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Essays and Reviews: 1959-2002 [Hardcover]

Bernard Williams , Michael Wood

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Book Description

19 Jan 2014

Bernard Williams was one of the most important philosophers of the last fifty years, but he was also a distinguished critic and essayist with an elegant style and a rare ability to communicate complex ideas to a wide public. This is the first collection of Williams's popular essays and reviews, many of which appeared in the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, and the Times Literary Supplement. In these pieces, Williams writes about a broad range of subjects, from philosophy and political philosophy to religion, science, the humanities, economics, socialism, feminism, and pornography.

Included here are reviews of major books such as John Rawls's Theory of Justice, Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Alastair MacIntyre's After Virtue, Richard Rorty's Consequences of Pragmatism, and Martha Nussbaum's Therapy of Desire. But many of these essays extend beyond philosophy and together provide an intellectual tour through the past half century, from C. S. Lewis and Umberto Eco to Noam Chomsky. No matter the subject, Williams probes and challenges arguments, teases out their implications, and connects them to the wider intellectual scene. At the same time, readers see a first-class mind grappling with landmark books in "real time," before critical consensus had formed and ossified.

In his foreword, Michael Wood discusses Williams's style and sensibility and his concern that philosophy contribute to the larger intellectual conversation.

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"[A]ffords a different, and especially advantageous, perspective from which to consider the animating ideas of Williams's humanism."--Joel Isaac, Times Literary Supplement

"[A] stimulating read for anyone who cares about the condition of the world. With characteristic clarity, insight, and humor, the author tackles a wide range of topics as diverse as philosophy, religion, science, the humanities, and pornography."--Wan Lixin, Shanghai Daily

"This rigorous collection of essays and reviews reveals the brilliant and critical mind of Bernard Williams. . . . In these reviews and essays Williams achieves something that philosophy always promises but seldom delivers: a view from the perspective of reason, on a cultural landscape where reason is only one of the landmarks."--Roger Scruton, Telegraph

"Illuminating and instructive essays and reviews. This is a book which should inspire readers to go and read--or perhaps reread--Williams's other works . . ."--Alasdair Palmer, Standpoint

"The titles that Williams reviewed read from a who's who of late 20th century philosophy. His reviews of Rawls' Theory of Justice and Nozick's Anarchy, State and Utopia are relevant today, thirty years after they were written. . . . Reading short reviews of these classic philosophical volumes in such a clear, accessible tone is a great pleasure, and the editors of this volume should be congratulated for making them available in this format."--Robert Robinson, San Francisco Book Review

"[E]xtremely welcome collection . . . all of which show his punchy, interogative genius in full swing. . . . [B]rilliant essays . . ."--Seamus Perry, Literary Review

"[A]n excellent new collection. . . . The essays can be savored piecemeal but are more powerful in number. To flip through them is to flip through the past forty years of our intellectual history by way of its seminal texts."--Walker Mimms, New Criterion

"The work of forty-three busy years, the essays in this volume attest to both what analytic philosophy has to gain from the humanities, and what the humanities have to gain from philosophy. Entirely free of kitsch or easy comfort, they leave us with the cumulative impression of a lifetime of truthfulness prosecuted with wit, subtlety, and stylishness."--Nakul Krishna, Cambridge Humanities Review

"For anybody wishing to undertake philosophy as a humanistic discipline, this collection of essays is an excellent place to start. But it will take many years to get up to speed, and the task will never be finished. Not for the first time, I am left wishing that Williams, who died in 2003, could have had another decade to show what a lifetime of learning can achieve."--Paul Sagar, Oxonian Review

"Posthumously published essays and reviews often feel like stale leftovers, but Bernard Williams was such a good philosopher and writer that his remain fresh and delicious. This collection gives not only a marvelous record of intellectual milestones across 43 years, but also a sense of immediacy."--Jane O'Grady, Times Higher Education

"I cannot recommend this volume highly enough to anyone interested in what the humanities have to offer."--Constantine Sandis, Times Higher Education

"[A] showcase of the philosopher's distinctive acumen and wit."--Adam Ferner, Philosophers' Magazine

"Williams's literary and philosophical skills are well on display."--John Schwenkler, Commonweal

