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Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away Hardcover – March 4, 2014


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Plato lives! Brilliantly re-creating Plato’s philosophic dialogues, Goldstein transports the ancient Greek philosopher to the twenty-first-century headquarters of Google, where his probing voice engages three modern hosts in exploring what knowledge means in an age of computerized crowd sourcing. Further dialogues put Plato into conversation with an advice columnist fielding questions about love and sex, with a child psychologist arguing with an obsessive mother, with a television broadcaster trying to score political points, and with a neuroscientist certain he can resolve all intellectual questions with brain scans. Though Goldstein’s gifts as a novelist animate these dialogues, her scholarly erudition gives them substance, evident in the many citations from Plato’s writings seamlessly embedded in the conversational give-and-take. Goldstein’s scholarship also informs the expository essay that prefaces each dialogue. Readers soon realize that the philosophical project that Plato launched 2,500 years ago has evolved as modern thinkers such as Kant, Leibnitz, and Spinoza have redefined its focus and methods. Readers will also confront the doubts of twenty-first-century skeptics—particularly scientists—who dismiss philosophizing as an anachronistic word game. But Goldstein prepares readers to grapple with changes in philosophic thinking and—more important—to recognize the abiding value of an enterprise too important to leave to academic specialists. --Bryce Christensen

Review

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A witty, inventive, genre-bending work...Goldstein’s philosophical background serves her impressively in this reconsideration of Plato’s work, and her talent as a fiction writer animates her lively cast of characters....[Her] bright, ingenious philosophical romp makes Plato not only relevant to our times, but palpably alive.”

Bryce Christensen, Booklist (starred review)
“Plato lives! Brilliantly re-creating Plato’s philosophic dialogues, Goldstein transports the ancient Greek philosopher to the twenty-first-century headquarters of Google, where his probing voice engages three modern hosts in exploring what knowledge means in an age of computerized crowd sourcing....Though Goldstein’s gifts as a novelist animate these dialogues, her scholarly erudition gives them substance, evident in the many citations from Plato’s writings seamlessly embedded in the conversational give-and-take. Goldstein’s scholarship also informs the expository essay that prefaces each dialogue.”

Hilary Putnam, John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities Emeritus, Harvard University 
“Plato at the Googleplex
is an important and amazing book. It is important for two reasons: because philosophy is important, and Rebecca Goldstein does a wonderful job of explaining why, and because Plato’s genius remains inspiring, and she also does a wonderful job of explaining why, without losing sight of the fact that Plato lived and thought in a very different time, or losing sight of the fact that he was the beginning, not the end, of philosophy. It is amazing because the book takes great risks—including the risk of including 21st century dialogues about Plato’s philosophy, and thereby risking comparison with the greatest writer of philosophical dialogues that ever lived—and succeeds, in part because she keeps the dialogues as light hearted in tone as they are serious in intent. As she did in Betraying Spinoza, Goldstein beautifully combines the skills of a distinguished novelist with breathtaking philosophical scholarship. I repeat, this book is important and amazing.”

Harry Frankfurt, author of On Bullshit
Plato at the Googleplex is a wonderful book—enjoyably readable, full of stimulating insights and refreshing observations, unintimidatingly erudite, and salted with a gentle wit.  It will reward both readers who are professional philosophers as well as amateurs who are interested in acquiring a deeper understanding of what serious philosophy is all about and why it continues to flourish.”

A.C. Grayling, author of The God Argument
“This could be one of the best ever demonstrations of the value and utility of philosophy. Richly insightful, beautifully written, it is at once introduction, exploration and application, revealing the fascination and significance of philosophical ideas and their relevance to life. Like the Plato who figures largely here, Goldstein has both literary and philosophical gifts of the highest order: the combination is superb.”

Colin McGinn, Wall Street Journal
“I have not done justice to the richness and detail of this invigorating book. The combination of historical scholarship, lively presentation, vernacular dialogue, and intellectual passion make it a unique achievement. Plato may have died over two thousand years ago, but he lives on, vibrantly, in these piquant pages.”

Liana Giorgi, New York Journal of Books
“Books like Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s Plato at the Googleplex are of the rare type that contribute to the popularization of knowledge and create appetite for more. After reading this book you will . . . question your views and knowledge about politics, psychology, science, history, and ethics.”

Stephen Fry 
“Rebecca Newberger Goldstein manages to be so funny and right.”

