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The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization
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The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  278 ratings  ·  77 reviews
Arthur Herman has now written the definitive sequel to his New York Times bestseller, How the Scots Invented the Modern World, and extends the themes of the book—which sold half a million copies worldwide—back to the ancient Greeks and forward to the age of the Internet. The Cave and the Light is a magisterial account of how the two greatest thinkers of the ancient world, ...more
Paperback, 676 pages
Published June 3rd 2014 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published January 1st 2013)
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Kris
I definitely am not the right audience for this book. I struggle with sweeping historical surveys at the best of times. I always want more context, more quotations from primary sources, more in-depth analysis than is realistic for a sweeping survey covering thousands of years of history in 700 pages. So you should take my reactions to this book with a grain of salt.

There are many aspects of Herman's book that are laudable. He has extensive endnotes to show that he has done thorough research in
...more
jordan
After most revolutions tire of fighting their enemies, they begin executing their friends. Having led the “Terror,” Saint-Just stepped to the Guillotine. Trotsky’s final reward came in the form of an ice pick to the ear. The National Review stalks GOP party meetings in search of “Republicans In Name Only” (RHINOs) whom they can declare outside the “Big Tent” and target for defeat. American conservatism may claim many enemies on both sides of the isle, but in his new book, The Cave and the Light: ...more
Sean O'Hara
This is pop-history at its worst -- a broad, sweeping thesis that simplifies everything too much while relying on historical myths any time the author wanders into areas where he has no expertise -- which, in a book covering 2500 years, is just about everything. To hear Herman tell it, all of Western philosophical tradition stems from the disagreement between Plato's airy-fairy idealism and Aristotle's hard-nosed realism. In two and a half millennia, subsequent philosophers haven't brought anyth ...more
Joseph
The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization by Arthur Herman is a detailed account of historical philosophy in Western civilization. Herman earned his PhD from John Hopkins University. He has taught at several universities including Georgetown. Herman also won the Pulitzer Prize for his book Gandhi and Churchill: The Epic Rivalry That Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age.

Western philosophy with its roots deeply set in ancient Greece and
...more
Rick Davis
There are two sorts of scholars in the world. There are the scholars who write books with conclusions like, “And so we see that these four potsherds found in section G27 of the dig are probably better placed in the LH III period rather than the LH II Period.” And then there are the scholars who write books with conclusions like, “And so we see that all of history is driven by three factors that explain absolutely everything that has ever happened in the world.”

Now the former sort of book is usua
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James
Started out as an enjoyable survey of Western intellectual history that was well paced as it moved from Ancient thru Medieval periods. By midstream, circa the Renaissance, it was clear that the author's premise, that a fundamental dichotomy existed between Plato and Aristotle, was strained, forced to unreasonable extremes, way too contorted to be of any use and a sign of shallow thinking. By the time he arrived at the Scottish Enlightenment and the rise of capitalism, Herman's cards were on the ...more
JoséMaría BlancoWhite
As entertaining and educational as pointless. I just finished the book without figuring out what it was about, that is, besides pointing out the redundancies of both Plato and Aristotles philosophies along 2500 years of history. And a history it is, in spite of the author's introductory comment telling the reader otherwise. A history of the West, of its politics, economics, arts, and everything that can be claimed to have happened under the ineluctable influence of the aforementoned duet.

I chose
...more
David Withun
Arthur Herman traces the history of the thought of Plato and Aristotle, and the rivalry between the two camps of thought, throughout the entire history of Western Civilization, beginning with the men themselves and following through to the Post-9/11 world. This is the spectacular story of perhaps the two finest expressions of the two respective contingents of our dichotomous human nature as they continually merged and competed in a syncopated dialectic throughout the history of Western Civilizat ...more
Justine Olawsky
When I was at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in 2009, I first saw this quote from Joseph Stalin, which has haunted me ever since: "Ideas are far more powerful than guns. We don't allow our enemies to have guns, why should we allow them to have ideas?" This quote has become quite chilling to me as I see debate and discourse stifled ever more in the Western world. Oh sure, you can have ideas, so long as they're the same ones everyone else has.

