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All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age
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All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  833 ratings  ·  174 reviews

In unrelenting flow of choices confronts us at nearly every moment of our lives, and yet our culture offers us no clear way to choose. This predicament seems inevitable, but in fact it's quite new. In medieval Europe, God's calling was a grounding force. In ancient Greece, a whole pantheon of shining gods stood ready to draw an appropriate action out of you. Like an athlet
ebook, 272 pages
Published January 4th 2011 by Free Press (first published January 4th 2010)
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Webster Bull
As a former book publisher, I know the severe limits of book review space in major newspapers. So when the New York Times publishes an op-ed piece and two reviews about a new book within 24 days (December 30, January 3, and January 20), one is forced to stand up and take notice. And when that book is a work of pop philosophy, which by January 30 had reached only a lowly 25th on the NYT Nonfiction Bestseller List, one must extend one's hand and scratch one's head. One must also ask, Who's paying ...more
Dreyfus and Kelly’s book, All Things Shining, is both an existential guidebook and an intriguing history of Western literature. Their main goal is to discover a cure for modern nihilism, but in order to accomplish this they first set out explaining how we have arrived at this predicament through a mixture of phenomenological inspection and literary criticism.

Beginning with David Foster Wallace’s epic Infinite Jest, the authors situate the book within a very real and disconcerting set of problem
How do you find meaning and purpose for your life in the secular age? What is a meaningful pursuit when the choices in the contemporary age are prolific yet seemingly equal in value? How do you know your life has meaning without the clarity of religion's dictates? And what do the great books of former epochs teach us about how to find the sacred in contemporary culture?

These are the questions asked by the authors of ALL THINGS SHINING: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Ag
The highest praise that I can give this book is that it makes me want to reread the classics, particularly Homer's ILIAD and ODYSSEY and MOBY DICK, the latter of which the authors regard as crucial in understanding what 21st century western humanity believes in, or doesn't. As well, it makes me want to read, for the first time, the contemporary writings of David Foster Wallace which are at the heart of our existential questioning.

At just over 200 pages this is a short book but packed with provo
I very much enjoyed the literary criticism parts of this book, but was less enchanted with the final "self-help" chapters. (But then, I wasn't looking for a self-help sort of book...) The authors are philosophy professors and the book is at its best when they relate ideas of philosophers to their chosen literary texts. The western classics explored at length are Homer's "Iliad" and "Odyssey", works of Aeschylus, Dante's "Divine Comedy" and Melville's "Moby Dick". I only read Homer fairly recentl ...more
I think over the past couple years, without being aware directly of what I was doing, I was testing the authors' hypothosis. I was looking for a way to innoculate myself against the gravity of a postmodern despair. I started to carve a life that included the classics. I started to look for a positive beauty within and near the Western Cannon. Anyway, this book was a nice framework to continue my 'experiment' with the classics.

Favorite part of this book was the chapter on Melville. I think this
Grabbed this on a whim at a cozy independent bookstore in DC over the break. Started reading it over a pint of porter.

The in-depth discussion of David Foster Wallace's suicidal nihilism was pretty interesting, as were some of the bits about Homer. The chapter on Melville was oustanding. Otherwise, it was a mish-mash of woo-infected academic BS trying to pass itself off as "secular." Now I just want to read Moby Dick again.

To grapple with some serious, secular, useful ideas about human life and m
I get the feeling that a lot of us, privileged Americans, as we enter our early 30s, have to find a way to put away childish things and confront stuff about spirituality and values.
David Foster Wallace

Somewhere in the digital ether I'm sure an NSA surveillance bot is concerned that I'm having an existential crisis. Last week I read Man's Search for Meaning and now this week, All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age. I promise, I'm not having an existen
Mary Ronan Drew
Polytheism. Greek polytheism. That's the solution to modern nihilism, according to the two very clever philosophers who have written this book, a quick overview of the highlights of Western Civilization as interpreted by literary and religious figures.