Robert C. Robinson, Library Journal
“It would have been easy for a lesser author to drop Plato in a number of modern-day situations, cook up some clever dialog, and land on the conclusion that the philosopher is as comfortable at Google headquarters as he was at the acropolis. Instead, MacArthur Fellow Goldstein imagines Plato and his interlocutors as complex characters. She shows that we’ve brought Plato forward with us into the boardroom and the classroom because of our dependence on the Socratic method for arriving at new knowledge and refining old wisdom. Alongside a few more serious essays, we find Plato debating the distinction between information and knowledge with a Google employee, taking a personality test at New York City’s 92nd Street Y, and debating a “hardline” host on cable news. Verdict: Goldstein is a serious scholar, and her careful citations, footnotes, and background research betray this fact. However, anyone with an interest in philosophy, Plato, or his legacy on Western culture will find this book to be an accessible and enjoyable read.”

Publishers Weekly
“Novelist and philosopher Goldstein has an imaginative conceit: to bring Plato into the 21st century by having him go on an American book tour. Here, Plato hauls around a Google Chrome computer, generally finds modern technology “wondrous,” and takes the Meyer-Briggs personality inventory. In lieu of Socratic dialogues, he engages in contemporary American ones....These witty contemporary sections constitute about a quarter of the book, while the remainder consists of an in-depth study of Plato’s views and the historical and intellectual context of his times....[Goldstein] proves a clear and engaging writer, and though the academic parts of this book take precedence over the entertaining and accessible contemporary passages, overall, this is both an enjoyable and a serious way to (re)learn Plato’s ideas.”

David Auerbach, Slate
“Consequently Plato at the Googleplex merits comparison to two of the best books of its kind in recent years, Kathryn Schulz’s Being Wrong and Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, but Goldstein’s is, in my opinion, the best of the lot, not because it necessarily has more facts or science, but because it hits more deeply and broadly at the faults of our societal discourse and makes us (well, me at least) feel embarrassed over it.”

Barbara Hoffert’s MY PICK, Library Journal
“A MacArthur Fellow and award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction, Goldstein always delivers something exciting for inquiring minds. Here, she imagines Plato brought to life, hashing out challenges from Fox News on religion and morality, keeping Freudians and tiger moms from coming to blows, and wondering why crowd sourcing trumps experts. C'mon, philosophy is fun, and it sells. Think Daniel Dennett, Alain de, Botton, Jim Holt...”

Michael Dirda, Washington Post
“Highly original…. In Plato at the Googleplex, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein set out to showcase, in sometimes startling ways, the continuing relevance of a classic philosopher. But what’s remarkable is that she actually brings off this tour de force with both madcap brilliance and commanding authority.”

The Week, Book of the Week
“‘Every generation could use a Plato,’ said Clancy Martin in The Atlantic. If you doubt it, pick up Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s ‘ingenious, entertaining, and challenging new book.” In an attempt to challenge the widespread contemporary assumption that science is leading us ever closer to resolving all mysteries, the ever-inventive philosopher-novelist has imagined Plato on tour in America engaging members of today’s chattering class in friendly dialogues that expose the inadequacies of various accepted paths to wisdom….In the end, Plato can be a maddening figure because he never did get around to defining what living the good life would be. Much as he believed that careful thought might help us conduct ourselves more wisely, he remained skeptical even of his own capacity to discern the answer.”

Nature
“Into a weighty discussion of the Platonic world view Goldstein inserts fictional interludes that see Plato, Cromebook in hand, touring the Googleplex, a neuroscience lab and beyond.…this thought experiment usefully casts an eye on our turbocharged century. And it shows what survives of this classical titan: an ability to plumb the deep questions we still grapple with, from the nature of knowledge to morality.”
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1st Printing edition (March 4, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307378195
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307378194
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (148 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #249,506 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Rebecca Goldstein is a MacArthur Fellow, a professor of philosophy, and the author of five novels and a collection of short stories. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

88 of 95 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 1, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Philosophy is the love of wisdom. In her new book, "Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away" (2014) Rebecca Goldstein examines the continuous nature of philosophical questioning through a partly expository partly fictional presentation of the thought of the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato. The twentieth century philosopher Alfred North Whitehead observed that all Western philosophy basically constitutes a series of "footnotes to Plato".

