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Essays and Reviews: 1959-2002 Hardcover – 19 Jan 2014

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 456 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (19 Jan. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691159858
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691159850
  • Product Dimensions: 16.4 x 3.3 x 23.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 245,913 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


One of Flavorwire's 10 Best Books by Academic Publishers in 2014

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

"[Williams'] essays accommodate the world and the reader, and unlike the world, give one confidence and delight in good argument."--Geoffrey Hawthorn, London Review of Books

"[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 Back Cover

"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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Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This collection of essays and reviews by the late Bernard Williams is a joy. Williams was not an easy philosopher to read, not because he was obscure or tortuous but because he was so good; it's hard for most of us to follow an entire argument over the course of a whole book. His book Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Genealogy sat on my shelf for several years and repeatedly denied my late-night attempts to come to grips with it; Williams is the kind of writer you should read at 10am with a good cup of coffee to hand, and since I was always at work at my non-philosophical job at such times, I never managed to get far in the book.

Essays and Reviews, on the other hand, sees Williams in bite-sized form, tackling books eight-to-ten pages at a time and making short but coherent arguments which will stimulate even the tired and distracted. His Radio 3 talk 'The Logic of Abortion' manages to sum up the controversies about abortion in just six pages, and also point to a convincing starting point for future discussion (namely, that no discussion about abortion can be considered meaningful that is not fully grounded in the experience of women, i.e. that it is not for legislators and philosophers and priests to decide whether abortion is or is not permissible, but women themselves.) His book reviews, even when affectionate (i.e. of Gilbert Ryle's On Thinking) are always engaging critically with the book reviewed, never just either slash jobs or encomia.
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Format: Paperback
A whistle stop tour of 43 years in the life of philosophy as the books Williams reviews reflect the major trends of the time - we start with Wittgenstein/his followers, ordinary language philosophy and AJ Ayer and move on through Rawls, Nozick, Parfit and Nagel, MacIntyre, Mackie and Rorty…Meanwhile we see Williams also reflecting on obscenity and pornography and related issues as he has chaired a government enquiry into this in the 1970s and writing more reflective pieces including some more particularly geared to the 'ordinary reader'. There's a particularly remarkable piece written early on 'what is existentialism?' for broadcast on the BBC's Vietnamese World Service (Williams says it is about freedom and choice and making those choices clear through action) and later on a piece from 1990 on the need to be sceptical which sets out the pros - and the more considerable cons - of all the recent mainstream and worthwhile writings on ethical theory…

Williams says a few times that philosophy moves on through changing the subject. We see in this book an enormous critical intelligence at work - he gets the books he is reviewing exactly right at their time of publication and that's an enormously impressive achievement. The collection does make the reader wonder, however 'did Williams himself change the subject, in any of the many areas he worked on?'...
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9210b024) out of 5 stars 7 reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x91b24ba0) out of 5 stars Unadulterated, ethically grounded intelligence 22 Feb. 2014
By S. Matthews - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x91b24bf4) out of 5 stars Invaluable 15 May 2014
By Jim - Published on Amazon.com
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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x91b24ed0) out of 5 stars can I sit at this table? 10 Aug. 2015
By j a haverstick - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This collection got a terrific review in the LRB by , Geoffrey Hawthorn, apparently a friend of Willliams’. The review offered a retrospective of his work and reminded me of how much I have learned from him over the years. Williams is a generation older than I and I have been reading his reviews as well as his books for a long time. These essays and reviews serve as wonderful history of philosophy over the last half century. And they keep you awake without making you think (as Williams says of a book he reviews on Russell). But don’t take offense, I mean “think” in the sense of an academic analysis for a colloquium. If we mean by “think” the contemplation of the big questions and the grand issues of the recent past, then you’ll get some nice exercise from this book. And I second the remark by another reviewer, laugh out loud funny, sometimes. I expected to read some and skip half, as is usual in such a collection. I read them all. I join the chorus of praise
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x91b24dc8) out of 5 stars Some of these essays border on dated, but most ... 12 July 2014
By Richard Lenon - Published on Amazon.com
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.
HASH(0x91b24fd8) out of 5 stars worth the money 28 July 2014
By Mark Pressman - Published on Amazon.com
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
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