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America the Philosophical Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 22, 2012
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“In an age when many debates are high-pitched screeds, how counterintuitive it is to argue that American philosophical thought is booming. But that’s trademark Romano . . . Romano turns this subject into a narrative of people brought together through their love of ideas.”
-Elizabeth Taylor, Chicago Tribune
“Both scholarly and entertaining—learned and stimulating—to an equal and extraordinary degree. America the Philosophical is one of the books of the year . . . A hugely enlightening compendium of intellectual heresy.”
-Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News
“A comprehensive intellectual history from Emerson to Rawls.”
-The New Yorker
“Ambitious . . . Romano is enlightening when he analyzes American intellectual life and illustrates its liveliness.”
-Anthony Gottlieb, The New York Times Book Review (cover)
“A high-speed tour of America’s big thinkers . . . Romano is a cheerful and exuberant guide.”
-Jonathan Rée, The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Admirable . . . Romano writes with the snap of a journalist.”
-Thomas Meaney, The Wall Street Journal
“Fascinating portraits of unjustly obscure intellectual figures, curated by a writer with a talent for the telling example.”
-John Kappes, The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Stimulating . . . Graceful . . . This exuberant book succeeds in filling one’s mind with the excitement of ideas duking it out.”
-Drew DeSilver, The Seattle Times
“Genuinely exciting and provocative . . . If Romano wanted to discombobulate the traditional landscape of American philosophy, he achieved his goal.”
“Romano’s remarkable book stands out in terms of ambition, breadth, provocativeness, and, when needed, a delicate touch.”
-Howard Gardner, author of Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed
“Comprehensive and certain to be controversial . . . Romano’s grip on his subject is fierce, and his tone, though critical throughout (he does not just summarize; he assesses), is occasionally light . . . A tour de force—encyclopedic, entertaining and enlightening.”
-Starred review, Kirkus
“Engaging . . . With illuminating anecdotes and an addictive prose style, Romano renders complex ideas lucid without sacrificing depth of understanding or his splendid sense of humor. His breathtaking intellectual range and passion will make every reader want to be a philosopher.”
-Starred review, Publishers Weekly
“Part love letter, part hand grenade, Romano’s commentary is sure to delight and infuriate in a way that will underscore its thesis.”
“This wide-ranging survey is likely to be of interest to all readers interested in philosophy and American thought in the 20th and 21st centuries.”
About the Author
Carlin Romano, Critic-at-Large of The Chronicle of Higher Education and literary critic of The Philadelphia Inquirer for twenty-five years, is Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Ursinus College. His criticism has appeared in The Nation, The New Yorker, The Village Voice, Harper’s, The American Scholar, Salon, The Times Literary Supplement, and many other publications. A former president of the National Book Critics Circle, he was a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Criticism, cited for “bringing new vitality to the classic essay across a formidable array of topics.” He lives in Philadelphia.
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Carlin Romano's book, "America the Philosophical" (2012) carries out at length some of the ideas Royce briefly sketched in his essay. Romano is Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Ursinus College, and served for many years as literary critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Among other things, Romano has edited a book of noir literature centered on his native Philadelphia, Philadelphia Noir (Akashic Noir), thus maintaining strong ties to both popular and intellectual culture. In fact, one of the goals of Romano's book is to soften the claimed distinctions among "high", "middle", and "low" cultures.
Romano sets forth the major theme of the book in his title. Far from being an anti-intellectual, dumbed-down, or philistine culture, the United States shows an extraordinary level of thought and activity in the life of the mind. In the course of a wide survey of American thought, inside and outside the Academy, Romano makes some broad claims. He argues in favor of a pragmatic view of American thought as developed by James, Dewey, and Richard Rorty. He also sees, the relatively little-known Greek philosopher Isocrates rather than the familiar Socrates as emblematic of the direction of philosophy in the United States. Romano summarizes the course of his study at the close of his lengthy Introduction:
"In the post-positivist, post-Cold War, pan-Google era in which we live, America the Philosophical -- the country, not the book-- can be seen as a coruscating achievement in the pragmatist project that's been unfolding for centuries. It's a rough-hewn implementation of what truth, ethics, beauty and a host of core philsophical notions must be in an interdependent nation and world village no longer able to ignore variant traditions and conceptual categories of others, but equally unwilling to give up the notion that some beliefs are better than others. Our country is not 'Idiot America' but 'Isocratic America' -- a place where the battle between dogma and doggedness in seeking answers never ends, from sea to shining sea."
Romano explores many divergent thinkers and ideas with clarity, enthusiasm and judgment. He offers expositions of many books together with criticisms. He includes both biography and analysis, as one of Romano's important claims involves the interrelationship of life and thought. It is humbling in itself to read the stories in this book of highly intelligent, driven, and creative individuals. The individuals discussed in the book range from the familiar to the obscure. In its text and in its detailed bibliography, which Romano states is a "mark, in part, of the singular productivity of writers and scholars in America", the book encourages readers to pursue in greater detail the topics and issues it addresses.
