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on 6 May 2017
I bought this for my 93 year old father in law who has been an expert on Ancient Greece and speaks fluent Latin! He's still going strong at 93! He had a different book in this series (about Plato I think) and mentioned he'd like this one so I bought it for him. He can no longer hold big books so well therefore it was perfect for him and he loves it, despite it being very basic for him given his massive knowledge of such things. I'd never have bought it for myself but I really enjoyed dibbing in to him and reading him bits aloud. I found it very readable and absolutely fascinating. He's going to let me read it after him!
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Readers may explore the volumes in Oxford University Press' "Very Short Introductions" series for a variety of reasons. The books are valuable to readers new to a subject. Such readers may want to expand their basic knowledge of a subject without delving into it in detail. Readers with knowledge of a subject may still want to read a well-informed introduction both to learn and also as a summary or refresher of their own understanding.

I am far from an expert on Aristotle, but I have studied some of his books in graduate-level philosophy seminars. Thus, I came to Jonathan Barnes' "Aristotle: A Very Short Introduction" (2000) reasonably informed. (In fact, Barnes' book is an edited version of an introduction to Aristotle he published in 1982, which I vaguely remember reading.) Barnes, Professor of Ancient Philosophy at the University of Geneva, is a master of his subject. He edited the Revised Oxford Translation of Aristotle and has published many books on the "Master of those who know" as well as other Greek philosophers. Readers can approach this introduction with confidence in the knowledge and background of the author.

The book shows its mastery by giving the reader the gist of Aristotle in a short space. A sign of knowledge, for Aristotle and many others, is the ability to separate the trivial from the essential and to explain in the circumstances or space made available. Aristotle's works are massive, wide-ranging, and complex. Most of the time, he is not a particularly graceful writer as is, for example, Plato. For readers of varying backgrounds in Aristotle, it is valuable to have the writings sorted out and organized, an effort which is itself Aristotelian.

Barnes views Aristotle as a scientist-philosopher. After a quick discussion of Aristotle's life, Barnes begins with Aristotle's biological investigations which are broader, more sophisticated, and more empirically based, than some would give him credit for. Barnes argues that Aristotle used his love for fact and for knowledge as the basis for philosophical conceptualization and organization rather than the other way round. Thus, Barnes views Aristotle's great contributions to logic as a way of schematizing and organizing empirically gathered information rather than a way of making facts fit preconceptions. He passes from biological science and logic to a consideration of Aristotle's physical theories and to his more recognizably philosophical work on the nature of knowledge and explanation, substance and metaphysics, and theology. Barnes passes quickly over Aristotle's large contributions to "practical" philosophy -- ethics and politics --- and to poetics.

Barnes explains Aristotle with a great deal of sympathy. He shows the reader that much may be learned from Aristotle's empiricism, from his love of knowledge, and from his understanding of the good life. His discussion of the teleological character of Aristotle's thought and its relationship to contemporary functionalism is particularly insightful. For all his admiration of Aristotle, Barnes states unequivocally that "Aristotle's account of the world is wholly exploded". Readers no longer turn to Aristotle to learn biology, physics, or logic even though his influence remains pervasive. Aristotle's metaphysics and ethics continue to be discussed and assessed among students of philosophy.

Barnes has written a valuable "very short introduction" to Aristotle. Readers without the inclination to pursue Aristotle further will get a good solid overview of his science and philosophy and of his importance. Students will be able to use this book to focus their reading. Those familiar with Aristotle will find this book a valuable quick summation. This book all told is an inspiring brief summary of the love of knowledge and wisdom, and of the life of the mind.

Robin Friedman
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on 17 August 2010
I was really disappointed by this book. Other books in the 'A Very Short Introduction' series have been brilliant and amazingly helpful. But this one seems to miss the concept of an 'Introduction' entirely. He doesn't explain most of what he says, and uses Latin expressions without actually explaining what it means in English. While Barnes is certainly knowledgeable on the subject of Aristotle, his structure of writing is almost completely useless to anyone who is actually using the book as a way to first start studying Aristotle. I would also question the worth of a man who would so freely insult Plato the way Barnes does.
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Early on in this book Barnes points out what a mammoth task providing a short introduction to someone as prolific in output as Aristotle is going to be. It is estimated that his output easily reached fifty volumes of work, on subjects as diverse as the theatre to zoology. Even though only about a quarter of that survives, it is still a massive amount of work.

This book therefore, really is an introduction. There are short, concise chapters that cover a great deal of the themes and ideas he introduced. The most time is spent discussing his work with animals and plants and his work on ethics, logic and philosophy.

As with all these Very Short Introductions there are illustrations, but here it seems almost a shame, because the illustrations add little, and a few more pages of written material would have been much more helpful.

As ever there are excellent bibliographies and further reading suggestions in the back which will give you places to go after this, depending on your interest.

Given the complexity of the ideas discussed and the amount of material condensed this is an excellent book, although further reading will definitely be required.
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on 1 January 2010
An excellent introduction to the life and work of Aristotle, written by someone who is an obvious authority on the man. Concise and intelligible, the book is ideal for beginners, accomplishing a surprising amount in a limited space. Barnes is clearly an admirer of his subject, but he doesn't let that admiration hold him back from offering fair-minded criticism at various stages of the book.

The first couple of chapters provide useful context by detailing the main stages of Aristotle's life and the political backdrop underpinning it. Then Barnes turns to the studies, offering short and sweet commentary and analysis of his works and ideas. Beginning with Aristotle's copious zoological research, Barnes moves on to his work on logic, metaphysics, politics, ethics, aesthetics, psychology and more. Finally, he offers a balanced analysis of Aristotle's influence and legacy.

All in all, a top-notch addition to the VSI series, and an essential one if you plan on tackling the later philosophers.
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on 14 September 2014
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on 26 February 2015
Annoying to get it twice
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on 17 March 2016
Barnes gives a biographical sketch of the philosopher whilst mentioning his famous works and ideas at the same time. He tackles the Aristotelian worldview - showing where it differs from modern day understanding of life, science etc. Overall, a good read.
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on 26 November 2013
This was purchased to use in attendance with an introductory course on Philosophy - it did the job very well.
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on 28 February 2017
Very adequate for the required purpose
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