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The Hungry Soul: Eating and the Perfecting of Our Nature 4.1.1999 Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226425689
ISBN-10: 0226425681
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Eating, observes Kass, a physician and biochemist who teaches literature and philosophy at the University of Chicago, is a "great paradox." To preserve life, individuals necessarily destroy life. Yet, he argues, if this urgent, most basic animal necessity is humanized through table manners, hospitality, sharing, good conversation and ritual, eating becomes a means to celebrate and broaden human community, friendship and values. This stimulating, original philosophical inquiry views eating among humans as a key to our place in the natural order and as a manifestation of the "hungry soul" that seeks satisfaction in activities motivated by ambition, curiosity, affection and awe. Kass concludes by arguing that Jewish dietary laws are one example of a code that embodies an understanding of the ethics of eating and a reverence for life.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Eating can be a serious business, and in his wide-ranging explorations of it, Kass moves from metabolism to mortality and from digestion to divinity. The variety of dining forms, he discloses, includes feeding the stranger at our hearth, the well-mannered family supper, the convivial and witty dinner party, the inspiriting fictional feast of Dinesen's Babette, the wisdom-seeking symposium of Plato, and the reverent ritual meal. To Kass, the preparation for, the arrangement of, and the intellectual and social atmosphere surrounding a dinner should make it not only a satisfying affair for both giver and receiver but an epitome of the best in social intercourse. Modern eating, with its concomitant incivility, insensitivity, and ingratitude, has already infected other activities of life, he says. At first, much in this fairly heavy book appears to be about things other than eating, but the perceptive reader discovers that Kass hasn't missed his subject but woven an intricate, thought-provoking tapestry around it. William Beatty --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: The University of Chicago Press; 4.1.1999 edition (May 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226425681
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226425689
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #611,013 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By W. Mark Smillie on July 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book makes a strong defense of the classical principles of truth, beauty and goodness, jumping from a provoking and very unique starting point: eating. Kass is able to bring the perennial philosophy into the 20th Century, and to create a dialogue between it and modern science, as well as provide a persuasive understanding and defense of traditional ethics, etiquette, and beauty. Kass's analysis of "Babette's Feast" and his speculations on religous ritual are very thought provoking.
One must admire Kass's attempt to pull together so much of traditional philosophy (especially Aristotle) and literature, and still bring this into dialogue with contemporary science (there's reductionism there if anywhere) and culture. His scope is broad, and this book demands a lot of the reader! The argument is purposive, and analysis is difficult--there is so much there, and just about every move is key. (I found summarizing for students very difficult.) Yet Kass's arguments are very much worth considering, and bear more than one reading. To those who are patient, a vision of a very different way of looking at our whole human experience will emerge, one that I believe makes better sense of ourselves than most others offered today.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a book about the nature of human beings and ideas that would not have occurred to you otherwise. It is provocative--try to find some satisfying reply to Kass's contention that organ donation is a form of cannalbalism. The writing is fine.I can't recommend giving this book to everyone, but if you have some intellectually-minded friends who love to eat, this would be a tremendous choice. You could then discuss it over a omniverous meal.
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By A Customer on March 20, 2001
Format: Paperback
One of the reviewers seems to be very upset by Kass's omission of Freud and Levi-Strauss. There is a distinct difference between an academic study and a work of philosophy. The Hungry Soul is not an academic study and should not be expected to quote any specific opinion or previous work. This book represents Kass's own views on the subject and in my opnion they are thoughtful, deep and of a very high ethical character. This book is inspirational and thought provoking.
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Format: Paperback
Martin Buber once wrote that in every animal function human beings are not simply as animals, but instead humanize what they do. In "The Hungry Soul' Leon Kass gives a phenomenological and philosophical basis to the thesis that in eating we can also perfect our nature. Kass is not simply one of the world's senior bioethicists, but a humanist scholar with a medical and scientific background that give his arguments a force in fact and reason. I cannot honestly say I followed the argument of this work throughout but I did understand through it how eating can become a central means of extending our own caring for, and relation to other human beings, a way then of sanctifying ourselves in the world.

I conclude with an illuminating paragraph from Kass' conclusion, a paragraph which I believe gives the true ' flavor ' of the book.

"In the higher animals., the soul energized by hunger gains hunger's satisfaction only through intermediate activities- such as smelling, hearing, seeing, chasing, attacking, capturing, biting, tasting, chewing , and swallowing- activities which themselves become new objects for the hungry soul. Increasingly capable of genuine encounters with the world, with other living forms, and ( especially in birds and mammals) with kith and kin,the souls of the hungry acquire new hungers of their own,and for more nourishment.With the rise of intelligence and especially with the extraordinary development of the upright animal, the hungry soul seeks satisfacgtion in activities animated also by wonder,ambition,affection, curiosity, and awe. We human beings delight in beauty and order, art and action, sociability and friendship, insight and understanding, song and worship. And as self-conscious beings, we especially crave self-understanding and knowledge of our place in the larger whole." pp. 228
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Kass presents a profound, thought-provoking look at the human condition, where we are and where we may be going. I found the reading somewhat tedious and the use of the many parentheses distracting. That said, it is a scholarly work.
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Format: Paperback
I have never read such a neurotic, uptight, angst-filled book as this. The author actually inveighs against the eating of ice cream in public - an expression of his "not only Talmudic view" that "eating in the street is for dogs."

Really. I couldn't make this up.

His detailed review of table manners towards the end is quite interesting, but the book is marred by a long, metaphysical, and wholly irrelevant screed against the materialist, science-driven viewpoint that supposedly dominates our culture. Most authors in the humanities just launch into their subject without apology, but Kass' long justification of Why Science Is Insufficient distracts from, and fatally mars, what might otherwise be a very reasonable (if much shorter) review of the culture of food and eating.

Curiously, the preface contains a detailed explanation of why the author was not qualified to write this book. I'm inclined to believe him on this point.
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