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The Dream of Reason: A History of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance Reprint Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0393323658
ISBN-10: 039332365X
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Writing a history of more than 2,000 years of philosophy is no mean feat, and writing it in fewer than 500 pages of intelligent but graceful prose is more difficult still. Yet this is just what Anthony Gottlieb accomplishes in The Dream of Reason, which guides the reader from the earliest Greek philosophers to the pre-Cartesian Renaissance. Gottlieb's project is undeniably ambitious, and by necessity it is big-picture philosophy. But it is exactly this big-picture context that is often lamentably absent from other works of this sort. Gottlieb's skill at rendering historical context makes his account both unusually engaging and surprisingly illuminating.

Gottlieb is an admirable guide through the little-understood pre-Socratic philosophers of ancient Greece, giving fair measure to philosophers who are too often simplified or lampooned. His account of Plato and Aristotle is good too, as is his treatment of the later Hellenistic schools, Epicureanism, Stoicism, and Skepticism. Gottlieb's treatment of medieval philosophy, particularly Thomist and Arabic philosophy, is lean, as the author chooses to focus more heavily on antiquity and the modern era (to be continued in a second volume), and the narrative history that bridges the two. Ever enthusiastic, Gottlieb's storytelling voice and character-driven approach make The Dream of Reason compelling reading. It is an ideal book for nonexperts interested in an appealing and informative history of philosophy as well as for students looking for a lucid and comprehensive account of premodern thinkers. --Eric de Place --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Histories of philosophy tend either to be prodigious, learned works, like F.C. Copleston's A History of Philosophy, or idiosyncratic tracts of scholarly obfuscation, like Bertrand Russell's A History of Western Philosophy, and they often present their subject through narrow, ideological lenses. Gottlieb's elegant survey brings a breath of fresh air. Executive editor of The Economist, Gottlieb mines primary sources with a remarkably even hand. He demonstrates that, while cosmological questions dominated early philosophy, Plato and Aristotle investigated metaphysical, epistemological and ethical conundrums as well. He shows how the later Hellenistic schools, like the Epicureans and Stoics; medieval thinkers, such as Augustine and Aquinas; and Renaissance philosophers, including Machiavelli and Bacon, built their systems either on Plato or Aristotle. But Gottlieb's book is not just another plodding survey. His attention to cultural context provides insight into why various thinkers thought as they did about certain matters. Plato wrote his Republic, for example, because he detested the kind of democracy in fashion in Athens, and he wanted to return to the oligarchy of his childhood. Unfortunately, the book suffers from a distorted perspective, covering almost 1,000 years of history, from late antiquity to the Renaissance, in just under 100 pages, while giving more than that to early Greek philosophy, most of which consists of fragmentary sources. Thus, Hobbes and Machiavelli, who deserve their own chapters more than do Democritus or Empedocles, are allotted only a few brief paragraphs. Gottlieb also engages in some debatable readings: many find that Kant's theory of self-consciousness, for instance, leads not to relativism but to absolutism. Nonetheless, this eloquent book offers a lively chronicle of the evolution of Western philosophy.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (November 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039332365X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393323658
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #84,261 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Ricky Hunter on December 25, 2002
Format: Paperback
The subtitle of this book is a history of philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance, but that can be slightly misleading. It is in fact what it claims but it is also much more and a little less. The little less is that only the book's last two chapters cover the period after the death of Aristotle but anyone who has slogged through medieval philosophy will appreciate and understand the author's choices. The good news is how deftly the author, Anthony Gottlieb, covers the topics and philosophers selected. The Dream of Reason is a wonderfully comprehensible volume that glorifies the Greeks, certainly not for getting it precisely right, but for expanding the attempts to actually get it (it, of course, being a simple word covering a multitude of complex ideas.) This book is always intelligent and very entertaining. There is no better single place for a reader to go to cover this vast period of time.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Noreen M. Novak on June 8, 2006
Format: Paperback
I am currently reading both The Dream of Reason AND A History of Western Philosophy in tandem. While the claims can be made of one's superiority to the other, I find it immensely helpful to read them together. Gottlieb references Russell a number of times, so having the work right there to read is a must. What Gottlieb lacks in deep understanding, Russell is there to fill in. Likewise, what Russell lacks in outright readability (brilliant beyond belief, but it does tend to get dry), Gottlieb makes up for in his flowing writing style.

