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Socrates: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This is another in the excellent Very Short Introduction series published by Oxford University Press. I have recently reviewed books from this series on Plato, and on Presocratic Philosophy. I have also read the one on Ancient Philosophy.

Socrates is a very difficult person to write about; all that we know of him is the impressions left by the writings of other authors, both contemporary and very much later. Ridiculed by Aristophanes in the Clouds, written of by Xenophon and Plato, and later by Aristotle, Socrates, who wrote nothing down himself, is a man who we can only see through the eyes of others. As such, recreating his life presents the first difficulties when writing about him in an objective manner now. A good attempt is made to recreate Socrates' life in a chapter in this book.

Then, the author spends some time on Socratic literature and the "Socratic Problem" - who wrote about Socrates, or Socrates' views; and how much of it really was Socrates, and how much of it is imposed on a "Socrates" imagined by the ancient author? This brings a very good sense of perspective to Socrates and his likely views.

The next chapter concentrates solely on the depiction of Socrates and his views in the Platonic dialogues, a vast amount of nearly contemporaneous literature from the time of Socrates - Plato was one of his pupils, so knew him and wrote for many years after Socrates' death. We have a lot of Plato's works still extant, most of which incorporate Socrates into the dialogue format, so there is a lot to analyse to decide how much may or may not reflect Socrates' own philosophical, ethical and other views.

The next chapter, I found the most illuminating. The author takes twelve of Plato's Socratic dialogues and explores themes which could encompass Socrates and his doctrines therein - a characterisation of Socrates, his search for definitions, Socratic ethics and his argument with the Sophists - these topics are covered very throoughly and empathetically by the author using Plato's works to discover a deeper level of portrayal of the Socrates that Plato knew.

In the final chapter, Socrates' impact on later periods of philosophy and study is covered.

This is a great book - necessarily only a brief introduction to the topic of Socrates (as evidenced largely by other authors), but well worth a read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 24 June 2014
A few reviews on here say this is heavy going. I have to say I didn't find it so, but it is a serious enquiry into to what we know of what Socrates thought and perhaps a little less of a introduction for complete beginners. Because Socrates wrote nothing that we know of and is largely known through the writings of Plato who very much had his own agenda, this is a difficult task, almost a detective story. I think Taylor does an eminent job of giving a believable account of Socrates and his thoughts even if I don't agree at all points. I would recommend reading I.F Stone's (much older) book as a good alternative account focusing more on the explanation of Socrates execution which is one aspect that perhaps could have received a good coverage.

Nevertheless this is a good account for the philosophically sophisticated reader who has perhaps read a Plato dialogue or two and would like to understand more and where modern scholarship is at with Socrates. Not perhaps for the complete beginner then.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 20 April 2009
I cannot understand why the previous reviewer gave this book 5 stars. I ordered this book after reading de Botton's inspiring depiction of Socrates, and received it with anticipation. Sadly i gave up after 4 attempts to read the thing - including one attempt when i was desperate for reading material on a 48 hour train journey through Ukraine and Poland.

The author is clearly an incredibly well educated man. Sadly he does not know how to write an introduction for more simple fellows like me. I found the prose hard to follow and when it did read fluently i was turned off by his dissection of issues which i felt were more the realm of Philosophy professors and not the interested average reader. At times i thought the book was pretentious waffle. Not one of the best Oxford very short introductions. VERY disappointing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 20 September 2013
Not as easy a read as one might first think. I would not recommend for people looking for an introduction to philosophy. Draws heavily on the dialogues and works in which he was portrayed and less on his actual philosophical beliefs (ethics, knowledge, definitions). Was rather dry and found myself reluctantly picking it up to finish.
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on 9 May 2014
It is a good book but its language is not so simple. ( English for me is a foreign language.... )
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 19 May 2010
"Socrates : A Very Short Introduction" in the "Very Short Introduction Series" by C. Taylor
A very informative, clear, updated introduction for the general reader as well as for the engaged sixth form or university reader. Could be read in conjunction with " Being Good" by Simon Blackburn in the same series to extend the approach. W. K. C. Guthrie's short book " The Greek Philosophers", if still available,adds perspectives on Plato and Aristotle that might otherwise be missed.
All in all a very good buy.
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on 17 October 2014
Brilliant book and in great condition!
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