If I was told I could keep only three works on philosophy, my choices would be instant: (1) Aristotle's Complete Works, (2) Hume's Treatise (and other works), and (3) Solomon's "Joy of Philosophy." That is how estimable I hold Solomon and this book.
University of Texas professor Solomon is an unique persona in philosophy. Schooled and trained in the Anglo-American analytic tradition, his favorite philosophers and ideas come from the Continental side of the profession. This hybridization of analytic training and existentialist thinking brings together the best of both possible worlds. Unlike most Continental thinkers, who are often arcane, verbose, free-association, and ideological, Solomon is accessible, concise, and driven by philosophy's "historical" or "grand" themes. And unlike most Anglo-American philosophers, "living" philosophy is the reason to do philosophy. It's not merely a method, it's a way of life. And in his superb dexterity, he's able to articulate Continental themes in the Angl-American style. For those of us demanding rigor, clarity, and logic, he delivers better than most in the analytic tradition.
All of Solomon's books are a joy to read, because he embues philosophy with joy of philosophy itself. Thus, his title for this, his most comprehensive and systematic, work, could not be more appropriate on numerous levels.
Solomon can keep up with the best of analytic rigor that the Ango-American tradition requires, and still reach into the depths and breadths of our humanity to distill vividly those distinctly human features, which really amount to something, that makes the examined life not only worthwhile, but a joyful difference. His conceptions find existentialism the most viable means, the same existentialism which I've always considered outlandish ideology. In Solomon's hands, his own regard for existentialism must be an appropriate response to, and a fulfilling expression of, the human condition. First and foremost, he revels in clarity and lucidity. Second, and no less important, he demands philosophical relevance - indeed, confronting concerns that affect us the most. Third, what could be perceived as Ideological in his bent toward existentialism, he re-presents as an entirely normative response to human reality; no window dressing, no appeals to some particular creed, and no dismissal of the real issues people seeking philosophy expect to receive.
Solomon's unique charter is his ability to dissolve the "charms, wit, and myths" of the human past (in true Wittgensteinian style), face the incontrovertible realities of existence itself (without any Sartrean "exits"), and resolve our dilemmas to the extent to which they can be (each in their own incommensurate manner). Existentialism has met Analytic rigor and has been found to be highly responsive to our inner-most, and outter-most, aspirations. Rather than obfuscate, he's daringly lucid and unequivocally clear. Rather than "provide manna from heaven," he offers realistic analysis of the various options for living a full and authentic life as it only can and must be. Rather than avoid the central concerns of our human existence, he compels us to face them head-on. Rather than devolving into puzzles, or offering pablum, or finding "exits," he insists on context and autonomy, difference and similarity, choice and determinism, freedom and enslavement, not in any Hegelian dialectic that resolves into a thesis, but as true tensions of life itself.
"The Joy of Philosophy: Thinking Thin versus the Passionate Life" is the one book of his that encompasses the most salient and necessary features of life itself, without ambiguity, without inextirpable prose, and without pat answers. His many other books, especially "The Passions" and "Love" are extraordinarily terrific reads, but this single volume presents his over-arching outlook in lucid perspective. Whether one agrees or agrees to disagree with Solomon's ideas, they vivify philosophy, and that makes the "examined life" all that much more joyous.
"The Joy of Philosophy" contents should whet your appetite (my quick annotations bracketed):
I: The Passionate Life (his singular most important theme)
II: The Politics of Emotion (again, the reintegration of reason and emotion)
III: Rationality and Its Vicissitudes (humans are more than a rational animal)
IV: Justice, Sympathy, and Vengeance (sociobiology's contribution to the good life)
V: The Tragic Sense of Life (do we really want to endure this headache?)
VI: Thinking Death in the Face (it's the only human certainty)
VII: Recovering Personal Identity (homage to a key concept of who we are)
VIII: Deception, Self, and Self-Deception (what Truth Tables don't explain)
P.S.: Has Analysis Ruined Philosophy (yeah, and it's time to put "love" and "wisdom" back into it)
As with all of Solomon's books, he is accessible, articulate, concise, and most importantly, exceedingly fun and enjoyable to read.