From the Inside Flap

"This collection is the work of an exceptional thinker--an insightful philosopher who was also an acute observer of the world. Williams has a virtually unerring eye for the specious, for the concealed premise, and for overblown rhetoric, which he brings to light with a mordant wit, tinged at times with a wry sympathy for his target."--Charles Taylor, McGill University

"Bernard Williams lit up philosophy; teaching us what it is, what it has been, and what it might become. In these essays, he takes a stand on the major intellectual currents of his time. With his characteristic clarity, insight, and humor, Williams is here the philosopher-witness, offering us a penetrating view of an age."--Jonathan Lear, University of Chicago

"'How clean a smell he has managed to leave behind!' George Orwell wrote of Gandhi. The same could be said of Bernard Williams, and with the same touch of wonder. Great minds--and Williams stood at the pinnacle of intellectual distinction--often veer into positions that come to seem, with the passage of time, extravagant, self-indulgent, or cruel. But Williams's acute intelligence--high-spirited, supple, and wide-ranging--was unfailingly in the service of decency, clarity, and an ethical life rooted not in abstract principles but in the tangled circumstances of the everyday. These elegant, witty essays and reviews, still astonishingly alive, are at once deeply pleasurable and deeply important."--Stephen Greenblatt, author of The Swerve

"One of the foremost twentieth-century philosophers, Bernard Williams was also an acute critic of contemporary thought and letters. This well-chosen collection of essays and reviews is packed with arguments and insights, ranging across topics as diverse as the logic of abortion and whether the idea of God has any meaning. Richly enjoyable as well as consistently illuminating, this will be a feast of ideas for all who care about the intellectual condition of the culture."--John Gray, professor emeritus, London School of Economics

"These essays represent philosophical, intellectual, and social commentary at its very best. But what will be most valued by many different kinds of reader is the perfectly clear, agreeable, plain-speaking tone of the writing, and the unpretentious wisdom with which Bernard Williams addresses such a variety of subjects."--Barry Stroud, University of California, Berkeley

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unadulterated, ethically grounded intelligence 22 Feb 2014
By S. Matthews - Published on
Not a lot to say about this, since if you are thinking of buying it then you likely already know what you are going to get: 400 pages of unrelenting, ethically informed, in equal measures intimidating and seductive critical intelligence. There can surely have been no more frightening news delivered to any newly published author than that a copy of their book had been sent to Bernard Williams.

Roger Scruton has just published a fairly widely circulated review in which he complains (he is otherwise generously positive - especially considering that Williams dismisses him at one point as 'vapid') that Williams tended to deploy his intelligence to identify the gaps in others' thinking, but avoided setting out positive positions himself. This is at least sort of true, but misses the point about a man who wrote a book on 'Ethics and the limits of Philosophy'. Williams didn't mean that the philosophical tradition is useless, but that its utility is sometimes defined in terms of intellectual hygiene, not in in the setting out of positive positions.

This is 400 pages of intellectual hygiene at its most educational and seductive. It is also, sometimes, laugh out loud funny.
5.0 out of 5 stars Some of these essays border on dated, but most ... 12 July 2014
By Richard Lenon - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Some of these essays border on dated, but most not. He writes with a grace and wit on many contentious topics, and generally with a gentility that many of us might miss these days. When he does pull out a few stops, on targets he considers deserving, it stands out. You don't have to read them all, but many you'd be sorry to miss. There is also at least a glimpse of an academic culture that's probably on the wane, in England and here in the US.
5.0 out of 5 stars Invaluable 15 May 2014
By Jim - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This collection facilitates easy access to reviews of many important books written between 1960
and 2000. Williams is unmatched as a reviewer. Many of these reviews are not collected elsewhere. This book is invaluable.
5.0 out of 5 stars worth the money 28 July 2014
By Mark Pressman - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
an excellent book, williams reviews dozens of important philosophy books and articles from 4 decades, in short, exceptionally clear articles of his own. not dull. incisive
5.0 out of 5 stars Ideal for both the professional philosopher and non-academic reader. 21 Aug 2014
By Gerald D. Lynch - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Bernard Williams beautiful style when applied to the academic essay makes the most complex concepts accessible and intriguing to all audiences.
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