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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dead funny
Don't be misled by the "Little Book of..." style title and the jokey jacket: in his book Simon Critchley succeeds in setting out philosophical ideas on life and death across the millennia in a serious, accessible, and often witty, way.

The structure of the book, set out in roughly chronological, biographical paragraphs, makes it a page turner. Philosophical...
Published on 17 Jun 2008 by Hypocrite lecteur

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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A bit of a dead loss
It is astonishing that a Professor of Philosophy should have written a book into which he has allowed so much shallowness, superficiality and sheer irrelevance. It is a real rag-bag of a book. There are, however, some worth-while if rather obvious observations about what philosophers have written about death: that most of them encouraged people to live such a lives and...
Published on 26 Feb 2009 by Ralph Blumenau


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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dead funny, 17 Jun 2008
Don't be misled by the "Little Book of..." style title and the jokey jacket: in his book Simon Critchley succeeds in setting out philosophical ideas on life and death across the millennia in a serious, accessible, and often witty, way.

The structure of the book, set out in roughly chronological, biographical paragraphs, makes it a page turner. Philosophical positions which may sound forbidding to the non-philosopher (me) - the ontological argument for the existence of God is just one example - are set out in such clear fashion that the flow is uninterrupted.

Many years ago, I took an undergraduate course titled, History of Modern Philosophy; the most modern of the philosophers considered was Immanuel Kant. So, it was interesting to read about thinkers such as Foucault and Derrida, who, until now, have only been names. There were other names that I'd never even heard, but that I was fascinated to read about: Edith Stein, Gadamer, and Levinas.

Although the book is written with considerable wit, at times, particularly in the earlier chapters, I wondered if some of the references were spoofs:

Could someone called Gilles Menage really have written a History of Women Philosophers in 1609 ? And was there an early Christian Father called John the Dwarf ?

As I read on, however, I realised that the jokes in the book - there are some good ones - are more subtly expressed. There are also some enjoyable asides: what links Hegel and the Brooklyn Bridge ? How are A J Ayer and Mike Tyson connected ?

A minor criticism I was going to make has been torpedoed by looking in the dictionary: the verb "preponderate" is in the OED. On first reading, I thought the author had been in LA for too long.

Simon Critchley summarises his own ideas in the final chapter; after almost two hundred deaths, they are lively and uplifting.

For those who are encouraged by the book to read more, there is an extensive bibliography.

This is a serious book (you won't find any quotes from Bill Shankly) which wears its erudition lightly.

