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The Book Of Dead Philosophers

3.57  ·  Rating Details  ·  700 Ratings  ·  102 Reviews
"To philosophize is to learn how to die." --Cicero; assassinated by order of Mark Antony
"One who no longer is cannot suffer." --Lucretius; suicide, allegedly driven mad by a love potion
"Life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." --Hobbes; died in bed, age 91
In this collection of brief lives (and deaths) of nearly two hundred of the world's greatest thinkers, no
Hardcover, 298 pages
Published June 2nd 2008 by Granta Books (UK) (first published 2008)
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Community Reviews

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Jan 14, 2015 Jonfaith rated it liked it
Shelves: theory
Strange as it might sound, my constant concern in these seemingly morbid pages is the meaning and possibility of happiness.

This book harbored such high expectations for me, ones that sadly weren't met. Critchely dazzled me with his book on Political Theology and i turned to this appropriately whetted. The approach here lacked rigor and offered instead a popular history of philosophy through 190 vignettes of central figures. A brief segue into ancient Chinese philosophy and the inclusion of a hal
At work a semi-common (meaning I get the question a few times a year) question that gets sent my way is something like, "I want an introduction to philosophy". I don't like this question very much. Most people who are asking it have no background in philosophy and they are looking for one quick book that will teach them everything they need to know. Sometimes they want this one book to have original writings by philosophers, but just the essential stuff, along with easy to understand little comm ...more
j. ergo
Jun 11, 2015 j. ergo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who grew up in u.s., christians, people who're not dead
Recommended to j. ergo by: only friend ben
total fucking game changer

as per request for specifics:

this is merely a drop in the giant existential metal rain-water gathering tub that is this drop-dead funny/deadly serious collection of the accounts of the deaths of one hundred & ninety of our--y'know, as in us human beings--most important thinkers, & what they thought of mortality, what--if anything--comes after, whether or not it matters (spoiler alert: it doesn't), &, sometimes, how, or how not to, do it.

i know what yer think
Greg Brown
This was hugely disappointing, and probably because it's not that good.

The premise of the book is actually pretty interesting: illustrate the various philosophies to death by recounting the personal deaths (and lives) of famous philosophers throughout history and how that compared or contrasted with their philosophy. However, there are a few mistakes that Critchley makes in telling the tales:

- Trying to tell the stories of over 190 different philosophers... in a 250 page book.
- Unable to decide
James Murphy
This book seemed just the ticket when I came across it in a bookstore. It more than beckoned, it produced a siren call. Since there were no masts available to lash myself to, I surrendered and walked zombie-like to the cashier, cradling the book carefully. Drama aside, while I was a while warming up to Critchley's book, it lived up to most of its seductive song. His introductory remarks stated he intended to tell how the philosophers of history died and what we could learn from philosophy about ...more
Ainsley kerr
Jan 20, 2011 Ainsley kerr rated it it was ok
what the hell was the point of this book. it was like reading who magazine for philosophy geeks. super lame. the thing i'm angriest about is that this book is so utterly forgetable that one day in the future i will probably accidentally read it again.
May 30, 2012 BHodges rated it liked it
Like any popular overview of the history of philosophic thought on a given subject, Critchley's cuts some corners, collapses important distinctions (especially in regards to Christianity), and in general has to leave out a good deal of interesting stuff just to get through the story he selected to tell. That said, this is a really fun meditation upon death through the thoughts and deaths of a wide swath of (mostly but not entirely Western) philosophers from Thales and Plato to Foucalt and Derrid ...more
Tim Meneely
Dec 04, 2008 Tim Meneely rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Geeks
Philosophy geeks assemble (or hunch, maudlin and unkempt, in your caves).

For those of you who are among the faithful, Critchley’s exercise will paste an understated, wry smile on your face as you tour your undergraduate curriculum. Because that's basically what this is.

He undertakes the re-visitation of the old favorites of doxography through a twin lens: Critchely comments on philosopher’s insights into mortality, and on how they met that mortality.

At the outset it’s apparent that even for a
Laura Leaney
Oct 12, 2014 Laura Leaney rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Laura by: J. ergo's review
Since I cannot better j. ergo's Goodreads review, which totally inspired me to buy the book, despite my trepidation in reading any more philosophy (especially after my mind-numbing despair in reading Kierkegaard's The Sickness Unto Death), I'll be brief. I learned something from this book that I'm going to try and remember: death is inspiration for life. Seems simple, yes, but I have a feeling I'm going to need the guidance of all the ancient scholars to help me achieve freedom from The Fear of ...more
Oct 21, 2010 Jon rated it did not like it
I was a philosophy major and I love the premise of this book. However, it was just too dry and exhaustive for my taste.
May 13, 2009 Andy rated it it was ok
The Book of Dead Philosophers is a motley collection of some 3000 years of philosophy and philosophizing, touching on philosophers from both Western and Eastern traditions and nicely emphasizing the under-appreciated contributions of women. With the immense scope of Critchley’s project, we get some interesting glimpses of the history of philosophy in extreme fast-forward, juxtaposing schools of thought otherwise separated by many centuries.

I loved the concept, and so I really expected to enjoy t
Brenda Clough
Nov 17, 2011 Brenda Clough rated it it was ok
This review first appeared in the International Cemetery, Cremation & Funeral Association Magazine (
People have been thinking about death for a long time. I am a big fan of not reinventing the wheel. If some expert has already figured it out, why not consult him? Philosophers are professional thinkers on the larger issues, so they are the natural go-to for questions of life and death. However, there has not been a handy compendium of their musings on the subject -- until now.

