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79 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and unuseful, both at the same time, 22 Jun 2008
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This review is from: Complete Works (Hardcover)
This is a gorgeous, excellent and complete edition of all works which are generally ascribed to Plato, or attributed to him in antiquity. But it's too big to read in the bath, which is the ideal place to read Greek philosophers.

It is the only complete works of its kind, and most of the translations were commissioned specially for it. It contains a mercifully short introduction, which is primarily an introduction to the volume as presented, not an introduction to Plato (more on that in a moment), brief introductions to each work, a fairly minimalist approach to footnotes - largely confined to textual or translation notes, references to ancient authors, and a very few essential explanations - and a good index. Interestingly, it contains a page telling you that the typeface is Palatino, which is a good choice, followed by fifteen blank pages. Again, mercifully, they have not printed 'notes' above these blank pages, since no-one should really be encouraged to write in this beautiful volume.

Alfred North Whitehead* suggested that the entire history of Western Philosophy was a set of footnotes to Plato. The publishers have wisely decided to follow Plato's pupil Aristotle's premise that only those things should be included which could not be left out, since if they had chosen to include all those things which could be usefully added, the book would run to many volumes and would lose most of its usefulness. Even so, at 1850 or so pages, this is about as big as any volume can usefully be if you intend to read it rather than just occasionally refer to it.

At the age I am now at, I am astonished that nobody made me read Plato at school. It seems to me that I would have done much better both at A-level and university if I had read it, and would not have airily referred to 'Platonism' or 'Platonic' as if it could all be summed up on one side of a sheet of A4, and everyone would know exactly what I was talking about. I suspect, though, that the sheer scale of his works was one of the reasons why nobody did.

And this is, as I have probably already alluded to, the problem with a complete works of this kind: it is too heavy to read in the bath, or on the train, and exudes the kind of presence that one would naturally ascribe to 'great philosophy'. This is regrettable: Plato's Socrates is one of the freshest, most direct and appealing characters in all of literature. He leaps straight off the page, jumping through two thousand four hundred years of history as if it were nothing. He is never dry, never dull, and never anything other than surprising.

Because of its size and price, this book is probably going to be bought by academics who already know what it contains, and libraries, and, worst of all, be a standard on the list of school or university prizes. This is a pity: I would genuinely recommend it to any enquiring mind, but especially to the under 20s, who are in many ways Socrates's intended audience. And herein lies the paradox. We come to this volume to find Plato, but we stay to spend time with Socrates.

--
*Thanks Sam C for the correction
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 5 Jul 2008 13:25:02 BDT
Sam C says:
"Bertrand Russell suggested that the entire history of Western Philosophy was a set of footnotes to Plato." - Actually it was Alfred North Whitehead (Russell's coauthor on Principia Mathematica).

Posted on 13 Jul 2008 09:05:12 BDT
You're right: schoolchildren should know Plato as well as we used to know Shakespeare. But then I suppose they would be worried about people starting to THINK, and who knows where THAT could lead! I'm not sure about not writing in beautiful books - I often have this debate with myself - doesn't it help to engage and wrestle with a book when you scribble pencil notes in it? Lastly: I think the price is pretty reasonable for what you get, especially if it is quality publishing as it seems to be. Peter

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Jul 2008 17:54:20 BDT
Thanks Sam C - I will correct .

Posted on 10 Sep 2010 05:14:02 BDT
John Jarvis says:
Thanks Martin, this is a great review. I spent four years at university studying history and politics, and was never made to read Plato. I picked some up this summer and I'm hooked (first Apology, Crito, Euthyphro, now working on Republic)--in spite of the size and caveats of this volume, I'm going to ask for this for my birthday. It's wonderful philosophy. I was trying to read Hume earlier this summer, and he's not abominably difficult, but the apparent clarity of Plato is magnificent. The ideas are difficult and challenging, but the exposition is not.

Posted on 19 Aug 2013 08:33:18 BDT
Quite agree. The Republic should be required reading on the school curriculum. It introduces all the issues that a prospective citizen should be aware of if they are to be a properly informed member of an electorate.
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