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on 11 January 2005
This VSI differs from some of the others that were originally published as "Past Masters".It is less heavy-going in style, less masculine in tone, and is not just aimed at an informed audience. Plato studies seem to have been completely re-thought in recent years and this is reflected in this book which presents us with a number of different versions of Plato, and a number of different readings of his philosophy. Rewarding and made me want to sit down and read Plato afresh.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 13 April 2012
This is another in the great Very Short Introduction series, books that live up to their name by offering an accessible introduction to their specialist subject in little more than 100 pages. These books offer a great way to an interested reader to ease their way into new or complex subjects, or to introduce themselves to something they feel they might be interested in. The author has also written another Very Short Introduction book, to Ancient Philosophy, another very readable and interesting brief book.

This book introduces Plato; the man, his life, his ideas and his legacy to us, notably in the form of the dialogues, many of them `Socratic'. What Plato was attempting to teach us is the overarching theme of the book, and in the author's view, the overarching theme of Plato's life was not to teach us about Forms or what virtue was, but the importance of engaging in an attempt to understand these things. Highly recommended as an introduction to Plato and his theories.
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Plato: A very short introduction by Julia Annas, Oxford, 2003, 120 ff.

A random walk through Plato
By Howard A. Jones

This is a readable account by a professor of philosophy at Oxford and Arizona universities of the life and work of one of the first great Greek philosophers, whose influence is felt still today. For example, the Theory of Forms introduced in the Timaeus resonates with the mystical idea of an underlying truth of which the material world is a representation, an idea gaining increasing acceptance in the West. Several subsequent philosophers, like Locke and Kant, developed this concept and contemporary scholar Roger Penrose views mathematics in this way. However, the Forms are dealt with by Annas in any depth only in the last few pages of the book.

Plato's writing comprises some two dozen dialogues, but the treatment here is by subject matter rather than a working though of each book. Annas gives a good resume of the main themes in Plato's work but I was glad that I had read most of the dialogues and an earlier biography by David Melling before tackling Annas: I think I would have found the treatment rather rambling if I hadn't already had the pegs on which to hang the information. I question whether a whole chapter on sexual practice in ancient Greece is really relevant to Plato's philosophy.

Certainly this is an authoritative account of a great thinker who should be much more widely read in schools and colleges.

Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books, Winchester, UK.

Understanding Plato (OPUS)
Classical Thought (OPUS)
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on 1 January 2010
Quite a few philosophers have now been given the Very Short Introduction treatment. If you're new to the series and looking to tackle the great thinkers, Plato is a good place to start. Frequently cited as one of the more captivating and accessible philosophers, he was a pivotal figure in institutionalising philosophy, exploring complex ideas with an unusual degree of literary appeal.

Organised by subject matter rather than treatise, the author does an admirable job of packing quite diverse themes into a limited space and making the whole account flow seamlessly from beginning to end. This is a short book - even by VSI standards - but she manages to touch on Plato's ideas on democracy, dualism, Forms, sex, religion, virtue and more, and shows no reluctance to challenge aspects of them where appropriate.

Plato of course placed great emphasis on ensuring that students grasp things for themselves rather than accept ideas on blind authority, and this book thoroughly encourages a critical approach to his texts. Possibly a little too concise for my liking, it is nevertheless informative, well-written and, if nothing else, will leave you with a clearer understanding of why Plato matters. (A natural follow-up to this would be the VSI for Plato's most famous pupil, Aristotle: A Very Short Introduction - which I found to be even better.)
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 11 November 2015
This is another in the great Very Short Introduction series, books that live up to their name by offering an accessible introduction to their specialist subject in little more than 100 pages. These books offer a great way to an interested reader to ease their way into new or complex subjects, or to introduce themselves to something they feel they might be interested in. The author has also written another Very Short Introduction book, to Ancient Philosophy, another very readable and interesting brief book.

