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The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America Paperback – April 10, 2002
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Despite this potentially forbidding theme, The Metaphysical Club is not a dry tome for academics. Instead, it is a quadruple biography, a wonderfully told story of ideas that advances by turning these thinkers into characters and bringing them to life. Menand links them through the Metaphysical Club, a conversational club formed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1872. It lasted but a few months, and references to it appear only in Peirce's writings (its real significance seems rather limited), though Holmes and James were both members. (Dewey was much younger than these three, and more an heir than a contemporary.) It is difficult to describe in a sentence or two what they accomplished, though Menand takes a stab at it: "They helped put an end to the idea that the universe is an idea, that beyond the mundane business of making our way as best we can in a world shot through with contingency, there exists some order, invisible to us, whose logic we transgress at our peril." Academic freedom and cultural pluralism are just two of their legacies, and they are linchpins of democracy in a nonideological age, says Menand.
A book like this is necessarily idiosyncratic, yet at the same time this one is sweeping. It presents an accessible survey of intellectual life from roughly the end of the Civil War to the start of the cold war. Dozens of figures receive fascinating thumbnail sketches, from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Charles Darwin to Jane Addams and Eugene Debs. The result is a grand portrait of an age that will appeal to anyone with even a modest interest in the history of philosophy and ideas. --John Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
This book involves the reader on so many different levels that a review is sure to leave lots of information untouched. In short (very short!), Menand argues that studying the philosophical works of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Charles Peirce, William James, and John Dewey will tell us about where America has been, and where it is now. Menand argues that these four people influenced the way we think and act today.
Oliver Wendell Holmes fought in the Civil War as a young man. Later in life, he became one of America's leading legal theorists as a justice of the Supreme Court. The war deeply scarred Holmes, calling into question his conceptions of life and truth. In his legal rulings and scholarly articles, Holmes subscribed to the view that "certitude leads to violence," which means those with absolute ideas (like abolitionists and pro-slavery forces) won't compromise their belief systems. The result of this unwillingness to compromise is often bloody violence. Many of Holmes's rulings and writings support the belief that ideas, no matter how repugnant, should find full expression in society regardless of how unworthy they may be.Read more ›
This book, a blend of biography and intellectual history, truly has it all: a profound, original thesis; a beautiful narrative style; and a clear presentation of complex ideas without diluting their intellectual gravity. The book does for William James, Wendall Holmes, Charles Peirce, and John Dewey what Tony Judt's wonderful THE BURDEN OF RESPONSIBILITY did for Blum, Camus, and Aron--rescues critically important intellectual figures from obscurity and presents them in a graceful human form. The analysis of both character and theory is appreciative and appropriately irreverent. Menand wants you to see them and their ideas in the context of a society tolerant of both eccentricity and fanaticism, and in the context of a society that was fundamentally altered by the Civil War. Beautifully done, and an exhilarating read.
A warning to specialists: This book is intended for a general audience.
A warning to the politically correct: You may be offended.
A warning to regionalists (like myself): It's not as simple as Yankee = the good guys, Southerner = the bad guys.
The only criticism I have is slight. Menand neglects the contributions and counterpoints of Josiah Royce, the lone idealist, to the intellectual community of the period he is describing. He more than makes up for it with vivid portraits of such forgotten figures as Louis Aggasiz, G. Stanley Hall, Eugene Debs, etc...
If this one doesn't pull down the Pulitzer I'll be disappointed.
Menand provides a brilliant portrait of the intellectual life of America in the post-Civil War era. The story is told from a generalist and not a specialist point of view. If one is interested in pragmatism, this provides the background and an outline of an introduction to the subject. As historical background, this book is unsurpassed. But it is crucial to keep in mind that it is background, not foreground. It does not begin to rival, for instance, such studies as Murry Murphy's tragically out of print study of Peirce's thought, or Gerald Myer's biography of James, or Bruce Kuklick's study of the development of American Philosophy. Apart from the works of the figures themselves, these are the secondary works to which one would go for greater depth on the subject. But none of these works provides Menand's delicious breadth.
The number of subjects that Menand takes up is stunning.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
It focuses on the individuals and their thinking within the historical context leading to pragmatism. Read morePublished 2 months ago by S. Sher
This personal and intimate, yet broad and comprehensive review and exploration of how Americans viewed themselves through this country's agonies, most especially the Civil War,... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Bruce A. Mcallister
One of my interests is American history, but not politics and not warfare, rather the arts and sciences. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Bob Gustafson
History of great ideas from great minds overlapping from before the American Civil War up thru the 20th centuryPublished 10 months ago by hunter green
Very thought provoking in its similarities and difference from today. Let the experiment continue! Compare to The Philosophical Breakfast Club re similar time period in Europe and... Read morePublished 11 months ago by Gilbert V Herman
Intellectual history are very difficult to follow, and The Metaphysical Club is no exception. There is lengthy quotes from 18th century writers whose style is difficult to... Read morePublished 11 months ago by MDCRABGUY
This book changed my life! I was a science geek and what could be called a "logical positivist." This book helped me accept others' viewpoints (pluralism, pragmatism). Read morePublished 11 months ago by David A. Vaccari