Taking 19 significant life events that most of us go through at one time or another, Roland Smith uses contemporary examples such as the movie Thelma and Louise to illustrate deeper thoughts of a wide range of philosophers and thinkers in a wholly readable way.
"Driving with Plato" is a companion book to Breakfast With Socrates: A day with the world's greatest minds: The Philosophy of Everyday Life, in which former Oxford Fellow Robert Roland Smith took various elements of a `typical' day and provided insight into what a collection of thinkers might have to offer to make these mundane routines more interesting. Here, in the company of a similarly eclectic range of writers and thinkers, he considers the key aspects of a life, from birth, through school and riding a bike, to your first kiss, losing your virginity, having a family before a mid-life crisis, leading to divorce, old age and death. Montaigne said that to philosophise was to learn how to die, and here Roland Smith ensures that we think about each stage leading up to that moment.
As with the companion book (they can be read either alone or together) "Driving with Plato" has a clever structure. But it's not just the overall structure that makes this book so good. Roland Smith is a gifted communicator and each individual chapter is perfectly balanced and several times my mind was asking `yes, but what about....?' only to have Roland Smith anticipate this, and provide answers in the very next paragraph. Each chapter reads like a mini lecture is perfectly balanced with deep thoughts, splashes of contemporary culture and generously seasoned with humour.
It's not so much the depth of Roland Smith's knowledge that is so impressive as the breadth of that knowledge. Certainly based on philosophy, he regularly switches into the realms of psychoanalysis, and sociology amongst the academic bases for his arguments, but just as, if not more, pleasingly into the worlds of literature, film, music and children's books. There cannot be too many books where Madonna, "The Hungry Caterpillar" and Proust rub shoulders quite so easily with Heidegger, Hegel and Nietzsche.
Roland Smith presents the very opposite of `dumbing down' of his subject matter. The subject matter is weighty and it's certainly not a light read, but although he uses contemporary illustrations, he does not seek to simplify these matters, but rather succeeds in clarifying the argument with them and educating the reader. Not once did I feel lost by his train of argument and at each stage of life on which he writes, I found myself thinking about them in a slightly different way.
Any book-lover will take great reassurance in his argument that reading novels enables the reader to feel `relatively younger - that is, they win back more time' as an antidote to aging. Equally, he also provides a philosophical argument in support of cheating in exams! His justification for his claims on novels is that by saying `I'd never seen it like that before, [it] feels like redeeming part of your life'. I can honestly say that the book make me think of events afresh, so not only will this book entertain you, educate you and amuse you, it may very well help you stay younger, longer. Now if that's not a compelling reason to read this book, I don't know what is.
What a great book, I was tempted to buy this after reading the little anecdotes from Robert Rowland Smith every Sunday in the Sunday Times Magazine. It is a real eye opener as to what motivates us to do anything and everything in our everyday lives. Often quite hilarious but deadly accurate. It will give you a healthy insight into you own habits, and prompt you to change them, or, just carry on with the knowledge that you are getting it right!