Recommended for anyone with an interest in the history of ideas.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More than Its Title, 19 July 2008
By 
Jonathan Sims "profitpie" (Cornwall) - See all my reviews
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This book isn't quite what it says on the tin: the circumstances of the deaths of many philosophers, particularly the earliest, were unknown, too bizarre to be believed, or described in contradictory ways. The book is far more than that - a highly readable introduction to the lives and major thinking of 190 philosophers, ranging from a few lines to a few pages. The subject of death is always in sight (and it's thought-provoking to read how many philosophers died in absurd and undeserved circumstances despite all noble preparations), and a sense of humour enriches Critchley's writing. Thoroughly recommended.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The free man thinks of nothing less than Death- unless perhaps he is a philosopher, 30 Jun 2008
This book is built on a truly interesting idea. It makes an effort to provide brief accounts of the way the great philosophers of the Western tradition died. It in the course of this provides very incidental and also brief accounts of aspects of their respective philosophies. It does not claim to be a comprehensive scholarly work. In fact Critchley makes the point that the purely academic philosophers especially of the positivist tradition tend to lead less interesting lives than those for whom Philosophy is not a mere academic study but rather a crucial element in living. So Critchley's concluding pages contain a large number of Continental primarily French philosophers.
They also include a section on Chinese philosophers with a commentary on the Zen way of thinking about Death.
Critchley too is guided by his own 'philosophy of life and death'. This is one in which there is a strong objection to ideas of an afterlife or world- to - come. He prefers a kind of straightforward courageous looking of Death straight in the eyes, and accepting it. The 'learning how to die wisely' that he commends involves a preparation in acceptance and understanding. The idea seems to to be, to be here when we are here, without worrying where we will one day not be.
What surprised me in one sense is that while most of the accounts are interesting few are moving. It is perhaps possible to be moved by Sartre's final words to his Beaver, de Beauvoir assuring her of his Love ( provided that is that they are not her invention). It is possible to be amused by Thoreau's reply to the question, "Have you made your peace with God?" in which he says , "I did not know we had quarrelled " It is possible to be struck by the philosopher of the Absurd Camus' dying in an absurd car- accident. There are dozens of accounts which have some kind of fascinating twist or detail. And often what is best in them is what they reveal about the character of the philosopher involved. Often as for instance with the no- nonsense courageous Hume and the endlessly fussing and deceptive narcissistic Rousseau their deaths are the continuation of their characters in life.
The book fascinates but in focusing on the deaths of the philosophers and not on their overall conception and experience of Death it misses much.
Thus for me the most profound and insightful words of the book come quite close to the beginning . They paradoxically have little to do what the book is about. Critchley writes about "the aspect of death is hardest to endure: not our own death, but the deaths of those we love.It is the deaths of those we are bound to in love that undo us, that unstitch our carefully tailored suit of the self, that unmake whatever meaning we have made.In my view...it is only in grief that we become most truly ourselves.That is , what it means to be a self does not consist in some delusory self- knowledge, but in the acknowledgment of that part of ourselves that we have irretievably lost".
I would suggest another book could be written about what the deaths of those close have meant to the great Philosophers. And in fact in the pioneering work of Ben- Ami Scharfstein on how the lives of philosophers have effected them we learn that many of the greatest philosophers lost a parent at an early age. Still another book of great interest could be written on what the Deaths of the Philosophers themselves have meant to those closest to them.
This is by the way not a book for students of Philosophy only- but rather one for all those who somehow wish to know and think more about the inevitable- and prepare themselves for it. And this though I doubt it will deprive each and every one of us of his own experience his own most likely very unpleasant surprise.
I will only add one personal note. The traditional Jewish way, for philosophers and not philosophers, of leaving this world- if that is one has a chance to do it peacefully - is through uttering the great affirmation of the Jewish faith - 'Shema Yisrael'. Surrounded by loved ones after having bid farewell to each and all in the most considerate way possible- I can imagine myself saying the 'Shema' as word of prayer and faith not only for myself but for all those I love and care about who continue here. A word of prayer and blessing as a way of ending this life may be the best a person can do.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A bit of a dead loss, 26 Feb 2009
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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It is astonishing that a Professor of Philosophy should have written a book into which he has allowed so much shallowness, superficiality and sheer irrelevance. It is a real rag-bag of a book. There are, however, some worth-while if rather obvious observations about what philosophers have written about death: that most of them encouraged people to live such a lives and develop such attitudes that death has no undue terrors for them; that some of them believed that death was the transition to an after life while some others, quite comfortably, did not; that, with the exception of Derrida, they all stressed the meaninglessness in the context of death of much that we consider think important (mostly material prosperity and worldly ambitions) in this life (though Sartre at times believed that death made the whole of life absurd); that some thought suicide acceptable while others did not; that it is often easier to come to terms with one's own death than with the death of loved ones. Buddhists, who teach reincarnation, even believe that death is an illusion. (Curiously, Critchley has nothing on the Buddha's death.) It seems that Derrida is the only one of the 190 philosophers mentioned in this book who was disturbed by the prospect of his death, even at the age of 72, because it would cut short a life in which there was still so much to do.

But Critchley also wants to catalogue the ways in which philosophers actually died. That is of some interest where they died in a way which was consonant with their philosophy or alternatively where they were unable to live up to it. When neither of these applies, as when they died suddenly by some kind of accident as several of them did or when we know only that they died of an illness but not how they met it, this knowledge is no more relevant than is a knowledge of how anyone who is not a philosopher dies.

In the case of the earliest philosophers, how they died is often either not known or there are different accounts by unreliable early biographers. Critchely is fond of jocular remarks; and sometimes, where the nature of a philosopher's death is not known, he indulges in wisecracks: about Parmenides, who drew a distinction between being and non-being, he writes: "we have no account of how Parmenides passed from one state to the other"; about the Sceptic Pyrrho: "it is not known how Pyrrho died, although it would be taking his scepticism too far to deny that it occurred." Many other entries also end with quips of this kind.

