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Signposts in a Strange Land: Essays Paperback – April 1, 2000

4.4 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Bourbon does for me what the piece of cake did for Proust," writes Percy in one of his sparkling, fluent essays on the South. Other pieces with Southern themes collected here deal with the Civil War, New Orleans, cemeteries, race relations and why this eminent novelist, who died last May, chose to live in a "nonplace"--Covington, La. The remainder of these previously uncollected essays range widely over literature, science, morality and religion. Arguing that modern science "cannot utter a single word" about what is distinctive in human behavior, art and thought, Percy turns to semiotics for the beginnings of "a coherent science of man." Modern fiction, he contends, serves a diagnostic and cognitive role in revealing us to ourselves in a century of spiritual disorientation. Other selections cover movie magazines, psychiatry, abortion (he opposes it), Eudora Welty and Moby Dick. Samway is literary editor of America and author of a book on Faulkner.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Eminent physician/novelist Percy ( The Moviegoer ) died in 1990. Accumulated here are many uncollected essays, several seeing publication for the first time, grouped under three headings conceptually central to Percy's thought: life in the South; the relationship of science, language, and literature; and morality/religion. Sometimes dense ("Is a Theory of Man Possible?"), sometimes light ("Bourbon"), his nonfiction is always entertaining and enlightening. Percy is justly famous for his efforts to detect meaning in a world growing more meaningless, and many of his "signposts" carry a lot of accessible semiotic significance. Lots of small gems, too: for instance, that Melville was trying to "out-Hawthorne Hawthorne." For all serious literature collections.
- Robert E. Brown, Onondaga Cty. P.L., Syracuse, N.Y.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1 edition (April 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312254199
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312254193
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #140,399 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Walker Percy (1916-1990) was one of the most prominent American writers of the twentieth century. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he was the oldest of three brothers in an established Southern family that contained both a Civil War hero and a U.S. senator. Acclaimed for his poetic style and moving depictions of the alienation of modern American culture, Percy was the bestselling author of six fiction titles--including the classic novel The Moviegoer (1961), winner of the National Book Award--and fifteen works of nonfiction. In 2005, Time magazine named The Moviegoer one of the best English-language books published since 1923.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Though better known as a novelist, Walker Percy began his writing career with non-fiction pieces of a philosophical bent. He remains one of the most philosophical novelists of the late 20th century, and his first novel, The Moviegoer, is widely acknowledged as one of the masterpieces of contemporary literature. This collection covers Percy's major interests over the span of his career: the literally miraculous ability of humans to communicate with language, the unique qualities of Southern writing (and why, for instance, there are no great Los Angeles novelists or Zen Buddhist novelists), and the curious fact that late-twentieth century western man is bored, weary, and sad, despite living in the most affluent period in human history.
Like C. S. Lewis, Percy became a Christian after spending his young adult years as a confirmed atheist. For this reason, he is particularly adept at addressing the intellectual impediments to belief. His work is the perfect antidote to those who think that smart people don't believe in God. He was also a scientist, having been trained as a medical doctor. Science, he believed, has discovered how the universe works but has been unable to address the most important fact of our existence: that each of us is a self-aware human being who will one day die. Percy was profoundly influenced by Kierkegaard and thus has been called a Christian existentialist, though he finds the term has become meaningless through overuse.
This is a fascinating overview of Percy's ideas. As a bonus, the book concludes with a whimsical self-interview that lets us see what a delightful man he would have been to know. Highly recommended, along with his Lost in the Cosmos, which further develops many of the ideas here in the mock format of a self-help book.
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Format: Paperback
Though better known as a novelist, Walker Percy began his writing career with non-fiction pieces of a philosophical bent. He remains one of the most philosophical novelists of the late 20th century, and his first novel, The Moviegoer, is widely acknowledged as one of the masterpieces of contemporary literature. This collection covers Percy's major interests over the span of his career: the literally miraculous ability of humans to communicate with language, the unique qualities of Southern writing (and why, for instance, there are no great Los Angeles novelists or Zen Buddhist novelists), and the curious fact that late-twentieth century western man is bored, weary, and sad, despite living in the most affluent period in human history.
Like C. S. Lewis, Percy became a Christian after spending his young adult years as a confirmed atheist. For this reason, he is particularly adept at addressing the intellectual impediments to belief. His work is the perfect antidote to those who think that smart people don't believe in God. He was also a scientist, having been trained as a medical doctor. Science, he believed, has discovered how the universe works but has been unable to address the most important fact of our existence: that each of us is a self-aware human being who will one day die. Percy was profoundly influenced by Kierkegaard and thus has been called a Christian existentialist, though he finds the term has become meaningless through overuse.
This is a fascinating overview of Percy's ideas. As a bonus, the book concludes with a whimsical self-interview that lets us see what a delightful man he would have been to know. Highly recommended, along with his Lost in the Cosmos, which further develops many of the ideas here in the mock format of a self-help book.
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Format: Paperback
This book is perfect as either an introduction to Walker Percy's thought or as a final collection of essays for the longtime fan. "Signposts" is the only book available that provides Percy's writing from virtually every stage of his life, including the period when he was completely unknown. That fact alone makes it worth the purchase.
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Format: Paperback
This book was issued in 1991, to collect under one cover some of the more important essays or pieces of non-fiction by Walker Percy, who had died in 1990. I happen to think that Percy is one of this country's more underappreciated novelists and men of letters. "The Moviegoer", in particular, is a classic of American literature from the second half of the 20th Century. But, as these essays demonstrate, Percy was not only a novelist, he was a relatively deep thinker, concerned with science versus art, religion and morality, language and semiotics, psychiatry, the South and "the New South", as well as literature.

The earliest essay in the book is from 1935, the latest from 1990. Most of the essays, and the best of the essays, are from 1968 through 1986. Not surprisingly, some of the essays are, in whole or in part, now rather dated. Percy's "essay voice" is relatively informal and easy to read, but he does not modulate it very much from piece to piece so that, when three or more pieces are read in succession, a measure of monotony creeps in.

Most of us, I suspect, believe we live in unusually unsettled and unsettling times. So it was with Percy too. He believed that "the modern world had ended" and that "society has been overtaken by a sense of malaise rather than exuberance, by fragmentation rather than wholeness." He further believed that the function of art was cognitive, and that the novelist's duty in these troubled times was to engage in a sort of diagnostic enterprise.
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