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.
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A delight....written with both wit and scholarship, providing a wonderful overall picture of Western philosophy up to the Renaissance. -- Sir Roger Penrose
A wonderful book. -- Myles Burnyeat, New York Review of Books
Gottlieb is as enjoyable as he is intellectually stimulating. -- Robert Conquest, Los Angeles Times
His book...supplant[s] all others, even the immensely successful History of Western Philosophy
by Bertrand Russell. -- A. C. Grayling
[Gottlieb] writes with fluency and lucidity, with a gift for making even difficult matters seem comprehensible. -- Richard Jenkins, New York Times