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Heresies: Against Progress and Other Illusions [Paperback]

John Gray
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

16 Sep 2004
By the author of the best-selling Straw Dogs, this book is a characteristically trenchant and unflinchingly clear-sighted collection of reflections on our contemporary lot. Whether writing about the future of our species on this planet, the folly of our faith in technological progress, or the self-deceptions of the liberal establishment, John Gray dares to be heretical like few other thinkers today.

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Heresies: Against Progress and Other Illusions + False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism + Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals
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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books (16 Sep 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862077185
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862077188
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 69,833 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'Gray provides a philosophical form of chemotherapy: frightening but necessary if we are to save man.' -- Sunday Herald

'Savvy comments on the follies of our times… this book will provide interest and succour.’ -- Kirkpatrick Sale, Resurgence

‘If we had philosophy groups instead of reading groups, this would be an ideal book choice’ -- Publishing News

‘Pervasive but bracing. It’s like reading Jonathan Swift, without the satire’ -- Financial Times

‘The prescience of his views on such topics as Iraq and Tony Blair’s career is remarkable ’ -- The Guardian

About the Author

John Gray's books include the best-selling Straw Dogs. He is Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
A great American poet, John Ashbery, wrote that tomorrow is easy, but today is uncharted. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If I ever lose my faith in you... 10 Nov 2004
By A Customer
This book compiles a collection of articles, authored by Gray, that have appeared in the New Statesman magazine over a number of years. An attempt has been made to arrange the articles into a coherent entity, with a degree of success. In common with Gray's previous publication, Straw Dogs, this book does not make comfortable reading.
The central hypothesis of the early chapters (Part 1) concerns the illusion of progress in society; Gray is utterly compelling here, bringing in environmental and technological evidence. The structure of our present society is examined and framed by history in Part 2 with references to Hobbes and Joseph Conrad. Gray forsees a bleak, but realistic, future in which the battle for global resources is exasipated by increasing global industrialisation. This, he predicts, will fuel natural resource wars. There are anomalies within this section, for example an essay concerning the legalisation of torture.
The '5 Star' standard of Parts 1 and 2 is not retained in Part 3. This final section concerns international politics of Europe, the USA and Britain. I found all but the last of these fanciful, particularly recommendations to the UK Conservative Party agenda. The final essay discusses the 'Society of the Spectacle Revisited' and the role of celebrity in today's society.
In summary, I greatly enjoyed the ideas that this book compiles. As ever, Gray is thought provoking and disturbing in equal measure. If you witnessed the TV series 'The Power of Nightmares' or are familiar with the concept of 'Luxury Fever' you will enjoy this immensely (I did!).
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Necessary Heresy 4 Aug 2006
By M. S. Bowden VINE VOICE
Gray's book, a collection of essays first published in the New Statesman offers a refreshingly different perspective on issues such as war, the environment, Europe, and Blair's leadership amongst other things. Gray uncompromisingly undermines and exposes the illusions which support liberal ideas and the stranglehold which these ideas have on western society. He is to the liberal establishment as a pin is to a baloon. The author's prose style is sharp and his arguments are delivered in a logical and accessible way.

'Heresies' is broken up into three parts: Part 1 is called 'The Illusion of Progress'. It is in this section that Gray expounds his thoughts on how 'Progress', in a technological sense, does not result in increased peace and stability or requisite 'progress' in human values. The human animal, the author explains, will always be infected by certain dersires, often negative, and 'progress' means only that those who benefit from better technology can pursue their desires with increased efficiency. Thus 'Progress', for Gray, leads to the ability to destroy the human species with nuclear weapons and the destruction of hundreds of other species. The modern faith in progress then, as something which will lead us towards a brighter, better future is horribly delusional.

