on October 16, 1999
Having read (all of) "The Americans", "The Discoverers", and (part of) "The Creators", I picked up "The Seekers" when and where I first saw it (which happened to be at the Library of Congress, which doesn't seem inappropriate). On a subsequent trip, I took it and several other books to pass the airplane hours. I didn't open the other books, and I finished "The Seekers". Having enjoyed it immensely, I logged on to amazon.com to see what other readers had thought (reading is a social habit, like drinking, and not to be done alone). I was quite surprised to find that not every reader had enjoyed it as much as I. I would agree that its sparse style is different from his longer books, and I would admit that it is Euro-centeric (as advertised). That having been said, I would also say that the careful selection of and brief presentation of the material was masterful. This "brief history of western seeking" will, I believe, provide me with a roadmap that will inform my reading selections for years to come.
on July 3, 2003
Boorstin is a master story teller. I felt like I was sitting with a friend by a comfortable fire, being challenged to think, but regularly regaled with irony, satire and laughter. The motto of the book might be "The road is always better than the end." Another theme is that seeking brings us together, that fulfills us. The people who think they have found the final answer are the menace to our humanity, because there is no answer to find. Of course, this is the puzzle. How can one maintain their interest in 'seeking' if they realize the danger of 'finding'? Boorstin doesn't provide simple answers.
Boorstin starts with the Biblical conversations with God recorded by the Jewish tradition. To summarize these discussion, Boorstin spends a fair amount of time with the story of Job and the omnipresent fact that bad things happen to innocent people. He concludes that the ancient Hebrews taught their children that no one knows what God knows, so the innocent must push on, must keep the faith.
With this said, he poses the same question (do you know what God knows?) to the Greek tradition, starting with Socrates. Socrates became famous for demonstrating much the same point, interviewing those who claim to know truth, then proving their knowledge was an illusion. Plato, Socrates admirer and evangelist, tried to answer Socrates with his utopian Republic. In Plato's view, no one but philosophers knew the 'truth.' Showing no respect for his elders, Aristotle, a student of Socrates and Plato, chose something of a middle road: scientists know a few things that are true. In this triad of forceful personalities, the rest of the book finds it's structure.
Following Gibbon's outline of history, Boorstin then builds a bridge (Part II) between the ancient and modern world, quickly reviewing 1000 years of dialog between empiricists (the scientists who know at least one thing) and fundamentalists (those that know what God knows). This bridge involves Greek, then Christian evangelists, scholars and reformers until about 1500, when Hobbes, St. Thomas More and Descartes renew the Socratic debate.
Boorstin makes a case for the pivotal role Descartes plays, bridging the intuition and empiricist in his famous 'I think therefore I [know I] exist'. Descartes is followed by the evangelists of this synthesis: Voltaire (the civilized know) and Rousseau (the uncivilized know). The section on Rousseau is hilarious and well worth the price of the book (The section on Kirkegaard is equally funny.)
Avoiding the temptation to side with any particular advocate, Part III describes a variety of utopian enthusiasts. For a while, I thought the title should have been the 'utopians'. In these utopias, the old question about "God allowing bad thing to happen to innocent people" is solved by banishing suffering. In Utopia, society is so perfected that nothing can upset the universal joy. The luminaries for this post 1800 era include Marx (historians know how to accomplish this), Kierkegaard (we will regret knowing), Lord Acton (joy through revolutionary discontinuities) and William James (knowledge is a river, impossible to divide). The last three personalities Boorstin mentions, Malraux, Bergson and Einstein seem to be Boorstin's personal favorites. They were all active during and after World War I & II and probably had an impact on his life. Only Voltaire gets similar approval.