The early sections of the book discuss what Romano perhaps unhappily describes as the white male story in philosophy ranging from the early Puritans, through Emerson, followed by the pragmatists Peirce, James, and Dewey, through modern analytic philosophy, including practitioners such as W.V.O. Quine. This section culminates in a discussion of Richard Rorty, a philosophical hero of Romano's book. For Romano, Rorty properly changed the focus of American philosophy from epistemology and the search for foundations and certainty to a sense of shared narratives, dealing with concrete issues, and storytelling. With Rorty, Romano takes much, but not all, of his picture of American philosophy outside the scope of American philosophy departments in universities.
Romano examines philosophical thought in academics from other disciplines including physics, psychology, mathematics, and literary criticsm. He examines various non-academic writers, among them Hugh Hefner and his Playboy Philosophy. Bill Moyers finds an honored place in the study as a philosophical broadcaster Romano admires.
Romano offers lengthy discussions of philosophical thinking outside of what he terms the white male establishment among African Americans, women, Native Americans and gays. The individuals and the books he discusses are much more fascinating than the categories in which they are too-readily pigeon-holed. The longest and most varied of these sections is the long chapter on women which ranges over Susan Sontag, Martha Nussbaum, Hannah Arendt, Ayn Rand, and many others. Romano follows his consideration of individuals outside the category of white males with a rather brief, wandering discussion of the "cyber" revolution and its varied impacts on literature, religion, philosophy and more. This discussion of the impact of computers and the Internet is the least convincing section of the book.
In a chapter called "Isocrates: A Man not a Tyro", Romano argues that Socrates, with his search for a dogmatic, fixed form of truth through definitions and verities, is a poor conceptual model for American pragmatic philosophy. He develops the figure of Isocrates instead, for his openness, non-dogmatism and commitment to democracy without falling into relativism. In favoring Isocrates over Socrates and Plato, Romano differs from a new study of the importance of philosophy to American life by the American philosopher, Rebecca Goldstein. In her book, Plato at the Googleplex, Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away, Goldstein argues for the value of the Platonic search for objective truth, even if Plato himself frequently proved mistaken. Romano, through Isocrates, argues that the Socratic/Platonic search is misguided in an American, pragmatic age. He writes:
"Socrates, in the predominant picture of him drawn by Plato, favors discourse that presumes there's a right answer, an eternally valid truth, at the end of the discursive road. Isocrates favors discourse, but thinks, like Rorty and Habermas, that right answers emerge from appropriate public deliberation, from what persuades people at the end of the road."
The concluding sections of this book include a critical discussion of John Rawls famous work of political philosophy, "A Theory of Justice" together with an epilogue praising President Obama as "Philosopher in Chief" for what Romano sees as his erudition, eloquence, moderation, and willingness to engage with all sides of issues.
Romano has written a wide-ranging book about philosophical and intellectual life in the United States and about its continued promise. Readers with an interest in philosophy or in the American experience will benefit from this book. It brings to fruition an idea Josiah Royce had outlined over a century earlier in the essay discussed at the outset of this review.
The phylosopher that Romano prefers, I think, is Rorty, because he has the opportunity of talking about the positivisme in according to the more abstract questions.
Everyone can choice an individual walking around the great quantity of references of this book.
I like Bloom as leterary critic and Fukuyama as political theorist.
Romano analyzes with attention also the mass-media, particullarly the news-paper, the broad-casting, the social networks. Other opportunities of analysis are the movements: the African Americans, the women.
It is clear that Romano has a liberal orientation, but that does not excuse some of the venemous comments put forward. Save your comments for the page margins or donate it to your local library.
Now I have to decide whether I should give the book to my conservative grandson.
Romano is a genial and smart tour guide for the American philosophical landscape. Readers will find discussions of thinkers as diverse as Cornel West, Bill Moyers, Richard Posner, Alain Locke, Martha Nussbaum, John Rawls, Jaron Lanier, and many others. The obvious protest is that Romano has built a mansion too capacious, housing many thinkers that would not normally be joined together under the rubric of philosopher. The delights of wandering around this house, however, offset any zoning violations. The spirit, breadth, and narrative excitement, not to mention jauntiness, make this book an engaging read. Scholars may find much that is familiar although they should appreciate the quick sketches of public intellectuals at work. Philosophical neophytes will be enthused by the rapid-fire commentaries and introductions on various philosophers and will probably push them towards reading more on the subject. Quite an accomplishment.
So, ditch your highfaluting language and narrow concerns and enjoy Romano's ride into the world of American public philosophy.