In section 2 'War, Terrorism, and Iraq', Gray heralds the 'resumption of history' which began with 9/11 and the end of the dream of a peaceful, globalised world. He argues that we are seeing a return to a Westphalian inter-state world in which the competition for scarce resources is becoming ever more fierce. It is in this context that Gray places the US 'War on Terror'.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Primate's Regress 6 May 2010
A collection of essays by the accomplished and sceptic Gray whose erudition is worn lightly and still leaves the reader feeling somewhat inadequate. Here he casts his deep and penetrative eye over such subjects as the war on terror, the illusions of progress and politics. For Gray Enlightenment succeeded in replacing one religion with another, where pie in the sky is exchanged for a pie that will be baked on earth, once all the ingredients have been collected, the utensils made and appliances engineered. Gray's beef isn't with science but with the cult of science. This cult sees the evolved primate progress inch by inch towards a paradise on the horizon. The savagely satirical Torture: A Modest Proposal is a highlight where he takes apart Dershowitz's position on torture with a Swiftian elegance. Gray is by turns provocative, disturbing, sensible and very funny but at all times he is cool and measured. Shrillness is something he is not acquainted with. This is a collection definitely worth investigating.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 24 Essays of Gray 24 Sep 2012
By opus
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Amongst my papers I have a magazine celebrating the coming-of-age of The Prince of Wales, wherein, Leon Petrulengro, the famed astrologer, predicts the course of the life of His Royal Highness: Petrulengro is most unlucky as he gets every thing wrong; even chance would have predicted some accuracy - but nothing. Reading Heresies reminded me of Petrulengro, for although Gray is a Philosopher rather than an Astrologer, he also seems (and this after only a decade) to be entirely wrong in his prophecies for the future of The Middle East (which is what the book, comprising essays reprinted from the New Statesman, is largely about).

I remember it well: Some two million of us on a chilly overcast Saturday in February decended - at our own expense - on London and marched; we passed the gates of 10 Downing Street - firmly closed and uninviting - and on to Hyde Park where Galloway and some pop-musician in the far distance performed. I could see little and heard less. I wended my way back to Charing Cross wondering rather what the point of it all had been, particularily as The Prime Minister had that day gone to Glasgow but leaving a message of insult for the marchers. Clearly we are democratic (although even Blair did not enjoy the popularity that Saddam had in Iraq) but democracy does not extend to Plebs either properly comprehending or constructing HMG's Foreign Policy.

I like Gray's Pessimism, but, on balance, Optimists seem to have the better of it: I am not sure how things are, now, in Iraq, but it has certainly passed out of the news; Afghanistan is where it is at; Syria may fall, but contrary to Gray's prediction, Saudi Arabia did not fall, and neither did Tony Blair.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Disenchanting the Machine
There are two authors named John Gray. The more well-known is a trivial (and best-selling) U.S. writer on love and relationships. Yes, the guy with "Mars and Venus". Read more
Published 19 months ago by Ashtar Command
5.0 out of 5 stars The More Things Change...
Same old, same old. John Grey delineates and demolishes, with his usual eloquence, all our illusions about being modern, being on the cutting edge of history. Read more
Published on 23 Mar 2011 by Julian Wilde
4.0 out of 5 stars reading from the vantage point of today
i found Grays writing to be entertaining and highly accessible, considering it is dealing with some complex issues. Read more
Published on 26 Nov 2009 by mark
4.0 out of 5 stars Controversial Brain Food
I imagine most people who buy this book will be readers of Gray's other works such as Straw Dogs and Black Mass who were impressed by his deep scepticism and deep analysis of many... Read more
Published on 26 May 2008 by Mr. N. T. Baxter
5.0 out of 5 stars The Mirror of the Human Condition
As John Gray reads the derogatory remarks of some reviewers he must be amused, given that the idea of his book is that it is a heresy to say the things he does. Read more
Published on 30 Oct 2007 by Jim Sutherland
2.0 out of 5 stars repetitive discussions, poor reasoning
After reading Straw Dogs, this one was rather disappointing. There are some useful departing points for potentially fruitful discussions. Read more
Published on 17 Sep 2005 by Burcak Kurtbayram
5.0 out of 5 stars The progress of "Homo rapiens"
According to Gray, the Enlightenment cast off the shackles of one religion, only to forge replacement fetters. The new religion, based on "humanism" is called "progress". Read more
Published on 18 July 2005 by Stephen A. Haines
1.0 out of 5 stars Not so much a philosophy book more a personal manifesto
The author clearly has a partisan political thesis that he wishes to pursue but the arguments made in support of it are very weak. Read more
Published on 4 Jan 2005 by Joe
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