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The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America Paperback – 8 Apr 2011

4.8 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Flamingo; New Ed edition (8 April 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007126905
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007126903
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 33,152 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


‘Zestfully good, urbane and original, “The Metaphysical Club” enlivens virtually everything it touches, and on its frequent diversions it touches many things: natural selection and racism; probability distributions and disputed wills; the Dartmouth case and academic freedom. Anybody interested in modern America will find rewards aplenty.’ Economist

‘Brilliant…Menand brings rare common sense and graceful, witty prose to his richly nuanced reading of American intellectual history – a story that takes in (to name only a few of the other players) Emerson, Hegel, Kant, the second Great Awakening, probability theory, the nebular hypothesis, the Pullman strike, academic freedom and the ever-present issue of race.’ New York Review of Books

‘A hugely ambitious, unmistakably brilliant intellectual history, nothing less than an explanation of the social historical, economic and spiritual forces that caused American thinking to change radically…A landmark work of scholarship and a popular history of profound sweeping change of enormous worth.’ New York Times


The Metaphysical Club was an informal group that met in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1872, to talk about ideas. Its members included Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr, founder of modern jurisprudence; William James, the father of modern American psychology; and Charles Sanders Peirce, logician, scientist and the founder of semiotics. The club was probably in existence for about nine months. No records were kept. The one thing we know that came out of it was an idea - an idea about ideas. This book is the story of that idea. Holmes, James and Peirce all believed that ideas are not things "out there" waiting to be discovered but are tools people invent - like knives and forks and microchips - to make their way in the world. They thought that ideas are produced not by individuals, but by groups of individuals - that ideas are social. They do not develop according to some inner logic of their own but are entirely dependent - like germs - on their human carriers and environment. They also thought that the survival of any idea depends not on its immutability but on its adaptability. "The Metaphysical Club" is written in the spirit of this idea about ideas.

It is not a history of philosophy but a narrative about personalities and social history, a story about America. It begins with the American Civil War and ends with World War I. This is a book about the evolution of the American mind during the crucial period that formed the world we now inhabit.

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