Arthur Herman takes ideas seriously, and he is
...more
Christine Nolfi
Superb. Highly recommended.
Peter
This is not your grandfather’s intellectual history. This is history as a quick-read graphic novel, as a shaky hand-held camera shot pseudo-documentary pumped up with manic mood music—the unmistakable product of the very pop culture that the author strives to condemn in his jokey asides and footnotes.

First the good points. This book shows much evidence of heavy reading and hard thinking. It is an accomplishment in research and a rollicking fun read to boot. Herman writes with an enticing mix of
...more
Miles Unger
For nine-tenths of its length, "The Cave and the Light" is a lively and generally enlightening review of over 2000 years of Western thought, based on the thesis that almost everything can be traced to a creative tension between Plato and his pupil Aristotle. Herman regards Plato as the father of an otherworldly mystical strain in the Western mind--nourishing both Christianity and utopian political schemes like Communism--while attributing to Aristotle the pragmatic, materialistic approach that f ...more
Gary
Generally there are two approaches to study any subject, either chronologically or thematically. Now, I have to add a third method: use a chronological order with a narrative tying all the pieces together.

The author first sets up the listener by putting his spin on who Plato and Aristotle were and explains each by contrasting them with each other, a very good way to understand who each are and what they believed. I think a real philosopher would pick apart the authors characterization, but I'm n
...more
Chris Matthys
Herman tries so hard to appear objective but fails miserably. Reads as a justification for the view that Aristotle is good and Plato is bad. What made this go to one star is that existentialism is barely noted, but a whole chapter is given to Ayn Rand, without a decent explanation of her philosophy in depth. The Rand chapter seems tacked on as an end point to the Aristotelian road and therefore the high point of 'Aristotelian' philosophy. Would have been better served to end on Pragmatism. This ...more
Leah
Enquire Within About Everything...

In this comprehensive view of the last 2,500 years, Arthur Herman sets out to prove his contention that the history of Western civilisation has been influenced and affected through the centuries by the tension between the worldviews of the two greatest of the Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle. And for this reader at least, his argument is a convincing one.

The book covers so much in terms of both philosophy and history that a full review would run to thousa
...more
GONZA
Manual on the history of philosophy and its most important ideas for the use of the sloth. From Heraclitus on, the list is endless and the book is long, but clear and well explained without being either too shallow or dramatically dark. If you need to refresh your "philosophy" bu think that "Sophie's World" is too long and boring, this book is perfect!

Manuale sulla storia della filosofia e delle sue idee piú importanti ad uso degli ignavi. Da Eraclito in poi l'elenco é infinito e il libro é lung
...more
Robert

The Cave and the Light by Arthur Herman is 570 page book that examines the respective influences of Plato and Aristotle on western civilization. It is a tour de force. Herman has mastered everything from the pre-Socratics through St. Augustine to Descartes to the French Revolution to Hegel, Marx, Hayek, and Popper.

At bottom this is an argument that ideas matter, that they endure, that they affect human, political and economic outcomes. It is persuasive intellectual history and traces my own preo
...more
Peter Crouse
“History may not repeat itself, but ideas certainly do” is how Arthur Herman definitively sums up The Cave and the Light. This comment gives away the essentially Platonic cast of its underlying theme: that the West’s intellectual history since ancient times merely reflects the ceaseless conflict between the ideas of Plato and Aristotle. This sweeping generalization involves a considerable amount of cherry-picking on the author’s part as he combs through over 2000 years of philosophy for thinkers ...more
Vince
I enjoyed the book for a few chapters, but I began to get uncomfortable with the sweeping simplifications that Mr. Herman makes on important thinkers of the Enlightenment and post-enlightenment periods. The categorizations become laughable when he gets into the 19th and 20th century. He eventually makes the point that Ayn Rand (an Aristotle fanatic) and free-market economists are the eventual victors in this long battle between the Platonists and the Aristotelians. The last two chapters are fill ...more
Kyle
I wanted to give this book more stars, but the last chapter ruined it. The first 500+ pages were informative. Herman points out which thinkers drew on Platonism and which drew on Aristotelianism, and pointed out the strengths and flaws in the thinker's ideas. Of course, by the time he gets to the 19th century, I can tell Herman has a clear conservative-libertarian bias. Still, he remains informative, and only mildly biased, so I continued on. But when he gets to the 20th century, he completely f ...more
Tlaura
As potted history for non-experts this is pretty good; Herman has a lively (if slightly corny) writing style and takes the reader on a brisk tour of Western history of thought, hitting most of the major pre-modern figures and summarizing their contributions and continuities in a succinct, neutral way. I feel like I have a better layman's understanding of the course of western thought, particularly ancient thought, after reading it, and occasionally Herman's arguments about the pre-modern world ( ...more
Jerry
Interesting book about the influence of Plato and Aristotle on Western Civilization. Much of what people disagree about today can be traced back to these competing philosophers.

