Top positive review
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More than an Introduction - and comprehensible!
on 24 January 2004
I started to read this book hoping to find references to the influence of ancient Greek philosophy on Christianity. My previous attempts at digesting philosophy books were doomed to failure - I found them rebarbative, difficult to understand for "the non-initiated" like me (I come from a scientific background) . Thus, my experience in reading philosophy made me reluctant to take up yet another book in this field. However, this title tempted me (Understanding Plato) and gave myself another chance to find some comprehensible answers to what I was looking for. This time I wasn't disappointed. At all. This was the first experience of reading philosophy which I have thoroughly enjoyed. For me, this was the book which made me believe that philosophy is not always dry, heavy writings which just the members of the philosophy club would be able to grasp. I believe it is the comprehensible style of writing (direct, very logical, non-elusive) and the way David Melling introduces the reader into the scene of Plato's world which makes the book so enjoyable.
He begins by placing Plato into his historical context and among the philosophers and the political situations which influenced him. He then starts to present many of Plato's dialogues in a sort of chronological order. The beauty of the structure is that the chapters are not independent, but form steps of a staircase taking the reader's understanding from the ground level upwards through the stages Plato's philosophical discourse.
Throughout the book, the author sets up challenging game-like situations which make the reader feel as if part of the discussion group, as one of the characters in the dialogue, raising questions and solving problems. I found the chapter on the explanations of the forms (the lengthiest one) exceedingly interesting and at the same time easy to grasp in spite of the fact that this concept seems to be one of the most difficult to understand in Plato's writings.
The last chapter of the book is reserved for the discussion of the Plato's last dialogue "The Laws". Melling presents Plato here as a person filled with compassion and understanding of the real needs of the people, a man of great experience (he wrote the "The Laws towards the end of his life) and acceptance of others.
Even though David Melling presents the book as an introduction to understanding Plato, I find it to be a book which can unlock most of the "mysteries" which seem to surround the great philosopher.