Sounds pretty dull but it's actually crackling with electricity. I would have said it was not humanly possible to write a chapter entitled, "From Dante to Kant: The Dangers and Attractions of Autonomy" and keep me on the edge of my chair but Dreyfu
This fascinating book traces Western civilization's journey from a world that was open to the experience of the sacred and meaningful to a world where meaning has come to be something entirely up to the individual to create. It begins with the Homeric Greeks, and takes us to David Foster Wallace (my favorite) as the best contemporary example of the dilemma this position (most clearly described first by Friedrich Nietzsche) creates for us. On the journey between this beginning and end, they take ...more
Chris Holliman
It was the title that attracted me: All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age. I felt that the authors were making two assumptions outright: 1) that we dwell in a fallen age devoid of the intensely passionate lives that our ancestors enjoyed and 2) that great books can cure this.

Sure enough, the authors suppose that the overarching zeigeist of our time is nihilism, marked by a loneliness and alienation familiar to us all. They also take for granted that t
Dave Maddock
Based on the subtitle, I was expecting the book to be about replacing religious practice with humanistic ones. That is, when one becomes secularized and religions' dictates can no longer provide meaning for your life, here is how one can turn to the Western Classics for fulfillment. Instead, it was a whirlwind survey of cherry-picked works from the Western Canon, how each addresses the problem of nihilism, and a plea to revive a polytheistic approach to assigning meaning to life.

Unfortunately, t
Brilliant, provocative account of the loss and retrieval of the gods via a handful of Great Books. Homer and Melville stand as the bookends — the Great Bookends — of the tradition: the former representing a naive, the latter a quasi-secularized, polytheism. David Foster Wallace plays the foil as the self-destructing postmodern nihilist. A great read.
Jun 17, 2011 Ellen added it
Shelves: 2011
I'm over a week overdue on this book already, and YET, and YET I have to finish it despite its density.
Maughn Gregory
In this book I found beautiful expressions of some of my deepest convictions, but also several new ideas to challenge my thinking. I believe the authors are absolutely right about the opposing evils of nihilism and monotheism (not coincidentally, most of the bad reviews on Goodreads are by disgruntled Christians), about the sacred nature of "physis" and "poiesis," and about the necessary but ultimately dehumanizing nature of technology. I admire their ability to convey complex philosophical and ...more
THE GUIDING THEME of the book can be stated in a series of questions.

First, what understanding of being human has shaped the various epochs in the history of the West?
Second, how did these accounts of human being, and of the sacred, keep the problem of nihilism at bay?
Third is there anything in these self-understandings from our history that we can use to combat the nihilism of our secular age?

I don't think the authors really drew any real conclusions in this book that made much sense to me. The
Clare Cannon
A full response to this book would require a doctoral thesis. Below are some brief thoughts about what I understood were the books claims and why I agreed or disagreed.

This is a complex discussion of some philosophical problems of our age, which considers aspects of philosophies discovered in the cultural or religious traditions of Western history. Many of the philosophical concerns are valid, as are many of the historical philosophies they look to for insight, but the authors formulate the cont
I rate this book a 3.5 out of 5, because I think it had a lot of good thoughts, but couldn't hold my attention very well at certain parts. It also would have been easier to read if I had been a literature major in college or enjoyed philosophy a bit more.

That said there are definite gems in this book. Homer/Athenian time-frame thinking are nice and totally took me off-guard. The medieval devotion to god and the way people drift based on autonomy was also really interesting. He had interesting cr
All Things Shining is an exploration of existential philosophy applied to a criticism of wallace, Nietzsche, Homer and Moby Dick, among other things. The goal of the book is essentially something like a re-enchantment in the wake of modernity brought about by Descartes and Kant in their emphasis on individual autonomy. All that autonomy landed us with Nietzsche and later wallace, both nihilists insisting that we must make our own meanings. The authors see an alternative in the writings of Melvil ...more
I agree with many of the comments of previous reviewers. The book builds up to the final chapter: Lives Worth Living in a Secular Age but then it falls short. Although I agree with the premise that it is not necessary to follow a monotheistic religion or develop a set of prescriptions about how to act, I think that the authors never really explain what it would mean to be more receptive in today's world.

