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5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Bergson-lite for the lazy, 22 Sep 2013
Paul Bowes (Wales, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
'Life Lessons from Bergson' is one of a series of books produced by Macmillan in association with Alain de Botton's 'School of Life', a project dedicated to exploring the 'big philosophical questions' that professional philosophers are often accused of ignoring. In this case, the author is Michael Foley, whose reputation is primarily as a poet, but who has recently published more lengthy books on the problems of contemporary life.

Foley's admiration for the relatively neglected French thinker Henri Bergson is clearly genuine. This short book - around 25,000 words - hardly allows for a serious exploration of Bergson's once influential ideas, but Foley makes a reasonable attempt to relate Bergson to his times, and in particular compares his thought to that of Bergson's contemporary and friend, the better-known (in the English-speaking world) William James.

Less successful is the attempt to draw 'life lessons' from Bergson. The underlying tone is the groundless positivity, suspicion of 'mere' rationality and vague sense of uplift that we have learned to associate with the philosopher-lite de Botton. To this, Foley adds a down-to-earth chumminess that insists on drawing the sting from any sentence that hints at difficulty with a folksy tag. The author also draws every possible parallel between Bergson's ideas and the fundamental tenets of Buddhism, in spite of the fact that, as he acknowledges, Bergson does not refer to or acknowledge the influence of Buddhism in his writings. The effect is to make Buddhism sound significantly more interesting than Bergson (and who is to say that this isn't the case?).

As a guide to life, recommended only for readers with 'first world' problems, who don't wish to risk being disturbed in their complacency: the kind of person for whom 'the scientist in the white coat turns out to be the monk in orange robes'. Readers seriously interested in Bergson's ideas should look elsewhere.
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