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This review is from: Descartes: The Life of René Descartes and Its Place in His Times (Paperback)
I bought this book based on its claim to be a biography of the French philosopher Rene Descartes. Unfortunately it seems the author and I have rather different views on the meaning of the word `biography'. I had always understood it to mean a book describing the subject's life, history, achievements, personality, perhaps even attempting some sort of psychological portrait of his character. Grayling on the other hand, seems to have understood it to mean a potted history of the various events going on politically at the time in which the subject lived. If you're interested in a very short history of the beginnings of the 30 years war, the successions of various kings and queens of that era, on who the pope was before he became pope, and in the short biographies of ten - fifteen other people, then this is the book for you. If you're interested in the life of Rene Descartes, then stay away.
My biggest complaints are: 1 - the passages (sometimes 5-6 pages) in which Descartes is not mentioned at all 2 - the author's bizarre dismissal of almost any contemporary source (esp. anything actually written by Descartes himself) as being misleading 3 - the over use of the phrase `of course' and most of all 4 - the lack of soul in the book. I imagine this book to have come about because a publisher somewhere saw a Descartes' biography shaped gap in the market and commissioned the first `expert' they could find to write one. There is no love for the subject in this work. There is no fun, no joy in the everyday details of a life that make good biographies so enjoyable.
Descartes, the man, is but a ghost in this book. Haunting the fringes but never being clearly seen.
To be avoided.