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The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) Paperback – 24 Apr 2008

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Product details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (24 April 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199532176
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199532179
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 1.3 x 10.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 23,165 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Acclaimed literary scholar and cultural theorist Terry Eagleton is Professor of Cultural Theory at the National University of Ireland, Galway, Professor of English Literature at Lancaster University, and Distinguished Visiting Professor of English Literature at Notre Dame.

Terry Eagleton is the author of many books including The Idea of Culture (2000), Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic (2002), the bestselling text Literary Theory: An Introduction (1983, 1996, 2008), Trouble with Strangers: A Study of Ethics (2009), and the forthcoming On Evil (2010).

Product Description


Review from previous edition The book's a little gem. (Suzanne Harrington, Irish Examiner (Cork))

Light hearted but never flippant. (The Guardian.)

Wonders never cease. This is popular philosophy by an amateur in the best sense of the word, a man who clearly loves the stuff and writes plain English...[Eagleton] makes his case well and with a light touch. (The Guardian (Review))

It is a stimulating and often entertaining, if at times rather breathless, Cook's tour around the chief monuments of western philosophy and literature...The Meaning of Life is unusual and refreshing. (John Gray, The Independent)

[Eagleton] makes his case well and with a light touch... I stand convinced. (Simon Jenkins, Guardian Book of the Week)

A lively starting point for late-night debate. (John Cornwell, Sunday Times)

Warm intellectual pleasure...meticulous treatment of the subject...It looks like Eagleton got it right. (Mario Pisani, The Financial Times)

The name Terry Eagleton...assures us of stimulation, style, sparkling, sometimes acerbic, wit, and wide-ranging erudition. In other words he is eminently readable...[a] commendably pocket-sized book. (Gordon Parsons, Morning Star)

With sparkling effrontery, panache, and deft footwork, Eagleton moves from ironic flippancy and caustic demolition to resolute affirmation. (Marina Warner)

About the Author

Terry Eagleton is John Edward Taylor Professor of English at the University of Manchester. His recent publications include Holy Terror (2005); The English Novel: An Introduction (2004); After Theory (2003); Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic (2002); The Idea of Culture (2000); The Illusions of Postmodernism (1996); and Literary Theory: An Introduction (2nd edition, 1996).

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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman TOP 500 REVIEWER on 27 Sept. 2013
Format: Paperback
Of the many subjects covered in the Oxford University Press "Very Short Introductions" series, few can be as diffuse and difficult to understand as "The Meaning of Life" as explored in this 2008 volume by Terry Eagleton. Many readers believe that philosophers explore and address the question of "the meaning of life" and are frustrated when the philosophers appear to back away. The question persists in study, among many people whether religious or non-religious, and in popular culture. It is a subject for serious people and for cranks and charlatans. Although his short book shows wide philosophical reading, Eagleton is not a professional philosopher but rather the John Edward Taylor Professor of English at the University of Manchester and a Fellow of the British Academy. He has written many books on literary criticism.

Eagleton takes his subject seriously but writes in an accessible, peppery style with considerable humor and irony. The book shows erudition in its discussion of philosophers and psychologists, but Eagleton is most at home with literature. Discussions of Shakespeare, Conrad, Beckett, Joyce, Sophocles, and others abound in its pages. The philosophers discussed include Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, among others, but the emphasis among the philosophers considered is on Ludwig Wittgenstein. The short book is loosely organized. Discussion moves back in forth among the chapters from topic to topic and ranges from discussion and formulation of issue to history to consideration of the views of various writers almost in free-flow.

A book on "the meaning of life" must first discuss whether this much-raised question makes sense and if so what kind of sense. Eagleton devotes the larger part of the book to analyzing the question.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Yehezkel Dror on 22 Mar. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Contrary to some reviewers, I found this book interesting and enlightening. But is suffers from serious biases concerning human beings and disturbing visions of desired futures.
The author tends to optimistic versions of human nature which are fashionable but lack convincing supportive evidence. Thus, he thinks that the "only ultimate solution to terrorism is political justice" (p. 10). Admitting later that this may not work for fanatic-fundamentalist terrorism, he explains this away stating "this may be to say no more than that the problem has now escalated beyond all feasible resolution." The grounding of extreme violence in deeply held faiths and beliefs with culturally constructed meanings of "justice" is just pushed aside.
Similarly the author seems to assume that most people would reject living in a state of virtual complete happiness because of wishing to "live our lives truthfully" (p. 84). He does not provide any shred of evidence for this view of humanity, and indeed no reliable evidence for or against this image exists. But expressions of self-doubts on such problematic statements are scarce in the book.
Towards the end, the author proceeds to a desirable vision of the future which I cannot but regards as a dystopia. A hint at his vision is provided by his warning against "hubristic projects which bring ourselves and others to grief" (p. 90). He does not specify what projects he has in mind nor does he discriminate between heroic projects advancing humanity and evil ones. What about space travel, for instance?
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By S. Meadows on 3 Mar. 2014
Format: Paperback
I picked this up on the off chance; it’s not a book that had been on my reading list, it was just a chance encounter. I have, however, been intending to catch up with some of Terry Eagleton’s writings, in particular his Reason, Faith and Revolution: Reflections on the God debate which I have heard positive mumblings about.

From the outset, Eagleton acknowledges the potential difficulties in dealing with such a large subject; he also points out that he might not be the best placed person to answer it, given how he is not a professor of philosophy. However, this does not mean that he is poorly read or ignorant of a great many points of view, as any readers of this work will quickly come to realise.

Instead of trying to go through every major thinker over the last umpteen-thousand years and attempt to distil what they thought, what they got right or what they got wrong, Eagleton states that he is happy to take us on his journey with a light, sometimes frivolous touch. For a VSI, I think this was a very good approach to take, since to attempt to deal in total po-faced seriousness and with all due rigour necessary for a serious academic study would leave any author in great difficulty when trying to squeeze their summary down to 100 or so pages.

Light, though some of the tone may be, Eagleton doesn’t veer away from the darker thinkers, with his summary of the thought of Schopenhauer having the deepest impression on this particular reader. Covering, as he does, an approximate timeline from Aristotle to Julian Baggini, Eagleton does a remarkably good job. That said, those who are wanting to get a list of viewpoints will be a bit frustrated as Eagleton’s take is a bit more sophisticated than that. As a professor of English, his primary concern seems to be semantics.
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