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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bad Habits of Expectancy
John Gray, The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths

John Gray maintains that science and myth are simply the human animal's way of dealing with chaos. His latest book strips away the comforts of science and religion, mere shelters from a world we can never know. In his latest book, Gray attacks the very notion of progress, a doctrine that...
Published on 10 Mar. 2013 by Mr. D. James

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The stories we tell ourselves about the world
'The highly civilised apes swung gracefully from bough to bough; the Neanderthaler was uncouth and bound to the earth.'

Gray starts his thesis with a quotation from Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon and immediately follows it with a passage from Joseph Conrad's An Outpost of Progress. He is laying out his views clearly - religion and humanism have created a...
Published 18 months ago by Purpleheart


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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bad Habits of Expectancy, 10 Mar. 2013
By 
Mr. D. James "nonsuch" (london, uk) - See all my reviews
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John Gray, The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths

John Gray maintains that science and myth are simply the human animal's way of dealing with chaos. His latest book strips away the comforts of science and religion, mere shelters from a world we can never know. In his latest book, Gray attacks the very notion of progress, a doctrine that cannot but fail to delude. As our forefathers put their faith in gods, modern man clings to science and technology. He cites a range of authors, from Conrad to Ballard who present worlds where chaos dominates over civilisation. If civilisation is natural, then so is barbarism.

Gray refuses to believe in so-called scientific advance, his mentors being Freud rather than Darwin, and Llewelyn Powys rather than Richard Dawkins. He quotes extensively from the little-known Powys, an atheist `adamant that rejecting religion meant renouncing any idea of order in the world.' Gray's bleak and nihilistic viewpoint echoes that of Beckett: God is a man-made phantom, a bastard who doesn't exist. Gray ends with a clarion call from Powys: `It is not only belief in God that must be abandoned, not only all hope of life after death, but all trust in an ordained order.'

This is a fascinating and wide-ranging account of myth in the comprehensive sense of the word. Gray cites a range of philosophers, economists, poets, theologians, anthropologists and social commentators, all of whom have found shelter in certainties. The fact is that man's dreams of progress are but makeshifts, stages in a perpetual cycle that has no purpose or meaning.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic!, 31 Dec. 2013
By 
Dodo "Spara Fugle" (Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths (Hardcover)
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I am an atheist and a humanist and this book slates both! It is great to have one's beliefs challenged. His basic thesis is that animals are content just to breathe, eat and defecate, whereas humans have to cause horrendous suffering by thinking too much, and hoping for an impossible utopia gained by 'progress.' The war in Syria would sum up his message, as all traits of human civilisation have broken down. The Geneva Convention is a joke in Syria. Snipers are shooting children and pregnant women. What can suicide bombers achieve but death and destruction? Their Paradise full of virgins is a myth. As the scope of the book is infinite, it hops about like a drunken pessimistic kangaroo from one opinion to another, but is thought provoking all the same. I found it very stimulating.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Silence of Animals, 22 Nov. 2013
By 
Sandford "Sandy" (Kent, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths (Hardcover)
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I found this a difficult read, but then it presents an intellectual challenge for the reader.

To précis this right down to the essence of its effect upon me is that I feel less like throwing a brick at the television when I listen to politicians puffing up themselves in fighting their party political corners. The writing has given me words that have dragged up various uneasy feelings from my unconscious, and achieved some acceptance of the inevitable, that change and progress is indeed much of a myth. If such a text provides some meaning to that not quite known inside me, then it has to have proved successful in achieving some understanding. Throwing a brick is my frustration at not understanding that those in power just only want to hang on to it, and not for the concept of progress of humanity at all. My violence has turned to more of an inward sigh of acceptance.

Now I understand a little of where my feelings come from, I feel more stoic about it all, and somehow it validates a primal feeling I have as humans we are not that important as we might believe in the hierarchy of life.

Altogether a humbling read for me
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars reality exists in the human mind and nowhere else, 18 Aug. 2013
By 
David Spanswick (Brighton United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths (Hardcover)
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Despite the joyous and imaginative cover art work and the title that suggests a recent horror film (the previous volume "Straw Dogs rejoiced in its duplicity)inside I discovered the working essays combined to form a philosophy of an acknowledged pessimist, maybe this is not the technical term for his status but after reading the first half of the book (it is a rather indigestible tome and requires extensive rereading)with its references to Koestler, Orwell and the darker side of Joseph Conrad, I came to this conclusion.