Boorstin's favorable review of materialists like Voltaire, Marx and Malraux was a bit hard to swallow.. . He ignores the Scottish Enlightenment and Hume, where his hero Voltaire got the ideas which made him famous. Additionally, he tersely dismisses the contributions of Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist and Confucian philosophers, all of whom greatly enriched Europe. It would have been better to ignore the subject. But, the story telling is wonderful. Maybe a logical 'whole' isn't all that important.
on January 18, 2004
Boorstin's third book of his trilogy follows a chronological format on man's search for the reasons of life. "We are all seekers," he writes. "We all want to know why."
The book follows three grand epics of seeking. The first begins with Hebrew prophets and Greek philosophers. The former seeking from a higher authority, and the latter seeking from within. He moves on to the formation of communal experiences of the early church and the Reformation. The last epic is the age of the social sciences. Many stories of many exceptional men are told: their complexities, their understanding of past seekers, and their mistakes made mostly due to being ruled by history.
From the prophets and matchless Grecian trilogy seeking understanding of man's place; to Thomas Moore and Machiavelli pursuing the civil, liberal spirit; to Marx, Spengler, Emerson and Einstein who hone in on their own specialized areas of seeking, The Seekers captures the meaning of its namesake: the ever-elusive definition of life.
If the book has a short-coming, it would be Boorstin's inability to retrieve and contain the many more Seekers of modern thought. However, to include modern-day theorists, philosophers and other seekers would add chapters, getting us nowhere closer to our most coveted definition.
This is the final book in the "trilogy" of Boorstin's that started with The Discoverers and continued with The Creators. It is easily the shortest of the three, which is perhaps good, because it also easily the weakest.
Like the other two books, this volume is essentially a collection of short biographies. This time, the people being written about are primarily philosophers. The problem is that the common theme that ties all these people together is elusive; at the end of the book, I was still unclear what the whole book was about; in parts, it is okay, but as a whole, it is not. It is like connecting the dots when the dots are misnumbered or some are missing: either way, you aren't going to get the right picture.
The other problem is that some portions of the book are tedious to read. I think this ties into my first problem; since I had only vague hints at Boorstin's intention with this book, I found it harder to get through. This isn't a mystery novel; the meaning should not be something that is guessed at.
For those who have read the other books in this trilogy, this book will come as a disappointment. I do give it a weak three stars, however, as there are some chapters that are at least interesting and informative. Overall, however, this book is below average.
on July 13, 1999
After reading The Discoverers and The Creators, The Seekers may disappoint you with its lack of depth. What's written is a joy to consume (Mr. Boorstin has a tremendous may with the English language), but the deep analysis found in the first two installments of the trilogy is absent here. How surprising, considering Mr. Boorstin's obvious intellect and professed interest in the subject! To put it quite simply, I was left wanting more. I don't regret buying the book, but I do wish the author had spent more time writing it.
on October 31, 2002
This unabridged audio tape took about 12 hours to listen to. Which no one would actually take the time to do if they weren't already "seekers" themselves. So if you not only seek to know, but also to know what other philosophical giants of Western civilization have sought to know and have therefore probably influenced your thought processes without the slightest awareness of their influence on your part, you would do well to listen to these tapes. It's a dryer read on paper than it is to listen, but the book would be a nice reference source once you've gotten through it. Other than a few early references to Biblical prophets, belief systems of India, and an extremely glossed over take on Chinese contributions, the work is entirely Western focused, from Greece to Rome to Medieval Europe to the Rennaissance to the (mostly French and a little English) Enlightenment, up through the German and Northern Europeans, Americans, and finally, 20th century figures. If nothing else (but there is much else), you get useful as well as entertaining background on what we have come to think of as cliche or innate knowledge and sayings. Amazing that so many hours of listening, interlaced with many additional hours of contemplation, can leave one feeling like he/she knows so little compared to what they thought they knew before devouring Boorstin's fine work.
on April 9, 2011
UPDATE ON THIS REVIEW:
The issues with the formatting of this Kindle book have not been resolved. This is something I brought to Amazon's attention over a year ago. Interestingly, despite Amazon's repeated claims that the problems are somehow the publisher's fault, I've discovered recently that the B&N Nook versions of both books are formatted correctly. The publisher of the Nook version is the same as the publisher of the Kindle versions. Therefore the problem is clearly with either Amazon quality control over what gets the "Kindle" name, or with communication with whoever does these book conversions for them.
