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The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths Hardcover – June 4, 2013

4.2 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Gray's godless mysticism asks us to look outside ourselves and simply see. This is a lot more difficult than it sounds . . . Sometimes I think John Gray is the great Schopenhauerian European Buddhist of our age. What he offers is a gloriously pessimistic cultural analysis, which rightly reduces to rubble the false idols of the cave of liberal humanism.” ―Simon Critchley, The Los Angeles Review of Books

“[Gray's is] a powerful message, and not without elements of profundity. And it is conveyed with eloquence of language and dignity of thought.” ―Robert W. Merry, The National Interest

“Gray's fans should find much here to please them. The range of literary, historical and philosophical extracts--from Conrad and Zweig to Borges and John Ashbery, and from Nietzsche and Freud to Robinson Jeffers and Czeslaw Milosz, to name only a few--is broad and deep. Gray's own utterances are by turns characteristically dark, audacious and outrageous.” ―Caspar Henderson, The Telegraph

Silence of Animals is a beautifully written book, the product of a strongly questioning mind. It is effectively an anthology with detailed commentary, setting out one rich and suggestive episode after another, each of which becomes only more suggestive by the juxtaposition.” ―Philip Hensher, The Spectator

About the Author

John Gray is the author of many critically acclaimed books, including The Immortalization Commission, Black Mass, and Straw Dogs. A regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, he is Emeritus Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (June 4, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374229171
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374229177
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #880,321 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This new book by John Gray is a meditation on how we deal with the world when our faith in progress and human betterment deserts us. It explores the theme through the prisms of literature, art, philosophy, and to a lesser extent, psychology rather than being a scientific or historical study. As with all of Gray's work, it has some telling insights and observations, and ranges over a fascinating mix of the familiar and obscure to give depth and substance to his ideas.

The Silence of Animals is arranged in three parts. The first looks at the idea of progress and how people's belief in it has disintegrated when faced with human barbarity. The two world wars left ruin in their wake and Gray looks at the reactions of writers such as J G Ballard, Norman Lewis and Stefan Zweig to the rapid disappearance of civilised behaviour in the brutality of war. Barbarism can also emerge from economic crisis: the Great Depression and the inflation in inter-war Germany, and the financial crash of 2008, each destroyed the wealth of countless families. They rendered years of faith in saving and building a future utterly meaningless, even as the alchemists of finance breathed a sigh of relief over their canapés at finding their own fortunes unscathed.

Gray was previously an academic political theorist and he sees authoritarian politics, whether of the left or right, as an attempt to deny the chaos of reality and to fake a sense of order. People like certainty and the dream of a better day to come, and therein perhaps lies the appeal of those charlatans who would have us believe that they can plan and control our future.

In the end, progress is a myth because evolution is about survival, not about constant improvement.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
That Gray puts to bed the rationalist's love affair with humanism is less important than the fact that he euthanizes what is left of faith as well.

Ignore Thomas Nagel's NY Times book review. As much as I like Nagel's work, his review is off considerably. He claims that Gray inserts far too much secondary quotation from other books. This is not really even a matter of opinion. It is simply false. Gray uses what is necessary to convey his ideas within an intellectual's context. Nagel also claims that Gray hammers away for no reason as there are many examples of progress available. Well, Nagel just walks into the trap here as Gray explains why such examples are part of a greater myth.

Gray has carefully explained the nature of our wishful thinking and, without ideological bias or academic rancor, he has done his part for disenchantment. Yet, he has not, in any way, attempted to create a nihilist's playbook. He allows much for the advance of meaning.

Really--a marvelous book. It deserves much more attention than it seems to be getting.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
That's a quote from Llewellyn Powys, younger brother of better known writer John Cowper Powys (Porius, which is on my 2014 reading list). Llewellyn is just one of the many writers and thinkers, most of them obscure (oh, to spend some time in John Gray's library), profiled and sampled and pressed into something new and original and wonderful: The Silence of Animals, on Progress and other Modern Myths.

I love this book. To be fair, I'm a huge John Gray fan, so I pretty much knew I was going to love it from the outset. I was right. By using the lives and words of others to build his arguments and illuminate his world view, Gray creates a haunting, moving dreamscape of thought, a ghostly fortress of logic, that carries readers along to his inescapable conclusions: progress is a myth, humans are animals (and unexceptional animals at that) and we do ourselves a disservice by hiding behind religion and other myths which prevent us from just being ... and therefore being happy.

It's not for everyone. If you enjoy having your belief systems shaken like a martini, or relish in seeing atheism called into question for falling short of the mark, or wonder if faith in science and progress is really just the recycled and misguided faith of the religious, this short, epic, sad, funny, tragic, exasperating, ultimately uplifting book is for you.

Some of my favorite lines:

"According to some historians, inequality in America at the start of the twenty-first century is greater than in the slave-based economy of imperial Rome in the second century. Of course there are differences. Contemporary America is probably less stable than imperial Rome.
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This book is not light reading. I doubt that many readers will find it worthwhile to struggle through it, mainly because of the book's ultimate message: that the world and reality are amoral, goal-less and devoid of any sense of progress, moral or otherwise. And that any ascribing of these things to the cosmos or Reality is simply human anthropocentrism and wishful thinking. This is a hard message for most people---it's hard to comprehend and even harder to live with. Thus, I don't think many people will like this book. I, however, loved it, and have already starting reading it again. John Gray is a fantastic writer and a solid thinker. I've become a fan.
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