It does take a prolific writer (often seen in the Guardian and Spectator) to be able to draw threads for his argument from as many sources as are available and Gray is obviously extremely well read.

He delivers a world where the torture of Winston Smith is as relevant today as it was back in the 1940s; the depressing message is that nothing really changes, that so called civilisation merely masks the truths (Is there such a thing as Truth?)in empty rhetoric, propaganda, political cant and The Big Lie i.e. that we are a civilsed animal

Gray's sources are impeccable and worth further research. The book is divided into three sections each one subdivided into almost meditative essays. Essays themselves are becoming a dying literary form and so, even though challenging, this collection here is both thought provoking and contentious. There is so much food for thought that a single reading will not do this book any jind of justice.

There is no doubt that Gray's voice is an important one even though what he is saying may not always be palatable
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Liberating and brilliant, 12 Jun. 2013
By 
P M Buchan "P M Buchan" (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths (Hardcover)
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As a big fan of John Gray's earlier book Straw Dogs, I was predisposed to enjoy The Silence of Animals, and was not disappointed by this thought-provoking attack on the myth of human progress.

Based on the central concept that any belief in collective progress, whether this be religion, science or otherwise, is nothing but faith by another name, Gray builds up an argument by drawing upon the works of past philosophers, poets and artists. The effect is to illustrate recurring themes in human thought and the gap between expectation and reality, namely that humanity frequently aspires towards values that it has never achieved. This notion that we strive constantly to reach an end goal that has never been attained, and can never be attained, makes for fascinating reading.

Criticism of Gray's writing is that it is needlessly bleak and pessimistic, that he lingers too long on suicidal poets and the victims of past atrocities. I'd argue instead that Gray's writing is liberating and transcendental, freeing us from the preconception that we must strive to be other than what we are in order to be happy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Getting into the Closet and Closing the Door., 17 Feb. 2014
By 
Roderick Blyth (Oxfordshire, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths (Hardcover)
Although it is not strictly true, I sometimes think of Marcus Aurelius' 'Meditations' as the last gasp of the pagan world. That gasp, if not one of despair, is a gasp of deep melancholy. Of human life, the Emperor says that 'all things of the body are as a river, all the things of the spirit a dream and tomb: life is like a war and a sojourn in a foreign land'(Meditations 2.17); and of existence generally, he says 'In such a fog and filth, in so great a flowing past of being and of time, of movement and of things moved, what can be respected or pursued with enthusiasm I do not know' (Meditations, 5.10). It hardly needed the two references in the author's latest book (at pps.86 & 203) to make me feel that, whatever the truth of the matter, John Gray might see himself as standing in a relationship to the age of the enlightenment that is not dissimilar to that in which the Emperor stood to pre-Christian philosophy.

Mr.Gray is a former School Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics and this is the most recent of several best-selling books. In 2002, Mr Gray published 'Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals' in which he attacked the humanistic belief that Man was radically different from other animals, describing humanism as 'a secular religion thrown together from decaying scraps of Christian myth'. The success of this book may have resulted first, from the fact that Gray writes in clear, simple, and possibly simplistic terms about complex issues; and secondly, from the fact that in doing so, he commands a wide range of cultural reference, particularly of writers who are congenial to the set of the contemporary mind.

'The Silence of the Animals' displays both these qualities in similar measure. Prefaced by an epigraph from Arthur Koestler's 'Darkness at Noon' in which the sportive 'civilisation' of tree dwelling apes is contrasted with the uncouth 'barbarism' of Naenderthalers, the first part of this book opens 'in medias res' with a further quotation from Jospeh Conrad's 'An Outpost of Progress' , and moves rapidly on through expositions of the arguments in books by Norman Lewis, Curzio Malaparte, and back through Koestler to Joseph Roth, George Orwell, Sebastian Haffner, and Alexander Herzen.