For them, it has been all downhill since approximately 700 B.C when Homer wrote the Odyssey a
Terence Blake
ALL THINGS SHINING is an ambitious book, it aims at helping us to find meaning in our lives by way of a philosophically informed reading of some of the great classics of the Western Canon. It seeks to address a popular audience rather than a professional one: it has its roots in Heideggerian philosophy but the style is not that of academic prose and it uses examples taken from news items, the practice of sport, and readily available literary classics such as THE ODYSSEY, THE DIVINE COMEDY, and M ...more
Sean Carman
Brilliant exposition of Dreyfus' explanations of Heiddegarian philosophy, and an accessible application of Heidegger's ideas to literary criticism. Dreyfus is, I think, making a phenomonological argument that, contrary to the prevailing mood in our culture, we have the experience, as part of consciousnesses, of being connected to something larger than ourselves. We are not completely and solely responsible for our own happiness, or for developing our own morality, or for our own creations. Inste ...more
This book was interesting, although I was not sure I liked it until I got all the way through it. It came to my attention in a joint review with "Examined Lives" about books that look at ethics and morality through the point of view of the classics. The intended punch line seemed to be a reaffirmation of the liberal arts perspective and the generalist approach to dealing with the big questions of life. There was an early chapter on David Foster Wallace that really whetted my appetite. But then i ...more
Phillip Barron
The authors’ reconceptualization of god is as exciting a reason as any to read the book. Their argument rests on the suggestion that our pluralist culture would be well served by embracing the polytheistic pantheon of Homeric literature. “A god, in Homer’s terminology,” Dreyfus and Kelly write, “is a mood that attunes us to what matters most in a situation, allowing us to respond appropriately without thinking.” With this understanding, a god, similar to Camus’s conception of the absurd, is a re ...more
Hmmm.... thought-provoking book that starts with David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest as an example of postmodern nihilism and banality , then leaping backward to Greek polytheism with Homer and continuing on from there through Dante and Melville to examine how our culture got to where it is today.

An odd book to read if you're looking for a prescriptive map to a more meaningful life, because not until the last part of the book is there any meaningful push to take the insights from the reading o
Anna Cate
I'm so grateful to the friend who sent me this book, and someday when I have more time I'd love to write a full review of it, especially as it has garnered so much praise. On the one hand, it was a pleasure to read a book length essay about the books I teach and some I don't (Eat, Pray, Love?!) It was also enjoyable to read authors I disagree with who say things like, whatever diety or system of belief one's gratitude is directed toward is totally irrelevent. The gratitude is the point. This sou ...more
Most of us aspire to ideals -- moral or spiritual ideas that inform our lives -- and the notion that these transcendental guides are insufficient is bound to grate a little. Or maybe a lot, when the charge is that this way of thinking has led us to a kind of nihilism. The authors suggest that the world, and the gods of the world, can rescue us from this nihilism and the throes of dualistic thinking. (They seem to have an argument with Western monotheism as well. They do allow for Christian agape ...more
Read my review at Eureka Springs BookShoppe. A quick preview of the link:

In their book, All Things Shining (ATS), by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly, the authors portray the post modern era as a period where metaphysics engenders an existential nihilism. The book (ATS) is their effort to provide a window or a small crack through which we might escape the nihilistic metaphysics that dominates our age. For literature of this post modern phenomena they use David Foster Wallace's, Infinite Je
Fireworks in my brain. This book is now my favourite book of all time. It affected me so greatly that I had to go through my list of books read and re-rate the majority of them. The authors, two brilliant Harvard and Berkeley philosophy professors, take on nihilism in an extraordinary way. They explain what is wrong and even dangerous with that world-view, and articulate sentiments to which I have never been able to put words. The book reads a little bit like white-water rapids, rushing through ...more
Jelle Bruineberg
I really enjoyed reading this book. Addresses one of the most important questions of our time: meaning, significance and the way we relate to the world around us. It is up to us: "Ask not why the gods have abandoned you, but why you have abandoned the gods."
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Hubert Lederer Dreyfus is professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, where his interests include phenomenology, existentialism, the philosophy of psychology and literature, and the philosophical implications of artificial intelligence.
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“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.” 0 likes
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