“Plato's Academy would become the model for every monastery and university on the Western model... Plato's school became the Greek world's principle training ground for two types of graduates: mathematicians and geometers, and public policy legislators who knew how to turn the principles of sacred geometry into the princ
...more
Mary
I found this book well worth reading even if I found the chapter ideas forced, at times, to fit the dualistic rubric of Plato vs. Aristotle. Herman traces the history of ideas from their (arbitrary) start with Plato and Aristotle through today, aligning almost all major (western) ideas to one or the other frames of thought. It's kind of a dueling banjos of philosophical thought, that sounds really good but doesn't quite work for me.

What does work though is the idea that any kind of radical or fu
...more
Mark Stidham
This is a great approach to an immense subject - Western philosophy. The author manages to make it a page-turner in the best sense of the term. Each chapter flows from the preceding and sets up the next one. Of course, even with the 570 pages, the treatments of landmark developments are quite abbreviated. No apologies, because the developments are all in the context of Plato and Aristotle. There is great depth, however, in the treatment of both Plato and Aristotle. This is perhaps the best attri ...more
Dave
What a strange book. The first 500 pages are about the best description of the development of Western philosophy I have ever read. The writing is fluid and interesting. All those bits and pieces of philosophy gained in a liberal arts degree get sorted out in a logical progression of history here. The succinct descriptions of the thinking of philosophers and theologians could be a textbook for a survey class. Yet, in the last 50 some pages, Herman goes off on a political tangent of absurdity that ...more
Tom Smitha
I'm not familiar enough with philosophy and its history to comment on the historical accuracy and the commentary of the various philosophers discussed in this book. Given that, I enjoyed the premise this book was written around, and agree with the author over the tensions raised by the views propounded by Plato and Aristotle respectively.

My main criticism of this book is the short shrift of the role of philosophy in our more recent history. Additionally, the author's discussion about Hayek &
...more
Randolph Sparks
I admire the sheer ambition of this book ad it attempts to summarize millenia of intellectual history into a single volume. unfortunately doing so requires grossly simplifying complex ideas and historical trends and this book is indeed guilty of that. The core thesis is an interesting way to frame things even if it does result in him pigeonholing pretty much every philosopher he comes across into either the Platonist or Aristotilian camp. The medieval section wad actually surprisingly in depth f ...more
Ross
A wide-ranging survey of the impact made by the Plato-Aristotle divide on philosophy, scholarship, religion, government, education, art, science, et. al. (though, what's left?), mostly in the
Eurocentric world. Nicely balanced between sweeping summaries and supporting details, the C & L is an easy ready (mostly, filled with interesting stories about famous thinkers and doers. Ironically, Herman seems a man on a Platonic mission - to explain the many via the one- who at the end comes down in
...more
Richard Cabe
3.5 stars.
A fun and illuminating history of the influence of Platonic and Aristotle's thought. It is pop philosophy but the scope of the book is actually quite ambitious. The author does seems to have a sort of bias towards Aristotle. Towards the end of the book is where certain problems arise. One of the most bold statements towards the end, that America is the manifestation of the best if unstable balance of Platonic and Aristotelian ideas if a fascinating idea but not really defended as much
...more
Michael
The Cave and the Light is a difficult read, although well worth the effort. It is a grand, sweeping overview of the last twenty-five hundred years, revealed in the light of the ongoing philosophical fist-fight started by Plato and Aristotle. Through permutations and attempted fusions by other great thinkers, it eventually delivers us on the doorstep of the modern world. The author concentrates his focus on the political and economic fallout of this continuing battle of ideas. At times his person ...more
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