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Excellent book on philosophy as an everyday tool - an invitation to a real "dream academy"
on 10 May 2012
This book sets out to teach you things you certainly aren't likely to have been taught at school, or at university for that matter. It draws on the ideas of a dozen thinkers: Socrates, Epictetus, Musonius Rufus, Seneca, Epicurus, Heraclitus, Pythagoras, the Sceptics (treated as if one person - the original one was Pyrrho), Diogenes, Plato, Plutarch and Aristotle.
Evans says the aim is to convey "what it would be like to get a day-pass to the School of Athens". Rather than merely being dry and academic, this book constantly shows an awareness of how philosophy can be brought to bear on everyday situations. Evans has interviewed all manner of people (astronauts, soldiers, the politician Rory Stewart) and profiled plenty of others - such as a Chicago firefighter who gives classes in Stoic resilience - to see where philosophy fits (or can fit) into their lives.
The book is appealingly structured like a day's lessons or tutorials. The writing is fresh and thoughtful, pretty accessible, largely unpretentious and of a genuinely practical kind. This reminds me of Alain de Botton's Consolations of Philosophy, except that it has a much keener sense of philosophy's place and utility in the real world.
As a primer in Greek philosophy, the book works well, but is a good deal more than that - a wise, honest, original and helpful guide, which provides ample food for thought and has inspired me to do further reading (about which Evans provides a handy guide at the end of the book).