The combination of these names all but tells the story, but it must be admitted that the effect of their introduction, though cumulative, has a somewhat perplexing effect on the reader until at p.74/209, the wraps come off, and the argument of the first of the three parts of this book is briefly set out. and found to be familiar: civilised life is the idle scum on the surface of a muddy pond in which nasty, sharp-toothed monsters swim; when the surface of the pond is stirred by war, plague, famine or utopian ideologies the monsters rise to the surface and a feeding frenzy begins. It is Mr,Gray's thesis the humanist belief on 'progress' is belied by the facts, and is in any case incoherent because it bases ideas of 'progress' and 'purpose' upon a supposition that the findings of science justify either: 'Humanists believe that humanity 'improves' as it attains greater knowledge, but the belief that the increase of knowledge goes with advances in 'humanity' is no better than a assertion of faith. 'Humaanists' see the realisation of human potential as the goal of history, when rational inquiry shows history to have no goal; they exalt nature, while insisting that humankind - an accident of nature - can overcome the natural limits that shape the lives of other animals. Science and the idea of progress may seem to be joined together, but the end-result of progress in science is to show the impossibility of progress in 'humanity'..Human knowledge increases, while human irrationality stays the same. Scientific inquiry may represent a triumph of logical inquiry, but what such inquiry demonstrates is that humans are not rational animals. The fact that humanists refuse to accept the demonstration only confirms its truth' (pps 80, 81).

Having demolished the modern myth of progress, Mr.Gray turns to Freud, who is presented (not wholly convincingly) as the pioneer who accepted the fact of man's 'incurable irrationality' - and who advocated a morality of 'convenience' in the 'pursuit of 'achievement' (which seems peculiarly apposite to the circumstances of Freud's own case, notwithstanding Mr.Gray's rather starry-eyed assessment). From Freud we move to Schopenhauer, Santayana, Ernst Mach and Hans Vaihinger through whom we arrive at the assertion that although 'science and myth are not the same' (in as much as 'their methods are different, and so are the needs they serve') they 'are alike in being makeshifts that humans erect as shelters from a world they cannot know'. Far from being a cause for despair, Mr.Gray (or possibly Wallace Stevens, an analysis of whose thought immediately precedes the passage quoted) argues that 'admitting that our lives are shaped by fictions may may give a kind of freedom - possibly the only kind that human beings can attain. Accepting that the world is without meaning, we are,' the argument claims, 'liberated from confinements in the meanings we have made. Knowing there is nothing of substance in our world may seem to rob that world of value. But this nothingness may be our most precious possession, since it opens to us the world that exists beyond ourselves' (p.108) - a set of statements that I found cruelly divorced from my own experience and, I suspect, from the experience of anyone whom I have ever known, or am ever, likely to know.

After this flight into what one might, on the basis of the arguments previously advanced, have thought illusory clouds of metaphysics, Mr.Gray returns to earth to do battle with the modern myth of 'personal fulfilment' which he (quite rightly) calls 'the most destructive of modern fictions' (p.111). 'Looking for your true self invites unending disappointment, If you have no special potential, the cost of trying to bring your inner nature to fruition will be a painfully misspent existence... The Romantic ideal tells people to seek their true self. There is no such self, but that does not mean that we can be anything we want to be... A society of people who have been taught to be themselves cannot be other than full of fakes' (pp.110, 111). Against this destructive myth, Mr Gray derives from Freud the supposedly preferable system of 'ego-building' or 'making up your life as you go along' but not becoming 'too attached to the stories you tell yourself on the way' (p112) - a proposed course that most of us will find worryingly close to that long since adopted by bankers, politicians, advertising executives and other sociopaths, though Mr.Gray himself chooses to illustrate it by reference to the more sympathetic literary self-therapy of J.G.Ballard which Mr.Gray describes as a form of alchemy, 'turning the dross of childhood trauma into gold' (p.123). After a brief excursion into the the work of Jorge Borges (for whom this reader has never been able to feel any enthusiasm), Mr.Gray elaborates his earlier argument through the work of the imagist thinker and poet, T.E.Hulme, claiming that 'Human beings are animals that have equipped themselves with symbols'. These symbols are 'useful tools' for dealing with the world, 'but humans have an inveterate tendency to think and act as if the world they have made from these symbols actually exists' (p.132). From here it is only a short step to arguing that the tool of tools is language itself and proposinh a system that denies the validity of word symbols themselves. So, in what its proponent, Fritz Mauthner came to call 'godless mysticism', language ceases to be anything other than a practical convenience'. God and the world become 'not a creation of language, but something that... escapes language' (p.145). Hence 'pure' atheism becomes something which 'has nothing in common with the evangelical disbelief' of our day. In a pure form, atheism is no more to do with unbelief than religion is about belief...atheism is an entirely negative position. You are not an atheist if you deny what theists affirm. You are an atheist if you have no use for the concepts and doctrines of theism' (p.144).