Amazon needs to STOP selling Kindle versions of books with formatting errors until they are fixed. That will send the necessary message to the publishers if that's the problem. At the present time my impression (shared by a lot of ebook owners) is that Amazon is more interested in the quantity of Kindle books available than their production quality.
Another great book of Boorstin's, yes - in the original paper versions. But the Kindle edition is so poorly and sloppily formatted that it's almost unreadable.
Quotes that are formatted as indented blocks of text in the original (paper) version (Boorstin does this a lot with quotes from religious texts, and long passages from original historical sources) are flushed to the left margin in the Kindle version, so there's no visual cue that the author is switching to quoted text from the main narrative - it's just not clear when Boorstin is talking vs. some other source.
The problem is jarring and confusing to the reader and disrupts what Boorstin intended to be published. Also true of The Americans and possibly other Kindle editions of books with quoted text.
Amazingly, despite repeated complaints over a period of four months to Amazon (they say they are contacting the publisher, Random House), the problem has not been corrected in the Kindle "edition" that Amazon continues to sell. The author's original intent should be a priority for both companies, especially when mistakes are noted and clearly communicating to them.
on January 3, 1999
I've read and re-read The Creators and The Discoverers. Maybe my expectations were unrealistically high for The Seekers. The relatively slim size didn't bother me; I trust Boorstin's scholarship and assumed that he simply stopped when the material was covered. However, my impression is that for some reason the author or the publisher needed a book in this niche in time for the holiday market, and rushed this one.
In the Discoverers, Boorstin's powerful use of language enhances the flow of ideas from one seemingly unconnected concept to the next, along with a thrilling feel of mystery. In The Seekers, rolling tides of majestic adjectives seem a little empty and pompous. Maybe I needed a little more, or a little less, eggnog.
on October 1, 1998
It's not really all THAT difficult to come up with an original theory, however strained, that "explains" something (or, for that matter, everything)--whether the "original thinking" in question be as widely accepted as that of Darwin, as fiercely argued over as those of Marx and Freud, as discredited as the tenets of Theosophy and Alchemy, as questionable as the paradigm shift of Kuhn, or as downright obvious as the birth-order theory of Sulloway.
But it's much, much harder, I should think, to resist this impulse, not to mention the intellectual hubris, for showy originality, and be content to seek, instead, to study and understand things and the world around us (pace Kant) as they really are. To me, Daniel J. Boorstin epitomizes the latter--the tireless scholar who plods through countless tomes (many of them as forgotten today as the very "original" monadology of Leibniz) to present to us, in prose that is always clear and elegant, the distillation of a life time's learning (and what a life time's learning). If there is no radically new interpretations (or "original" thoughts) to be found in Boorstin's great trilogy, consider how much more educated the average reader, as well as specialists of all fields, will become simply by dipping into THE DISCOVERERS, THE CREATORS, and THE SEEKERS.
All this is another way of saying that I endorse this book heartily. Let those others--the aspiring disco critics who think themselves too hip to be seen in the library--chase after the latest original thinkers: the would-be system-builders and the hopeful Grand Theorists. --- Jonathan Lee
on March 14, 2015
A great condensation of the evolution of thinking and philosophy (and religion) of the human race. However, this book is more to be studied -- with a marker and marginal notes -- than to be read casually. I did the audio book, first, which certainly peeked my interest, but the narrative is entirely too dense to be fully appreciated in audio, alone. Since the Audible book is only offered in an abridged version, one cannot easily toggle back and forth between the printed page and the audio version. So, I guess, I wish they'd bring out an unabridged audio. BUT the content and writing of this book is excellent...