This book introduces Plato; the man, his life, his ideas and his legacy to us, notably in the form of the dialogues, many of them `Socratic'. What Plato was attempting to teach us is the overarching theme of the book, and in the author's view, the overarching theme of Plato's life was not to teach us about Forms or what virtue was, but the importance of engaging in an attempt to understand these things. Highly recommended as an introduction to Plato and his theories.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 11 November 2015
This is another in the great Very Short Introduction series, books that live up to their name by offering an accessible introduction to their specialist subject in little more than 100 pages. These books offer a great way to an interested reader to ease their way into new or complex subjects, or to introduce themselves to something they feel they might be interested in. The author has also written another Very Short Introduction book, to Ancient Philosophy, another very readable and interesting brief book.

This book introduces Plato; the man, his life, his ideas and his legacy to us, notably in the form of the dialogues, many of them `Socratic'. What Plato was attempting to teach us is the overarching theme of the book, and in the author's view, the overarching theme of Plato's life was not to teach us about Forms or what virtue was, but the importance of engaging in an attempt to understand these things. Highly recommended as an introduction to Plato and his theories.
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This is a really accessible book. The writing style is clear and concise. The ideas are neatly compartmentalised and explained thoroughly, given the limited amount of space available, and the work is interesting and engaging.

Of necessity this skims the surface but it does what it says on the tin and provides a sense of Platonic ideas and the works available as well as the way that ideas about Plato have changed over the centuries.

Highly recommended for those who have never come across Plato before or who are struggling to get to grips with his work and want an 'in'.
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VINE VOICEon 23 June 2013
Plato covers such a wide area - not only the different philosophical topics that Plato addresses, but issues such as his style, the Socrates/Plato issue, the fact these are works of art as well as philosophical arguments, questions of influences and sources of issues addressed and the life of Plato makes fitting something useful into a short book a huge challenge, which is very well met in this book.

The key issue for Plato is virtue and objective knowledge. Plato really makes sense as a response to the arguments of the pre-Socratics - they were dealing with issues of being/Being, the good life, change, science, knowledge, mathematics and although we only have fragments of their works Plato write what is really a response to the issues they raise.

Plato is remarkable as we apparently have all his works - we don't even seem to have all the works of Shakespeare so having all these really shows how valuable they have been regarded through history.

A key issue Plato deals with is objective knowledge. He was concerned from Heraclitus that the observable world is full of change - water can appear as ice, liquid or gas; the morals of one culture can be very different to those of another; a man appears as child, adult and corpse - and so on. Against this he was aware from Pythagoras that mathematics and number are areas of true and certain knowledge, of which the physical world is a sort of poor copy - the mathematical circle is never really made real in the physical world. Hence Plato attempts to make sense of the world by contrasting the "shadows" of the real world with the "light" of the True world - what he called the "world of Forms".

As with many attempts to identify a "key" to explaining reality, Plato gives us many insights into the world around us, but attempts to make total sense of the real world through the metaphor of mathematical knowledge are not totally compelling.

I was however struck at how much of Platonism appears in Christianity, and in the gospel writings. Exactly how this came about I guess we may never know, but time and again the gospels appear to be written by someone steeped in the world of Plato. Here are a few parallels:

- Plato uses a huge number of parables - as does Jesus - and parables were not know in Judaism until Jesus;
- Love of enemies
- the eye as a source of light
- virtue as knowledge
- truth as dialogue
- questioning and conversation
- gathering a following
- the importance of the theme/motif of father and son
- the death of the hero (Socrates/Jesus) and the revelation of truth
- Lover of men ("the disciple Jesus loved")
- Equality of women
- Immortality of the soul
- Judgement after death
- Importance of stars (in the Nativity story)
- The triangle/trinity
- Paul writes of Jesus being "in the form of God" and the "form of a slave"
- The birth of Jesus in a cave
- the metaphor of light
- Greek/Platonic views on avoiding procreation and the importance of devoting oneself to knowledge, against the Jewish view of the importance of marriage and having a family.
- etc etc

I haven't been able to find any books that go into this topic in more detail, but as a Christian reading this book on Plato I was getting a lot of deja vu.
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on 18 October 2013
An admirably concise and imaginative introduction, well-illustrated with extracts, which gets you thinking in ways which Socrates would approve, Now read on...
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on 7 July 2015
Is this relevant in the 21st C. Good read though.
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