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All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age [Kindle Edition]

Hubert Dreyfus , Sean Dorrance Kelly
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
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Book Description

In unrelenting flow of choices confronts us at nearly every moment of our lives, and yet our culture offers us no clear way to choose. This predicament seems inevitable, but in fact it’s quite new. In medieval Europe, God’s calling was a grounding force. In ancient Greece, a whole pantheon of shining gods stood ready to draw an appropriate action out of you. Like an athlete in “the zone,” you were called to a harmonious attunement with the world, so absorbed in it that you couldn’t make a “wrong” choice. If our culture no longer takes for granted a belief in God, can we nevertheless get in touch with the Homeric moods of wonder and gratitude, and be guided by the meanings they reveal? All Things Shining says we can.

Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly illuminate some of the greatest works of the West to reveal how we have lost our passionate engagement with and responsiveness to the world. Their journey takes us from the wonder and openness of Homer’s polytheism to the monotheism of Dante; from the autonomy of Kant to the multiple worlds of Melville; and, finally, to the spiritual difficulties evoked by modern authors such as David Foster Wallace and Elizabeth Gilbert.

Dreyfus, a philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley, for forty years, is an original thinker who finds in the classic texts of our culture a new relevance for people’s everyday lives. His lively, thought-provoking lectures have earned him a podcast audience that often reaches the iTunesU Top 40. Kelly, chair of the philosophy department at Harvard University, is an eloquent new voice whose sensitivity to the sadness of the culture—and to what remains of the wonder and gratitude that could chase it away—captures a generation adrift.

Re-envisioning modern spiritual life through their examination of literature, philosophy, and religious testimony, Dreyfus and Kelly unearth ancient sources of meaning, and teach us how to rediscover the sacred, shining things that surround us every day. This book will change the way we understand our culture, our history, our sacred practices, and ourselves. It offers a new—and very old—way to celebrate and be grateful for our existence in the modern world.

Product Description


[A]n inspirational book but a highly intelligent and impassioned one. compelling. " The Wall Street Journal"


"In "All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age, "two distinguished philosophers, Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly, have written an extraordinary, ambitious, and provocative tour de force that frames one of the central questions of our age: how we have passed "from the intense and meaningful lives of Homer's world to the indecision and sadness" that too often characterizes modern times. This is compelling reading because in examining the great literary works produced in the history of the West, the authors find new ways of configuring issues of choice, autonomy, fanaticism, solace, and most importantly, the ties that bind us to the past. The book is both brief and yet remarkably comprehensive as it delves into the transcendent values of the classic works that have helped to advance modern thought and inform the development of the Western world. I found myself particularly fascinated by Chapter 5, 'The Attractions and Dangers of Autonomy.' As with the rest of the book, reading this chapter, I could hardly put it down"

