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

Hubert Dreyfus , Sean Dorrance Kelly
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
RRP: 17.99
Price: 17.49 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

30 Aug 2010
A sense of certainty and unhesitating confidence is rare in the contemporary world. An unrelenting flow of choices confronts us at nearly every moment of our lives, and if we are honest about it then most of us will admit that we waver in the face of them. Dreyfus and Kelly examine some of the greatest books in the Western Canon to explain that the burden of choice is essentially a modern problem to which there is an age old solution. Dreyfus and Kelly explain the huge jump from Homer's polytheistic world to the monotheistic one in which Dante wrote his Divine Comedy and Martin Luther wrote his ninety-five theses. They then take the reader forward to the rejection of this Christian ideal, to the Superman of Nietzsche and further onto the spiritual cornucopia of Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Arriving at the ennui and emptiness that pervades our modern world in which the work of Elizabeth Gilbert and David Foster Wallace arose, Dreyfus and Kelly offer a new-and very old-way to embrace the world, a fresh way to live a meaningful life in a secular world.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Simon Spotlight Entertainment (30 Aug 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416596151
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416596158
  • Product Dimensions: 2.6 x 14.6 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 540,708 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Stunning! This is one of the most surprising, demanding, and beautiful books I have ever read. My compliments gentleman, and I hope thousands of others share my admiration--and awe." --Charles Van Doren, author of "A History of Knowledge"

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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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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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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 8 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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