on 21 September 2009
This is an excellent book - thorough enough to be of use to those needing it for serious study, yet clear and unassuming enough (even with a handy and basic glossary for those terms you ought to know but aren't too sure of) to be read by those (like myself) who possess very little previous knowledge on Humanism. Tony Davies takes what might be considered an idiocentric approach to the structure of the book, beginning as he does with the 19th century rather that at the chronological beginning of his subject. However this structure works well to tell the story he intends to tell, with each chapter picking up a fascinating intellectual trail as Davies follows Humanism through the various schools and areas of scholarship with which it has been tied. When Davies, in his introduction, hopes the reader will be 'patient enough to let it (the structure of his book) unfold in its own way' then it is advice well worth heading, for although the book can indeed be read in a chronological order, one risks losing a unique and fascinating view of intellectual history, as well as a jolly good story.
Another reader has reviewed this book as merely restating 'many fairly-commonplace (in literary criticism circles) postmodern critiques of humanism, without critically interogating [sic] these sources.' As I have relatively little knowledge of Humanisms and Anti-humanisms I can't categorically deny this claim, however I personally found the book to be balanced, well-written, carefully thought out, and intellectually rigorous. There was never a point when I felt the author to be at fault and, as to the claim that not every source is critically interrogated, I can only point out that this is an introduction to the topic, not a thorough study of a particular aspect of what is in fact a huge subject. If Tony Davies does not pause at every point to thoroughly interrogate a work by Marx or Burckhardt, then this is not because of sloppy authorship, but because such a practice would be a distraction from the main point (which is simply to offer the reader a comprehensive overview) as well as being unfeasible in such a short work. The main aim of this book is to offer the reader a comprehensive overview of Humanism and this, I believe, it does with flying colours.
on 22 April 2008
It is claimed on the cover of this book that 'Davies offers a clear introduction to many uses of this influencial yet complex concept' (ie. 'humanism'). He does not. Rather he restates many fairly-commonplace (in literary criticism circles) postmodern critiques of humanism, without critically interogating these sources. For a student looking for a workable definition, or for any reader seeking a clear introduction, this book is unsuitable, though it does offer an intriguing snapshot of the way in which modern literary criticism has self-destructed.