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The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction Paperback – June 30, 2008

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (June 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199532176
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199532179
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 0.5 x 4.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #226,315 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"This is a brief, ambitious, and satisfying book. As a survivor of the theory wars, Terry Eagleton has emerged as a critic and thinker who will help us theologues ponder not only life's meaning but the next steps we should take as even postmodernism fades into cultural history. If there is a cultural life for us all in the aftermath of the conflict between essentialism and relativism, Eagleton's provocative essay will point the way both to making and discovering its meaning."--Gary R. Hall, Anglican Theological Review

"Eagleton's witty eclecticism is perfect for such a lofty subject, but would it be inappropriate to ask for more?--Leoppold Froelich, Playboy

"The Meaning of Life may be 'lie' relative to how much more a scholar like Mr. Eagleton might have said, but it is still a work that demands close attention from readers who are already well grounded in literature and philosophy."--Mark Grannis, The Washington Times

"The news that Terry Eagleton has tackled the meaning of life in a book of a mere 185 pages shouldn't raise any eyebrows. If anyone can pull it off, it's probably him. Eagleton, unsurprisingly, has written an elegant, literate, cogent consideration of a maddeningly slippery topic, one whose conclusions run contrary to conventional wisdom, especially in this country."--Laura Miller,

"Eagleton's is unlike most works on life's meaning, in which writers often invoke theology. Eagleton's notion of love may seem to lead back to theism, but he shows us we can have meaningful lives whatever our theology, and he invites us all to choose. He deserves a place in most collections."--Leslie Armour, Library Journal

"Regardless of whether you agree with him, you'll find yourself challenged by this little book."--Houston Chronicle"

About the Author

Terry Eagleton is Professor of Cultural Theory and John Rylands Fellow at the University of Manchester. His literary criticism includes Literary Theory: An Introduction, Heathcliff and the Great Hunger, and After Theory. He has also written a novel, Saints and Scholars, several plays and a memoir, The Gatekeeper. He divides his time between Manchester, Dublin and Derry.

More About the Author

Terry Eagleton is John Edward Taylor Professor of English Literature at the University of Manchester. His numerous books include The Meaning of Life, How to Read a Poem, and After Theory.

Customer Reviews

Not very worthwhile.
Joshua Glazer
Anticipating reader response, Eagleton does not fail to bask in self-irony, apologetically calling his own project ridiculous, but yet as something he felt like doing.
Adnan Mahmutovic
The book is short, 175 pages.
John Sterner

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

69 of 71 people found the following review helpful By ewomack TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
"What's the meaning of life?" has become a sort of in-joke amongst academic philosophers. Particularly in the analytic west, supersaturated with logic and science, questions concerning "grand narratives," of which "life" could be one, have gone the way of Hegelian dialectics and causa sui. In the early twentieth century, positivists and "the linguistic turn" ground such bugbears into impotent stumps. A few brave professional philosophers, such as Thomas Nagel, have attempted to weave the question
into their work, but overall the field retains an icy silence towards the ultimate question. Regardless of this mass abandonment within universities, the question just won't go away. To survive, it has gone underground, whining like a lost puppy, and seethes beneath nearly everything we do. Ignoring it won't make it go away, so the question has found new pioneers to obsess. It found a happy medium in Terry Eagleton, whose work balances philosophy, literary and cultural theory, and history. Though a professional academic, Eagleton is not a philosopher. He thus brings a daisy fresh perspective to the question often associated with "philosophy" itself.

The query of course doesn't have an answer, but most "meaning of life" books usually have a go at it regardless. At least, that seems one of the expectations, realistic or unrealistic, behind flapping the pages of a book with such an ominous title. An honest book would comprise of one page embossed with a question mark. Amusing, but not marketable. Regardless of the challenge, Eagleton does give a sort of an answer; as much an answer as anyone can give. And, though disputable, it does makes sense.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Timothy J. Bartik on December 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book has many virtues:

1. It is short. It has 175 pages of text on small pages, and can be read in a long evening.
2. It addresses a central issue in a real world way: what benefit for our daily lives can we gain from a consideration of what life means?
3. The book considers a wide variety of perspectives, including philosophers such as Aristotle, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer, writers such as Beckett and Shakespeare, and comedians such as Doug Adams and Monty Python.
4. The book comes up with what I at least consider a decent answer: Following Aristotle, the book suggests that we consider the meaning of life to be happiness, but happiness not as the pursuit of pleasure, but as a state of our being that maximizes our use of our full human capacities. However, Eagleton argues that we should go beyond Aristotle in emphasizing that one of the key human capacities that must be developed is the capacity for love and compassion for others. The metaphor is that the well-lived life is like participating in a well-functioning jazz band, that balances individuality and cooperation.
5. The book has some interesting sidepoints. For example, he argues at one point that at least some religious fundamentalism is the flip side of nihilism, in that both viewpoints seem to hold that life and the universe has no inherent meaning, but only whatever meaning God chooses to give it. Eagleton instead proposes that human life can have the inherent meaning of happiness as he defines that term.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Ms. Mary Flynn on June 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Indeed as the previous reviewer said, the book is witty. And, despite all the bad news this book recognizes Life is a miracle and a comedy. One has to know a bit about philosophy to understand it, but, just as I did when I read Professor Eagleton's memoir "The Gatekeep", this was about the joy of life and the possibiity of goodness even with all the very obvious suffering, pain and injustice. A very hopeful book. Debunks a lot of heavy lifting.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Irfan A. Alvi TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 17, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Reading this book is like listening to a genius who produces a steady stream of insights (sometimes quite profound), but who's unwilling or unable to organize them in a systematic way. This presents a challenge for the reader. In my case, after carefully reading the book (while highlighting), I went right back to the beginning and read it all over again (while taking notes), which is something I've never done before. After my second reading, and a lot of follow-up effort to organize my notes, I feel that I was able to get a handle on the book, and I'll try to summarize my findings in this review.

It seems to me that everything hinges on what we mean by "meaning." Eagleton correctly describes how our unique language ability is what enables us to explore such an abstract question as the meaning of life in the first place, but we have to be careful that we're not misusing language and thereby confusing ourselves. He describes how "meaning" may refer to intention, signifying, or intention to signify. These are useful distinctions, but I don't think they quite hit the nail on the head. Rather, when we say that we want our lives to have meaning, I think that either (a) we want our lives, or elements of our lives, to have importance in an objective and ultimate sense (ie, THE meaning OF life), or (b) we want the personal experience which constitutes our lives, including the structure of that experience as it unfolds across time, to be subjectively satisfying, if not optimal (meaning IN life).

These are two very different things. In the former, we're looking for some sort of ultimate foundation that serves as a source of importance for what we do.
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