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Heresies: Against Progress and Other Illusions Paperback – 16 Sep 2004

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books (16 Sept. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862077185
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862077188
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 71,546 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

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 10 Nov. 2004
Format: Paperback
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 By M. S. Bowden VINE VOICE on 4 Aug. 2006
Format: Paperback
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 By Oliveman on 6 May 2010
Format: Paperback
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mr. N. T. Baxter VINE VOICE on 26 May 2008
Format: Paperback
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 of the things that we (or our leaders) take for granted and allow to define our actions.

This book covers a wide range of subjects, but with many of his pet themes running through them. It is divided into three sections looking at Progress, War and Terror and Politics and Society. There are a handful of essays under each topic.

As can be expected from Gray's other works (and from the title of the book) his stance is often counter to conventional wisdom. This is often very refreshing and eye opening, but occasionally it leaves an uneasy (or even near sickening) feeling, for example with his views on torture. Here Gray believes that torture should be brought back within the legitimate tools of law enforcement and regulated (including having special solicitors to deal with the inevitable accidental deaths under torture). He believes that misguided and impractical ideals of human rights for terrorists prevent us from using all expedient means of preventing further acts of terror. I found this argument highly dubious as for a 'realist' Gray does not explain how these powers would be used in practical terms. Would a suspect be tortured for a confession? (i.e. a potentially innocent person), or would it only be applied to convicted people, making vulnerability to torture a part of their punishment? He also fails to mention the weight of evidence suggesting that torture is not a reliable way of gaining useful information anyway. And could torture, once sanctioned, be used in non-terrorist cases?
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