Rebecca Goldstein serves as both author and guide in this latest "footnote to Plato". One can only be humbled by her range of learning and her literary skill. Goldstein, a MacArthur Fellow, has written philosophical studies, including a book about Spinoza, Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity (Jewish Encounters) and philosophical novels, most recently "36 Arguments for the Existence of God". 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction (Vintage Contemporaries) She combines philosophy, fiction, and much else in this book. It is rare that a thinker can write with such scholarship and insight on diverse, difficult subjects such as ancient philosophy and history, popular culture, Spinoza, and the mathematical philosopher Kurt Godel. Goldstein does so with a breathtaking ease.

Goldstein aims to show how philosophy, in the face of its many detractors, remains of critical importance. There are many ways of approaching the question of the continued value of philosophy, but Goldstein here does so almost exclusively through a detailed consideration of Plato.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 3, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
We can thank Rebecca Newberger Goldstein for spending her youth reading hundreds of science fiction novels for coming up for the premise of Plato at the Googleplex. Goldstein says science fiction novels required that you accept one absurd premise and then the rest of the novel had to obey common logic. That’s what she’s done here: She’s plucked Plato from around 400 B.C.E. and placed him in think tank discussions, Google headquarters, and cable TV talking heads debates to show, not only did Plato set the groundwork for rigorous debate, but that he is as relevant today as he ever was.

Goldstein’s book is no gushing iconic portrait of Plato. She makes it clear that he was imperfect, partly for living in a time that was in the dark ages scientifically.

With powerful intellectual rigor, Goldstein explains in the first chapter Plato’s place in history and why Plato’s argument for making the abstract as relevant as the concrete. Then in the next chapter Plato argues with a technophile at a chic bar in San Francisco about how arguments are made. The technophile believes in the democracy of the Internet and crowd-sourcing, using Google as a “rolling plebiscite.” but finds his arguments refuted by Plato. The great philosopher also demarcates the difference between “Google information” and real knowledge.

My favorite passage is Plato describing Internet niche websites in terms of the Myth of the Cave, with a fragmented society only listening to its own points of view. “People are all chained to their own points of view so they can’t share knowledge . . .”

For a book that dissects the folly of talking head TV and radio, the Ethical Answers Search Engine, and ideas of democracy in the technological age, Goldstein has written an ambitious, heady primer. Recommended.
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52 of 62 people found the following review helpful By Geoff Arnold VINE VOICE on February 28, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Unless "For Dummies" is all you want out of life.

I've read all of Rebecca Goldstein's previous works; I've attended talks by her; I guess you can call me a fan. However when I heard about this book, I was hesitant. I am not one of those who regards all of philosophy as a commentary on Plato; I think he got some important things VERY wrong, and that the history of philosophy has been something of a twelve-step recovery from his influence. If pressed, I would prefer to divide philosophy into Pre-Hume and Post-Hume.

Rebecca Goldstein has made me rethink my position. And she has done so using a strange, hard-to-pigeonhole work which is deeply scholarly and whimsical at the same time.

Recommended.
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33 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Kevin L. Nenstiel TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 27, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Modern Euro-Americans can’t venture outdoors or watch television without encountering some concept which began with Plato. Politics? Plato wrote entire books on public service and leadership. Art? Plato couldn’t restrain himself from voicing opinions on artists’ responsibilities and role. Science? Okay, he didn’t invent experimental technique, but he pioneered ideas in physical cosmology. Yet moderns like us are monumentally resistant to Plato, at least directly. Rebecca Newberger Goldstein wonders why.

Philosophy, as we understand the word, begins with one fundamental question: “Why?” Why do we consider certain ideas obvious and true, rather than their opposite? Why do we do our jobs specific ways? Why do we spend our time on such-and-such? Plato’s mentor, the semi-legendary Socrates, wandered ancient Athens, asking politicians and scholars and tradesman questions. Whatever somebody considered self-evident, whatever certainties left citizens numb, Socrates punctured with simple dialog.

Notwithstanding his foundational position, Plato did not invent philosophy. The process began with nigh-forgotten Ionian scholars ruminating about what we’d now call science. Their speculative cosmology, roughly equal to seven-day creationism, makes Thales and Anaximander mere relics. Plato shifted philosophy’s focus off physical science and onto human spirits. He initiated questions about education, politics, and morals that pay off daily in modern schools, elections, and daily life.

Despite this persistence, not everyone agrees Plato remains relevant. Goldstein quotes people she calls “philosophy jeerers” on why changing times have (putatively) rendered conventional philosophy obsolete.
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