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The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life Hardcover – International Edition, November 1, 2010


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Hardcover, International Edition, November 1, 2010
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape (November 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224071785
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224071789
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,335,027 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The brilliant cultural historian Hughes (Helen of Troy) has again produced an intriguing and entertaining biohistory of one of the most important individuals in the ancient world, and of the Athenian society that condemned him to death for daring to question all received wisdom. Drawing on the abundance of contemporary references by both supporters and opponents to the philosopher, Hughes illustrates that "bsolutely of his time, he is also of ours," "the first ironic man" in an unironic age, a gadfly to Athens' citizens and leaders. Moreover, through careful description of fifth century B.C.E. Athens, she brings to life the social, political, economic, literary, and military realities of Socrates' society, in particular the centrality of the agora. Hughes devotes a substantial part of her account to the trial and forced suicide of the great philosopher, events which communicated Socratic humor mixed with courage. Regrettably, she offers little in the way of criticism of modern authors such as I.F. Stone who have clouded Socrates's reputation by championing the populist and "democratic" tyrants. But she aptly conveys the continuing urgency of Socrates' devotion to the inquiring mind. 16 pages of color illus.; 33 b&w illus.; 5 maps. (Feb.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

There are certain historical figures whose lives merit perpetual reexamination because their impact continues to reverberate century after century. According to historian Hughes, author of Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore (2005), Socrates is one of these seminal social and cultural architects. Beginning at the end of Socrates’ long life, she reaches back in time, analyzing the historical context responsible, in part, for spawning such an exceedingly influential thinker. If, as she purports, “we think the way we do because Socrates thought the way he did,” it is important for us to understand why and how he posited the relentless questions about what it means to be human that drew attention to his famous philosophical method of inquiry and debate. This, then, is not only a lively and eminently readable biography of Socrates the man but also a vivid evocation of Athens, the city-state on the cusp of originating many of the greatest precepts of modern Western civilization. --Margaret Flanagan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Very good book very informative and well written.
Marvin Donatto
Bettany Hughes' The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life provides an answer of a sort.
Norman A. Pattis
If one accepts the book for what it has to offer, it is a good read.
little lamb

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on March 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover
If you were walking the marketplace of Athens a couple of millennia ago, you might have been accosted by an ugly man who wanted to talk to you. He wouldn't have anything to sell, he would just want to ask questions. Not questions like how to get to the upcoming festival or who you supported for civic leaders. He would want to know about truth, about love, about justice, and about how we could know anything about such subjects when he professed that he himself was no expert, and in fact he didn't have any answers himself, just questions. This would have been Socrates, and as everyone knows, his questions were to get him into trouble and cost him his life. Socrates talked about the founding ideas of philosophy, and although he didn't write anything down, his dialogues and speeches written down by Plato (they cannot have been transcriptions) have been the talk of philosophers ever after. Bettany Hughes is a historian focusing on antiquity, not a philosopher, and her book _The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life_ is a surprisingly detailed biography of Socrates and a history of the turbulent Athens of his times. It succeeds wonderfully in both spheres. Hughes is a brilliant explainer, taking a long-ago and strange land and brightly communicating it to us moderns; for example, when she writes about the trial of Socrates and how a poet testified against him, she tells us, "The glitterati and their lackeys were turning against the irritating gadfly." She does not write an informal biography and history; this is a large book, full of notes and her own translations of ancient texts. It is, however, far from dry; the city and the philosopher are dazzlingly brought to life in these pages.

Socrates was born around 469 B.C.
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42 of 51 people found the following review helpful By David Sheppard on February 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sometimes a reader will find a book that was seemingly written just for him. For me, this is such a book. Having visited Greece twice myself (once in 1993 and again in the fall of 2009), I'm attuned to this subject matter as few readers outside the academic community would be. And I couldn't put it down. I was like a starving man being served a banana split that won't melt, so that I ate a little, savored, and ate again, relishing each bite. I will admit that I haven't yet quite finished reading it, and in some ways, I hope I never will. Once finished, all I'll have left is... to read it again. As an author myself of both fiction and non-fiction set in Greece, I've frequently tried to visualize ancient Greek cities, including Athens, with varying degrees of success. Bettany Hughes seems to hit the mark on every page. She provides a sense of discovery that won't be repeated with rereading. And this is a book of discovery. She takes you there, lets you walk around with Socrates, see his ancient world through his eyes, and bask in its glory and ruin. As it says on the dustcover, she "illuminate[s] the streets where Socrates walked, to place him there and to show us the world as he experienced it."

Her book is a marvel. It's history, it's archaeology, and it's biography. No one has done it better. I have 1,400 books in my home library, much of it dedicated to ancient Greece. Many authors have tried to make ancient Greece come alive, but so far I've not come across one that approaches what Ms Hughes has accomplished. The 120 pages of appendices, notes, bibliography, and index will also be of immense use when doing research.

If you have a shred of interest in the origins of Western Civilization, you owe it to yourself to indulge in Hughes' intellectual feast. Read it slowly, savor it on your intellectual palate like a slow-melting piece of the finest dark chocolate.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Neal Bruce on November 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Background: I am working my way through Greek classics and modern works on ancient Greek history. I have read the Landmark Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon (all three are awesome), as well as Anabasis, plays by Aeschylus, etc. Next year, I will dive into Plato and Aristotle.

Goal: I wanted a modern book that would tie together Greek history for me as each of the books above presents a beautiful view into different windows of the ancient Greek house, but not a unified view of the whole.

Solution: The Hemlock Cup was the perfect pair of glasses for me to look at ancient Greek history (up to 399 B.C.) as a collective whole. I strongly recommend this book to people who:
1. Want an overview of ancient Greece and do not have the time to read the ancient works
2. Want to read Plato, but first want to put Socrates in context
3. Want a capstone book that ties together the ancient Greek texts

Bettany Hughes is a great story teller that brings the sights, sounds, and smells of ancient Greece alive!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By MikeyR on July 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I came to this book wanting to learn more about Socrates and 5th century BC Athens given its outsized influence and importance on the Western world. You cannot do better than this book for non experts. The author expertly weaves in knowledge from many different areas: archaeology, Greek drama and comedies, geography, Plato's books...I almost felt like I was in Athens with Socrates, the sights, the smells, the strange religious rituals. I could barely put the book down especially when getting to the last sections. If you are looking for an entertaining read that is also educational, I strongly recommend this book.
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