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Locke: A Very Short Introduction Paperback – July 31, 2003


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Editorial Reviews

Review

`Review from previous edition 'lucid and lively ... offers a rich insight into the triumphs and tragedy of the source of English ideology'' New Society

About the Author


John Dunn is a Fellow of King's College and Professor of Political Theory at the University of Cambridge. He is the author of The Political Thought of John Locke, Western Political Theory in the Face of the Future, Modern Revolutions, and The History of Political Theory, and the editor of Democracy: The Unfinished Journey.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 136 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Updated edition (July 31, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192803948
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192803948
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.5 x 4.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #759,234 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Peter Reeve VINE VOICE on January 5, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Locke was a hugely important thinker, and his work was very influential, in fact dominant, in the early stage of the Enlightenment. He was a particularly strong influence on Voltaire and Rousseau, and his arguments on individual liberty were later to guide the American Founding Fathers. It is difficult to overrate his importance as one of the founders of modern philosophy. It is even more difficult to gain any insight into this from reading Dunn's book.

The problem is that Dunn cannot write. He may well have a thorough understanding of Locke's work, but he is not letting on. This does not matter so much in the early part of the book, which deals with Locke's biography, but in the latter part, dealing with the philosophy, Locke's thought is rendered entirely opaque by Dunn's prose. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what is at fault. The structure and meaning of individual sentences are sound enough, but they are assembled into paragraphs that don't actually tell us much. For example, we learn that Locke's proof of the existence of God would not impress many modern readers, but we are not told what that proof is. The blurb on the cover tells us that Locke's message has been 'curiously misunderstood', but the book itself does not explain how or why.

After forcing my way through this book, I spent an hour or so on the Internet and learned far more about the subject. I recommend you do the same.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Carolyn Paul on August 22, 2008
Format: Paperback
Admittedly Dunn is not an easy read, but then who said intellectual history was always easy. Dunn is the author of one of the most important and subtle books on Locke, The Political Thought of John Locke. It is also very expensive and much more difficult a read than this introduction. It was part of the great reappraisal of Locke after the Laslett edition and a masterpiece of the Cambridge contextual school of intellectual history perhaps most associated with Quentin Skinner. These texts are difficult because they don't give simplistic usable history; rather, they try to understand what the authors were actually doing in the text. If this is not your cup of tea, then certainly forget this book. If you're interested in profound scholarship on a budget, this just might be the ticket. Fantastic book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By bronx book nerd VINE VOICE on March 11, 2013
Format: Paperback
There is something about the way this VSI book is written that makes it somewhat of a burden to get through. The subject matter can at times be challenging, but I think it has more to do with the writing style. Although the pages are short, there are a good number of page long paragraphs - never a good thing to encourage understanding and comprehension - unless the paragraphs are written exceedingly well. There is too much time spent on the context of Locke's thought; i.e. on the historical and reactionary aspects of his philosophy. For one of the greatest thinkers ever in Western civilization, I think more time could have been spent on the nuances and implications of his thought and less on some of the historical and contextual background. Not that it is not important, but for a volume of this length, the former merited more development. There is enough here to get the gist of Locke's thinking, but it can get lost in the other material.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Richard Roberts on March 3, 2013
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Earlier I had written a negative review of this book, apparently from a superficial reading. Having now had a chance to reread it, I have found it extremely helpful and have rewritten this review. Not only does Dunn present a comprehensive outline of Locke's complex and often difficult writings -- difficult as Dunn stresses -- because so many of them depend on a view of Christianity and morality that seems tenuous to us today; but Dunn as well presents Locke's views in their historical settings and in Locke's own reaction to the significant social, political and scientific developments in England and the Continent at that time.

As a student of American education I would recommend this book highly in order to grasp the character of Colonial, early national education, and the origins of public education in the 1830s and 1840s. Then, quite unlike today, education was centrally about character building. This had been true in Puritan Massachusetts, and throughout, whether in Franklin's "Poor Richard's Almanac," or in Jefferson's views on civic education, or in Horace Mann's vision of the necessity of state-controlled public schooling. Locke's thinking influenced all of this. To Horace Mann, Locke's "Thoughts on Education" was "by far better than any thing which had ever been written" on this topic, as Mann expert Bob Taylor underlines. Its central element was to teach students how to behave decently in order to preserve what was perceived as a threatened, in the 1840s, if not, as earlier in the 1780s, a fragile, republic.

Dunn's review of Locke brings one convincingly into the thinking of this era albeit a century or more later than Locke's own.
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