I cannot and will not mar either work, as I think they (begrudgingly or not) feed off of and make each other that much better.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By N N Taleb on July 28, 2004
Format: Paperback
I could not put it down. It hit me at some point that I was at the intersection of readability and scholarship. Clearly the value of this book lies beyond its readability: Gottlieb is both a philosopher and a journalist (in the good sense), not a journalist who writes about philosophy. He investigates and provides a fresh look at the material: For instance what we bemoan as the flaws of Aristotelianism during the scholastic period came 2000 years after his work. Aristotle had an empirical bent --his followers are the ones to blame.
I liked his constant questioning of the labels put on philosophers and philosophies by the second hand readers.
Clearly he missed a few authors who deserve real coverage like Algazali, but I take what I can get.
The only other readable history of philosophy is Russell's. This one was less hurriedly put together.

Someone should bug the author to hurry with the sequel on Locke, Hume, etc.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Roy E. Perry on March 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Anthony Gottlieb is an 'amateur' philosopher in the best sense of the word: a person who engages in an activity, pursuit, study, or science for pleasure rather than for financial benefit, as an avocation rather than as a profession. Gottlieb, author of THE DREAM OF REASON, is the executive editor of THE ECONOMIST. He studied philosophy at Cambridge University and University College, London, and has been a Visiting Professor at Harvard University. He writes regularly on philosophy for the NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW. Writing with zestful wit and wisdom, the author of this marvelous history of Western philosophy caused me to chuckle and laugh out loud at his humorous insights into the bizarre behavior and believes of many philosophers. I suspected that this book would be different when I read in the Introduction, 'Any subject [philosophy] that is responsible for producing [Martin] Heidegger owes the world an apology.' The book, howver is not amateurish in the sense of being unskilled, inept, or incompetent. Gottlieb has an amazing grasp not only of philosophy and philosophers but also of modern science. He brings clarity to muddled, and muddled, waters. He opens the windows of a musty room and lets in fresh air. THE DREAM OF REASON has three main divisions: (1) The Pre-Socratics; (2) Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; and (3) From Aristotle to the Renaissance (with emphasis on the Epicureans, the Stoics, and the Skeptics). Gottlieb makes short shrift of the Middle Ages, giving a thousand years less than 100 pages. He writes provocatively: 'Philosophy in the West remained more or less the slave of Christianity for about a millennium. From the perspective of modern thought, it is tempting to see that lengthy interlude in terms of the tale of Sleeping Beauty.Read more ›
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Marty McCarthy VINE VOICE on April 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I actually find it hard to put a grade on Anthony Gottlieb's "The Dream of Reason: A History of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance." Gottlieb handles the Greeks in an accessible and witty way. He breathes life into the pre-Socratics and spends an extraordinary amount of time and care in rendering Greek thought. In demonstrating the relevance of the pre-Socratics, Gottlieb pontificates, in effect, that it was wrong to minimize their contributions to philosophy.

Then, Gottlieb in a blink of an eye, minimizes over 1000 years of philosophy. He scoffs at Augustine as if Augustine were a child writing philosophy with a crayon. Anselm and William of Ockham fare no better. Aquinas warrants half a page. Forget about Machiavelli. His treatment was not just one of omission, Gottlieb affirmatively debases everything not Greek in thought.

The hard part comes with deciding the value of "The Dream of Reason." It does have value for its treatment of the Greeks. It does have value in the fact it makes Greek philosophy accessible to the uninitiated. If "The Dream of Reason" only sought to handle the Greeks, it may warrant a 4 or even 5 star review. However, whatever good is achieved in the first 300 or so pages, is completely undone by the injustice Gottlieb does to the other 1000 years of philosophy. You certainly can't call the title of the book a "HISTORY of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance." I get it, Gottlieb does not like philosophy after the Greeks but you cannot call your work a HISTORY if you are unwilling to treat your subject with at least a grudging objectivity.
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