--Vartan Gregorian, President, Carnegie Corporation of New York

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2116 KB
  • Print Length: 274 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 141659616X
  • Publisher: Free Press (23 Dec. 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004H4WILO
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #406,525 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A Preparation 8 Dec. 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
In many ways this is an excellent book. It is erudite and informative and conveys the profound in a simple and entertaining manner. It is worth reading in particular for its chapters on Homer and Moby Dick. Also its emphasis on gratitude was refreshing. However in the final analysis I found its conclusions a little anticlimactic and disappointing in not providing greater hope. To any who feel as i do I would recommend reading David Hoffmeister's "awakening through a course in miracles" which for me provides many of the answers to the questions posed by "all things shining"
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The meaning of Life after the death of God 25 Feb. 2011
Format:Kindle Edition
The somewhat "mysterious" title of this interesting book is derived from a little story cited in the epilogue. The "reading" that the subtitle refers to, starts with the ancient Greeks (Homer and the Tragedians) and, through the Romans, it scans the relevant sources of the Middle Ages: Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Dante to reach Luther, Descartes, the Enlightenment (Kant) and eventually the modern secular age. A special chapter-almost fifty pages- is devoted to Melville's (what the authors call) "Evil Art". This elevation of Melville to the pantheon of Western culture might at first sight appear capricious and illogical but in fact proves to be the core of the book and the most eloquent argument against the evils of monotheism. The reader who is unacquainted with the immense literature on the rich symbolism of Melville's masterpiece might find this chapter so breathtaking that he might well forget or ignore whatever shortcomings or omissions exist in the other chapters and especially the last, titled " Lives Worth Living in a Secular Age".
Here one would expect to find at least a citation of the Socratic "anexetastos bios"(the unexamined life- which , as Socrates proclaimed in his "Apologia"- is not worth living); the ethical life with the performance of noble acts; the contemplation of the beauty and mystery of the cosmos and some works of art (especially music) or even the meditation and various practices of oriental cultures as a substitute of the medieval "beatific vision". The authors instead seek this substitute in the elation brought about by the glimpsing of perfection of great athletes or teams of popular sports and other epiphanies of mass events. Presumably they find this more consistent with our modern mass, democratic culture.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A present 12 Jun. 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have not read this book but the recipient was very pleased with this item. It was used as a 'course book' whilst studying for a particular qualification.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, promising 31 Dec. 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Theirs is a noble goal: to give their readers some sense of meaning-giving in our technological driven, meaningless world by reading the western classics. However, they do not really succeed in explaining in what way those classics can help us in our contemporary nihilism, or why exactly those classics were chosen. Rather, they use those classics to describe the radical difference between our empty world and that of Homer, and to give an argument of how that change came about.

That arguments reaches its pinnacle in the penultimate chapter on Melville's Moby Dick. By far the longest chapter in the book (47 pages with 31 pages average per chapter), the authors are clearly of the opinion that this book is the locus classicus for the description of the transition from a theistic to an atheistic worldview - half a century before Nietzsche announced the death of God. Though interesting in itself, the analysis does little more to help us give meaning to our lives than give a lot of parables, ideas, and metaphors which can help us to make sense of our position in an empty world - but not to give meaning to it.

The best part in my opinion is the Conclusion. Here, the authors describe how to excel in some activity (their example is sports) indeed can give meaning to our lives. Like the craftsman who looks at trees and wood with a specific eye, we all should excel in what we do and in this way let specific parts of the world shine to us.

In short, this is an interesting book, though not of the depth and thoroughness that we have come to expect from Hubert Dreyfus. But than again, the book is perhaps targeted at a different audience.
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4 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Emperor's New Clothes? 23 Feb. 2012
By Sentinel TOP 500 REVIEWER
Given the ecstatic (U.S.) press reviews for this, I opened it with high expectations. Sadly, I was to be disappointed: the writing style is dry and uninspiring, the texts chosen, even though 'cherry-picked' for content, are quite unable to bear the weight of interpretation put upon them, and much of the analysis given is of questionable worth.

I also found the choice of 'Western Classics' debatable, given it begins and ends with David Foster Wallace, who according to the authors is the "greatest writer of his generation; perhaps the greatest mind altogether." (p.22) Wallace and his concept of nihilism, plus Melville's 'Moby Dick' comprise the bulk of this book's focus, though Homer & Aeschylus, and Dante and Kant are also used to illustrate 'Western' society's drift from Polytheism, via Monotheism to Wallace's (and hence our!) Nihilism.

It sounds an interesting premise, even if you question how representative the authors selection might be, but the notion that "this inspirational book offers (advice) on how to live" would be frankly laughable, were it not for the fact that this is an expensive volume purporting to offer us new meaning for our lives. All this dull, and badly proof-read, volume offered this reader, was an increasing sense of the 'Emperor's New Clothes', and a much greater sense of nihilism than I had before opening it.

If you want to add greater meaning to your life, go for a walk in the countryside, or in the park, relax with some tranquil/meditative music, tell someone you care about how important they are for you, but avoid this shining disappointment.
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