In the case of these two, as in very many others, there is the sketchiest of accounts of their philosophy in general, which often does not include their thoughts about death. There is no principle at work in these entries: while some of them - far too few - at least point out the general significance of the philosopher in question, others tell us nothing about their ideas: the entry on Abélard is all about him and Heloïse; and here is the entire entry for Strato: "Strato became so thin that it is said that he felt nothing when he died." Three lines on Kant's philosophy, a page and a half of gossip about his habits. I could cite many more of such examples.

In his epilogue, Critchley trots out the surely outdated cliché that "Death is the last great taboo". This is nonsense - certainly in England and probably in his United States also. There has never been so much discussion as now of, for example, euthanasia - a topic he does not tackle at all. People used to be frightened of hell-fire after death; but I think that nowadays, in England at any rate, the terror that people have of death is not of possible hell-fire or even of nothing of them surviving. What does frighten them is a possibly painful or undignified process at the end of life. I think that most people, certainly in old age, are now "philosophical" enough not to fear death as such. It is when we are in severe pain that we most need the philosophical wisdom to recognize that it, too, will come to an end; but probably that is more a matter of temperament than of having read Critchley's book.

In any case, he would have produced a much more worth-while book if he had cut out the trivia, cut down the number of entries from 190 to a fraction of that number, and had given these the much more extensive treatment of which I am sure the professor is capable. He has culled a lot of knowledge from his wide reading (his bibliography runs to 13 pages); but, as he rightly says of Socrates, knowledge and wisdom (the sophia of philosophy) are not the same thing!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Read!, 28 Jan 2013
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This review is from: The Book Of Dead Philosophers (Kindle Edition)
Entertaining and stimulating. This book makes you laugh at times, but also makes you think about your own mortality and about what death means to you. It was a great read on the tube and took your mind back to things worth thinking about. Although rather tough to read as a non-native English speaker, I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of this book, while it still remained light-hearted and with a twinkle of humour :)
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5.0 out of 5 stars Philosophers never die, 31 Dec 2012
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This book is much more than a compilation of (often amusing) stories about how philosophers kicked the bucket. Critchley is full of insights and clearly knows his subject in depth. For me this book proved a useful introduction to some of the names in philosophy that I had heard of but about whom I know little.

A hidden treasure of the book is the final chapter of the author's own 'Last Words' - a chapter called Creatureliness. If only sanctimonious religious leaders and others with delusions of grandeur would take these words to heart:

'It is my wager that if we can begin to accept our limitedness, then we might be able to give up certain of the fantasies of infantile impotence, worldly wealth and puffed up power that culminate in both aggressive personal conflicts and bloody wars between opposed and exclusive gods.'

Bravo!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Lucid Read, 7 May 2011
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An eminently readable book to dip into and emerge both instructed and entertained. There is a Contents section at the beginning and Bibliography at the end, but no Index which would have made searches easier. It merits a bed-side place for inducing a reflective mood.
TMR
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Just about worth reading, but not buying, 12 Aug 2009
By 
Ransen Owen (Italy) - See all my reviews
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This book was just about worth reading because I learned some interesting facts about the lives of philosphers. But too many early entries end with "some say he died like this, some say he died like that and some say he died like the other." Myths and legends which don't really shed light on anything.

And the later deaths just show that philosophers die in just as many varied ways as we all do. Some entries have nothing much to do with the death of the philosopher.

There are poor puns and weak jokes throughout which I found irritating.

And Simon states the obvious on some pages and uses technical philosophical language on other pages. For example:

"Pope John Paul II (who was, lest it be forgotten, a phenomenologist) canonized her..."

and on the following page (paraphrasing):

"It was clear that the Gestapo would not treat Benjamin, a Jew, with mercy."

So he teaches us that the Gestapo was not kind to Jews, but assumes that we once knew (and have now forgotten) that Pope John Paul II was a phenomenologist. Whatever that is.

This book is sometimes interesting, but mostly irritating.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Does not live up to its reviews, 3 Jun 2010
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This books comes with rave reviews, for example the Daily Telegraph is quoted as having said; "A rigorous, profound and frequently hilarious book". In fact it provides a brief, sometimes amusing, but never hilarious run through the lives, ideas, and of course deaths of many philosophers. Its treatment of its material is very uneven, and it suffers from the fundamental problem that the way many philosophers died is really not particularly interesting. As one would expect Critchley makes the most of the noble deaths of philosophers like Socrates , Seneca and Boethius, but inspiring deaths like theirs are the exception, not the rule.
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