Having reached this point, there is not much further that Mr.Gray can go, and he turns instead to consider what a 'godless mysticism' might be like. This is where the animals come in. According to Mr.Gray, man is, in essence, a sick animal whose sickness is manifested in his inability to stop 'going on' to himself. The last, and perhaps the most difficult section in this book deals with what 'the silence of animals' might teach their sick cousin, man. Once again, Mr.Gray approaches this topic by examining the experiments of others in 'looking at the world 'with eyes that are not covered with a film of thought' p.168) , and in particular, the thought characterised by rational humanism which combines the Platonic 'myth' of being, 'truth and beauty' with the christian assertion of salvation in human history'. (p.205) In doing so, he moves from J.A.Baker's attempts to 'deanthropmorphise' himself in his strenuous efforts to partake in the mental world of a hawk ( a desperate venture, shot through with intimations of a fascistic 'philosophy of transcendent will'); Paddy Leigh Fermor's gentlemanly search for 'silence' in the self-imposed stillness of monastic life; Ford Madox Ford's impressionistic attempts to experience the all too solid world as a hallucinatory succession, not of reality, but of 'fragments', where 'no perfect perception of things is possible, since things change with each perception of them' (p.172); Llewellyn Powys' 'darkness innocent of sensation, innocent of thought; a darkness careless of all save a blind, unenvious commerce with the dust of unending ages' (p.184); and, inevitably, Samuel Beckett. meditating on the omnipresence of a man's habits as 'the guarantor of a dull inviolability, the lightning conductor of his existence' subject, however, to certain moments of transition 'when for a moment the boredom of the living is replaced by the suffering of being' (p.193).

This is an enjoyable and stimulating book which offers a great may jumping off points for the discovery of writers and ideas which may be unexpected, and even unwelcome, to some of its readers. As the world moves way from the absolutes that underwrote 500 years of culture and consensus, and degraded forms of what Mr Gray calls 'spilt religion' come to operate the levers in men's minds even as those men claim most hotly to be exercising their right to 'personal' and 'independent' judgment, it is good to have a writer like Mr.Gray reminding us how childish and hollow such claims tend to be. Nor are his claims that foreign to persons of genuinely independent - and even theist - turn of thinking. Many christians have long tired of the stupidity of those who dismiss their religion as intellectually incoherent while holding to a humanist agenda which, in the absence of transcendence, 'is hard to defend, or even understand' (p.77). 'These enthusiasts for reason have not noticed that the idea that humans may one day be rational requires a greater leap of faith than anything in religion. Since it requires a miraculous breach in the order of things, the idea that Jesus returned from the dead is not as contrary to reason as the notion that human beings will in future be different from how they have always been' (p.75). Elsewhere, Mr.Gray notes that 'humanists are also ruled by myths, though the ones by which they are possessed have none of the beauty or the wisdom of those that they choose to scorn. The myth that human beings can use their minds to lift themselves out of the natural world, which in Socrates and Plato was part of a mystical philosophy, has been renewed in a garbled version of the language of evolution' (p.77). And 'In comparison with the Genesis myth, the modern myth in which humanity is marching to a better future is mere superstition. As the genesis story teaches, knowledge cannot save us from ourselves. If we know more than before, it means that we have greater scope to enact our fantasies. But - as the Genesis myth also teaches - there is no way we can rid ourselves of what we know. If we try to regain a state of innocence, the result can be a worse madness. The message of Genesis is that in the most vital areas of human life there can be no progress, only an unending struggle with our own nature' (p.79-80).

