lead philosophy back to its most urgent, traditional and noble task: that of helping us to live wisely and well. His new book, lyrical, courageous and uplifting, is seeking to do nothing less than reform the ambitions of western societies.” —*ALAIN DE BOTTON, The Observer

About the Author

JOHN ARMSTRONG is Philosopher-in-Residence at the Melbourne Business School and senior adviser to the vice-chancellor of Melbourne University. He is the author of several internationally acclaimed books on art, aesthetics, and philosophy.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 28 people found the following review helpful By J. Chan on March 9, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
This is a review based on the same book in a non-Kindle edition:

This is a serious book written in a light-hearted rhetoric. In this book, Armstrong takes us on a journey to discover the vital elements that make up 'civilization'. Interwoven in this journey are glimpses of Armstrong's personal life and struggles, several snippets of wisdom and acute observations of everyday life. Because of these personal glimpses, Armstrong's book comes closer as a humanistic essay rather than as a brooding piece of philosophical writing on 'civilization'.

There are indeed jewels in this book. One memorable passage--which is also too long to quote in a review--undertakes an introspective study of the psyche of modern barbarism and decadence (pp. 141). The penetrative wits here are rather profound. Another passage critiques the idea of open-mindedness as a form of receptivity that does not question the quality or the destination of the received signal.

But Armstrong's book is also riddled with a few self-contradicting puzzles. One episode deals with his own disappointment--and perhaps also bitterness--with an institute of Renaissance studies outside of Florence. For Armstrong, he did not understand why scholars there were unwilling to question the teleology, or purpose, of what they are researching. Unless it is also possible to demonstrate some real-life applicability from these research, Armstrong seems to have concluded that these scholars are wasting their time in superficial pursuit within the opulent cloister of this Florentine villa.

His opinion however does not sit well with his major argument in the book--that civilization demands a spiritual attention to the small and often mundane things (or process) of life.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By technoguy on August 4, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
This is about the book not about Kindle:
In Search of Civilization by John Armstrong

The aim is to reflect on a term like'civilization'.People will know Kenneth Clark's `Civilization' as a benchmark. There is a need to reason the term `civilization' because as an ideal it has become tarnished,associated as it is with cultural imperialism, colonialism and geo-politics.Asked about Western Civilization,Ghandi said:"It would be a very good thing."Armstrong tells a story about going to an academic conference at Getty Institute, Somerset House.He found the academics contemptuous of `civilization' as a notion.As a person from the modern era he refreshingly rescues words like `wisdom', 'beauty',and 'refinement' -all out of fashion-to argue for us to make the best of ourselves.Civilization depends upon the widespread sharing of what is best.Quality in step with quantity.He also sees the need to rescue Renaissance studies from the scholars and show it's modern relevance.

He contradicts the notion that this is some elitist past-time,to criticise elites for losing the distinction between `populism' and `popularization' and calls for a civilizing mission which argues that civilization is a democratic ideal associated with freedom.That everybody,the whole world can have the best.A platform for the universal aspect.Although he's dealing with philosophical themes,he embodies them in himself,a personal mark carrying an argument with these shadowy interlocutors who are cynical,debunking and ironic.No civilization is only about Empire.Why we need those things associated with civilization,which are beauty,art,love of higher things,a sense of inner depth.Taking a leaf out of Clark's approach,he's searching for a philosophical definition rather than a historical one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Frederic Mulligan on March 3, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
armstrong's unique manner, erudite yet kind, provides welcome food for thought for contemplating what is truly important about living in our world and achieving the goal of becoming our best selves, both as individuals and as citizens of our communities and our world. references to thinkers from aristotle forward weave together convincing proposals and refresh our awareness of the practical value of philosophy. his subtle humor and pragmatic attitude are well suited to today's needs. he gives us reassurance and reasons for hope.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. Scott Shipman on June 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In Search of Civilization is a refreshing and erudite examination of civilization, how it developed in the past, negative present day connotations, and why it remains importance and relevant today. What follows is a detailed overview of Part One, and with any luck, the teaser will be enough to convince you to read this important book.

Part One Civilization as Belonging

Armstrong's quest to define civilization began as he was reading a bedtime story to his son, and he advances that "with the possible exception of God, civilization is the grandest, most ambitious idea that humanity has devised." From that introduction, Armstrong makes a compelling case for civilization. He notes that it is difficult to get one's mind around the concept since "civilization" touches everything. As a result, he offers that our ideas about "civilization tend to be rather messy and muddled."

Armstrong goes on to frame civilization as "a way of living," a level of political and economic development, "the sophisticated pursuit of pleasure," and finally, "a high level of intellectual and artistic excellence." Separately each of these, what I'll call working definitions, made sense. But Armstrong rightly attempts to define, frame, contextualize civilization, not from historical perspective, but rather the philosophical in a way that is relevant to our times.

The actual word "civilization" is, according to Armstrong, not "fashionable" in our globalized world, particularly among those one would expect to be the "defenders." He offers that civilization carries a "moral implication" whereby one society is somehow better than another, "fully human" or "superior." And nations often advance the idea that they are better, more civilized, etc.
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