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

3.98  ·  Rating Details ·  498 Ratings  ·  115 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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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
Dec 02, 2013 jordan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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
Robert Owen
Aug 29, 2015 Robert Owen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: vegetables
Okay, so I admit it…..while I knew that Plato and Aristotle were both ancient Greek philosophers who, according to people who evidently know such things, were significant to Western thought, I had no earthly idea why. After having read “The Cave and the Light” I now do…..and boy, do I feel like a dolt for having waited so long to find out.

Why didn’t someone teach me this crap when I was in school?

What makes Arthur Herman’s book so good is that after devoting the first few chapters to Plato and
Ryan Hatch
May 29, 2015 Ryan Hatch rated it it was amazing
I'm surprised to find so many negative reviews of this book. Maybe it's because I didn't know a ton about the history of philosophy in the western world, but I thought this was an almost perfect attempt to do what Herman set out to do: give a somewhat in depth chronological history of Socrates' most influential students. Herman's a decent writer and, although he tends to make a few sweeping definite statements that are clearly just his opinions, I found him to be credible enough to at leas
David Withun
Mar 21, 2014 David Withun rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
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
Jeffrey Rasley
Sep 04, 2015 Jeffrey Rasley rated it it was amazing
I loved the vast sweep of the book - to illuminate the intellectual history of Western Civilization through the analytical lens of Platonism and Aristotelian-ism.You might not agree with Herman's thesis, that every significant development in Western Thought was (to some extent) inspired by Plato, Aristotle, or a combination thereof. But, the book is a delightful journey through the great ideas generated by the great minds of the Western World from the pre-Socratics to Karl Popper and late 20th C ...more
Jun 13, 2014 James rated it did not like it
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
Peter Mcloughlin
A Grand Narrative of Western History that could have been put out by the Cato Institue or The American Enterprise Institute or the Chamber of Commerce or maybe Americans for Prosperity.
Justine Olawsky
Feb 24, 2015 Justine Olawsky rated it it was amazing
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
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
Aug 15, 2016 Peter rated it it was ok
This history attempts to hearken back to the more creditable days when conservative spokespeople still chose analysis and reasoning over polemics, but after the first two sections on Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, it falls back into the tone of what the good Professor Barzun once bemoaned as “a glib popularizer.”

No, this is not your grandfather’s intellectual history. This is intellectual history as a quick-read graphic novel, as a shaky hand-held camera shot pseudo-documentary pumped up with m
Jul 21, 2014 Gary rated it it was amazing
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
Christine Nolfi
Jan 13, 2015 Christine Nolfi rated it it was amazing
Superb. Highly recommended.
Jul 30, 2016 Amy rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy
This was a recommendation by a former student of mine, which I absolutely love so much. :) I feel a bit hot and cold about the book itself...I think because though I'm a very optimistic positive person, I'm also incredibly cynical/critical of things I read and absorb.

What I loved: SO. MUCH. INFO. There was this really lovely blend of philosophy and history, and I especially appreciated this because I feel like I still need a 'big picture' history outline with really important world events. For n
Charles Gonzalez
Jun 15, 2016 Charles Gonzalez rated it it was amazing
I hesitated about the rating, as I thought it easily rated 4. Thinking about what I learned from this book and the enjoyment I had opening it up every few days led me to pondering the 5th star. Would I recommend it to other readers interested in history, philosophy and the history of thought and culture? Yes. To those looking for a powerful and useful introduction to the thinking of Plato and Aristotle, yes. As a neophyte to the world of western philosophy in general,and not having read either p ...more
Miles Unger
Aug 20, 2014 Miles Unger rated it really liked it
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
Chris Matthys
Feb 06, 2014 Chris Matthys rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 06, 2013 Leah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 16, 2013 GONZA rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 25, 2015 Ryan rated it really liked it
Good and wide-ranging history of the influence of Plato and Aristotle on the intellectual tradition in the West. Like most generalist histories, it's most valuable for the connections that it draws and weakest in the generalizations and oversimplifications it makes about some of the historical or doctrinal specifics that are tangential to the main argument. The style makes for easy reading, but is sometimes maddeningly glib. Sturdy for the first two dozen chapters, it begins to wobble a bit fina ...more
Jan 15, 2015 Robert rated it it was amazing

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
Peter Crouse
Jan 06, 2015 Peter Crouse rated it it was ok
“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
Nov 03, 2014 Vince rated it did not like it
Shelves: philosophy, history
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
Oct 19, 2014 Kyle rated it it was ok
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
May 01, 2014 Tlaura rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 28, 2014 Jerry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Feb 05, 2014 Mary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Arthur L. Herman (born 1956) is an American popular historian, currently serving as a senior fellow at Hudson Institute. He generally employs the Great Man perspective in his work, which is 19th Century historical methodology attributing human events and their outcomes to the singular efforts of great men that has been refined and qualified by such modern thinkers as Sidney Hook.
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“The metaphor of the cave explains how this works. It occurs in Book VII of Plato’s Republic, where Socrates describes the world around us as a darkened cavern, across the back of which a puppet show is flashed with the figures of men, animals, and objects cast as shadows. For a modern audience, the description has an eerily familiar ring. It’s the world of television and the media at its most flimsy and superficial.” 0 likes
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