Mr.Gray's 'pure' atheism, such as it is, is not so far, as he himself points out, from Meister Eckhart's 'negative theology'. The issue, when it comes down to it, is one of belief. C.S.Lewis said that the moment of his conversion came with the acceptance that the central drama of Christianity was 'a myth that actually happened'; Mr.Gray clearly thinks that it is a myth that did not. What's to quarrel with? It may be that I don't much care for some of the people whom he choses to admire: writers, in general, are a self-regarding lot and seldom attractive in terms of the day to day virtues that mere christians esteem. Freud's cheerful advocacy of immorality (p.87/8) is less shocking, than it is typical; A.J.Baker's 'hatred for the sound of man... for their suddenly uplifted arms, their insanity of their flailing gestures, their erratic scissoring gait, their aimless stumbling ways' (p.150) is at once recognisable as being cognate with the loathing felt by Conrad's 'incorruptible' Professor in 'The Secret Agent' with his hatred for 'the odious multitude... calling madness and despair to the regeneration of the world' (p.11). It is a depressing fact that atheists of this type are so often lost in admiration for animals into whom they can project their own arrogance, cruelty and lust for blood; that they would prefer to soar loftily with a bird of prey, than to trot, like the more humble of us, in the direction of the shepherd's affectionate wolf-whistle.

What, I found myself asking, does Mr.Gray's atheism offer except what he calls 'mere being' (p.208)? I suppose this type od metaphysical minimalism may in some sense be 'brave', but to me, it conveys he somewhat comic impression is of a man who has climbed into a wardrobe and closed the door on himself. And how easy is it, anyway, to live a life based not so much on a 'revaluation of all values' as on the complete abstention from them? Mr.Gray might be expected to find it hard, I think, to reconcile some of his attitudes to 'civilisation' and 'barbarism' with any kind of thorough-going implementation of a system: he is quick, for example, to condemn Robinson Jeffers and says that 'in demanding American isolation in a war against a hideous version of modern barbarism, the reclusive poet was badly mistaken' (p.201). - a view that seems to me to beg a whole raft of embarrassing questions, suggesting, as it does, that one can partition one's intellectual and moral 'position' statements from one's day to day practice, thereby having it both ways - which, by an irony which appears to be lost on him, is precisely the charge that Mr.Gray brings against Mr.Jeffers (p.201). How, I found myself asking as I closed this book, does this ideal of 'mere being' compare with the pre-christian humanism of Marcus Aurelius which the latter summed up by saying: 'If you do the work on hand following the rule of right with enthusiasm, manfully and with kind-heartedness, and allow no side issues to interrupt, but preserve the divinity within you pure, and upright, as if you even now might have to return it to its Giver - if you make this firm, expecting nothing and avoiding nothing, but are content with your present activity in accordance with nature and with old-fashioned truthfulness in what you say and speak - you will live a happy life, and there is no one who can prevent' this (Meditations 3:12)? Though not strictly an atheist, Marcus Aurelius' god was essentially the Aristotelian 'Unmoved Mover' who directs the Universe from an immense height, who shows no fear or favour, and who, in the perpetual light of eternal being watches the hurrying shoals of humanity flicker briefly on the surface of existence before passing away into unremembered oblivion - and yet it was, for the Roman Emperor, this divine entity that guaranteed the rule of right and rectitude accessible to all men who had the money, time and leisure to pursue- and to impose - them.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The stories we tell ourselves about the world, 15 Oct. 2013
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Purpleheart (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths (Hardcover)
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'The highly civilised apes swung gracefully from bough to bough; the Neanderthaler was uncouth and bound to the earth.'

Gray starts his thesis with a quotation from Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon and immediately follows it with a passage from Joseph Conrad's An Outpost of Progress. He is laying out his views clearly - religion and humanism have created a delusion in mankind. We think ourselves at the top of a hierarchy of animals which in Gray' view is nonsense. "In a strictly naturalistic view -- one in which the world is taken on its own terms, without reference to a creator or any spiritual realm -- there is no hierarchy of value with humans somewhere near the top. There are simply multifarious animals, each with its own needs. Human uniqueness is a myth inherited from religion, which humanists have recycled into science."

His vision is uncompromisingly pessimistic: man has not made progress; we have mythologized ourselves and the world through religion, science and fiction; we would be better off living more like animals, in contemplation of the present, letting things be rather than striving for change. Communication and language continue to create myths, and he argues that we "cannot help seeing the world through the veil of language,' and he sees it as inherently dangerous.

The book is a continuation of Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals and similarly shows respect for non human animals at the expense of the human.

Half of this book is made up of quotations and extracts from fiction, philosophy and history and in many ways they are the most compelling part of his argument - which to me seemed to run counter to his arguments re abstraction and language, or perhaps it is another reminder of the seductive nature of narrative and poetry.

