Customer Review

32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Expert analysis, mired in its own prose, 14 Dec. 2009
This review is from: A Secular Age (Hardcover)
I endured this book, because it contains many insightful perspectives on an important subject. In particular, the development of a broader picture of the secularisation of Western societies than the simplistic subtractive story of religion receding in the face of rationalistic science is both convincing and thought provoking. The author is clearly not a secularist himself, but does not duck any of the important criticisms of the religious world view.

However, and this is the unfortunate reason why I felt moved to write this review, the prose of this 700 page volume is amongst the most impenetrable and abstruse I have ever read. I found myself frequently reaching for the thesaurus, which on no fewer than 11 occasions was unable to assist me, and I am not talking about the technical philosophical terms. This in addition to the various neologisms scattered through the text, and the authors habit of using the same word in several different contexts, which had me re-reading whole passages to clarify their sense.

Perhaps this is in part due to the fact that I am not a professional philosopher, but I think that any book providing a history and overview of a subject such as this for the conventionally educated lay person, ought to do so in as clear and consise a manner as possible, and this has definitely not been attempted here. In many places the same argument is re-stated multiple times, and I often found myself having to go back several pages or even chapters to remind myself what 'sense 3' of a previously discussed topic was.

I would not even attempt this book if you are not at least passingly familiar with most of the works of the western philosophical tradition. A smattering of romance languages will also speed up your reading of the various untranslated quotations from almost all of them.

My conclusion, oft reapeated to myself during the month of evenings I spent reading this work, is that the important information it contains could have been conveyed in less than half the space, and should have been conveyed with greater clarity.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 21 Jan 2011 10:41:33 GMT
I understand what this reviewer is saying about Taylor's prose, but think he's misjudged the genre of this book. I think this is fundamentally an academic book, which carefully and systemmatically builds up a cohesive argument by quoting from philosophers and other cultural references over more than the past five centuries. I personally found the style of writing in the first person to keep the text alive, and the repetition of the arguments helpful. It's easy to lose the plot over 874 pages without reappraisal of where you've got to.

The big insights in Taylor's book is looking at the conditions of belief in today's culture. Taylor was awarded the Templeton Prize for this book, so it's set a lot of people thinking, and the implications of his work will, I think, be digested over the coming years.

Posted on 11 Aug 2012 23:24:21 BDT
resonance says:
It would interesting to read your take on this important work once you feel able to meet it on its own terms.
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