I was engaged, intrigued and entertained by his arguments but ultimately found the pessimism of his views not compelling, partly because Gray seems to want to ignore evidence, however imperfect, that gives us cause for hope.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An erudite contemplation on the reality of progress, 29 Mar. 2013
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Sussex by the Sea (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths (Hardcover)
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The Silence of Animals concerns the idea that progress is a much a myth as any other strongly-held cultural belief. Historical events, mostly from the darker days of the twentieth century, are provided as evidence alongside a series of longer quotations to back up this view. Not all the arguments convince: for instance, I'm not sure that the experience of Naples in 1943 is necessarily the model that all cities would follow when deprived of authority. There's no denying, though, that modern humans are the same creatures that have committed atrocities throughout almost all of known history and to argue that we have somehow progressed beyond that in our essence is mistaken.

Where the book excels it really is illuminating. The passages on Freud are enthralling, and the quotations from A. J. Baker live up the promise of the title in a thought-provoking and quite moving way, while the life of a lesser-known Powys brother becomes liberating experience. Readers who have spent time with other works by John Gray will, however, mostly find themselves on familiar territory: the idea of progress, especially as espoused by Secular Humanists, is as much a myth as those of the ancient Greeks. Indeed, it is worse, because we know those stories to be myths but continue to believe that human progress is true.

Erudite as the book is, it pulls away from naming specifics, and fails entirely to confront the notion that modern science is making progress of some sort, while certainly not changing human nature. Scientific studies are conspicuous by their absence - presumably because using "myths" like science would undermine the logic of the book - but there are several instances of neuroscience research that strongly suggest that action takes place before conscious thought occurs, and therefore actually support the main thrust of the argument.

Occasionally the tone can be slightly grating: "To be chronically unwell is part of what it means to be human" is announced with no justification or follow-up, and the idea that civilisation is at least as natural home for humanity as barbarism is only grudgingly admitted. A reader looking for comfort will not find much here except maybe in the third section of the book - the best part - where the meaning of the title is made clear. The entropy of society is emphasised, though John Gray is a rather circumspect Cassandra who resists clear prediction but seems to want to retain the right to say "I told you so" when things do fall apart.

Like Gray's other work this is full of human experience, very thought-provoking and in its lack of answers to the questions it raises somewhat unsatisfying. But that, I suspect, is the point.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More thoughts on the failings of contemporary secular humanism, 12 Aug. 2013
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Paul Bowes (Wales, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths (Hardcover)
In 'Silence of the Animals', John Gray seeks to draw the reader's attention to the philosophical shortcomings of progressive rational humanism. Gray suggests that this position has in our time become a largely unargued default secular faith among atheistic humanists, most of whom have little patience with similar optimistic teleologies when they are advanced from religious positions.

Gray is a fluent writer, and this is a very literary book; almost a tapestry of quotations and references, primarily to twentieth-century writers and more frequently to novelists and poets than to philosophers or other thinkers. The first two thirds of this short book - the page count is rather misleading in this respect - make a convincing and highly readable case. I found that the book falters in the final third, in which I expected more substantial conclusions to be drawn: Gray seems to lose his way here, and the discussion rather peters out. Other readers have suggested that the book is best read as an extension of or addendum to the earlier 'Straw Dogs', which is more substantial and deals with many of the same issues.

Gray is never less than readable, and 'Silence of the Animals' may be useful for some as a corrective to the current over-optimistic strain of progressive secular humanism. It will not suit anyone inclined to interpret pessimism as cynicism, or seeking an ethical alternative to stoicism.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The rewards of a sceptical and pessimistic outlook., 10 Mar. 2013
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I. Sharpe "Ian Sharpe" (Berkshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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I'm a big fan of John Gray' s writing because he is not afraid to take on the big, 'macro' questions about humanity and he doesn't mince his words. I'm not sure that I always agree with his ultimately pessimistic outlook, but he does make a very convincing case that the possibility of salvation, in either a religious or a scientific humanist sense, is a fiction. Indeed, the author reserves particular ire for the atheists and humanists who believe that mankind can progress and perfect itself through the application of scientific reason. He explains his philosophy using examples from literature which help make this work an extremely erudite and rewarding read. I've lost count of the books and authors I've added to my 'wish list' as a result of discovering many of them here. Despite the scepticism and pessimism of his message there is also a degree of consolation on offer too. A book that both challenges and soothes.
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