The reviews thus far are pretty split on this book. I'd really give it a 3-and-a-half, but Goodreads wouldn't let me do this.

Best-suited for someone with at least a bit of a background in philosophy. If you've taken a course at community college and barely passed, then this won't help you if you need to retake the class. Although I've taken said community college class (and got an A, thank you), it's been a while, and although I have a good interest in philosophy, with the numerous amount of phi
Dec 05, 2014 Phoenix rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
A part of me thought that this could be a pretty awesome book. But it did not quite raise to the expectations.
There are some pertinent information about influential philosophers nonetheless. Their manner in which they died may or may not be relevant to the way they lived their lives or consistent to their philosophy.
Also, there are more irrelevant information that I did not care to know and could certainly live without.
What struck me as essential to the bond between philosophy and the idea of de
David Gordon
Aug 24, 2009 David Gordon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviews
When I picked up "The Book of Dead Philosophers," by Simon Critchley, I was hoping that that collection of words would expand my knowledge of philosophy. I was so wrong.

As the title reads, "The Book of Dead Philosophers," that is exactly what is included in this relatively short book of 250 pages. It is a collection of obituaries of 190 philosophers that is enlightening, thought provoking, and at times often funny.

This book is a perfect read for some one that needs to consume a few minutes here
Ryan Holiday
Jul 05, 2012 Ryan Holiday rated it really liked it
A wonderful concept for a book. It spends a page and half or so on the deaths of 170 different philosophers. For some, it nicely juxtaposes their beliefs with their practical applications. For others, it illustrates a hypocrisy. Mostly though, I think it does a good job bringing the lot of them back down to earth. The introductions (there are three) are themselves a decent discussion on death and dying. It's one of those books you wish was a Wikipedia page so you could follow all the strands it ...more
Oct 24, 2014 Ioannis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Philosophy in 190 small parts. Actually, death in 190 parts. This book is not about to teach philosophy to anyone, not even to introduce it. Its not even about how philosophers live. It's about how philosophers die. What was the causes of their death and what they believe for it. It's well written with funny facts and a thin irony. This book is a proof that even death can be the cause for some laughs. Recommended for all those who afraid to die. (Don't worry, we are almost 90%. The other 10% jus ...more
Kathryn Reyes
Nov 20, 2014 Kathryn Reyes rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 23, 2014 Adam rated it liked it
I was quite enjoying this but its one of the few books I've ever lost interest in enough to stop reading. I never did get round to finishing it.
May 27, 2014 Ron rated it liked it
This was pretty good, an interesting mediation on death by looking at 190 philosophers, some of their ideas about death, how many of them faced their own deaths, and, of course, how they died. My personal favorite meditations on death are still Aurelius (in the book), Montaigne (also in the book), and the book-length essay on the subject by Julian Barnes titled Nothing To Be Frightened Of. So, if you think about death as frequently as I do, and if you read philosophy for fun, as I also do, you'l ...more
Adam Norwood
Apr 16, 2009 Adam Norwood rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, humor, philosophy
More a survey of the best-known Western philosophers and their ideas (with a few Eastern philosophers thrown into one chapter) than a focused treatise on their deaths, this book at times felt a bit hasty but was definitely worth the read. The bullet-point blurbs I've seen about the book seem to be pushing it as a morbid/funny anecdote book ("Pythagoras died at the hands of his enemies rather than cross a bean field! Diogenes held his breath until he died!"), but really it's a more thoughtful med ...more
Dec 09, 2011 Adrianne rated it really liked it
Saint Paul a philosopher? At that point I put the book down, put it back on my shelf, and at the top of my list of books to have bookcrossed.
Yet, I still return to it, from time to time using it as a reference guide, about philosophers lives and their deaths. Yes, this book is as much about the philosophers' lives as it is about their deaths, and yes, you can use the book for reference, instead of reading it from cover to cover like a novel.
The author claims to have written this book to help t
Book Calendar
Feb 08, 2010 Book Calendar rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
The Book of Dead Philosophers by Simon Critchley

Simon Critchley taught a course at the New School For Social Research called "To Philosophize is to Learn to Die" in 2007. The summarizes of the philosophy and deaths of some 200 different philosophers speaks to this theme. The book begins with the Greeks and ends in the modern day

Each summary runs from a paragraph to a couple of pages depending on the importance of the philosophical figures. The book covers from the period of the early Greeks to
Aug 06, 2009 Michael rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Basically a bit of a biographical and philosophical survey of about 190 philosophers, from Thales up to Critchley himself, The Book of Dead Philosophers is more of a cereal box entertainment than anything else. How can a man's life be put into 500 words, and how can 190 of these brief, brief lives tell us anything about death? I appreciate this book as a sort of goofy primer of the thoughts on death of some of the greatest thinkers in history, but as a way to aquaint oneself with these men and w ...more
Mar 02, 2009 Anna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In my former life as a St. John’s College undergraduate, I read a lot of philosophy. I’m not bragging, especially: around about junior year, I realized I don’t really care for the genre (preferring the more oblique and elegant stylings of literature). By then it was too late, and I was doomed to apologetically telling people I’d majored in philosophy to the end of my days. But while I remain, I think, well versed in all the heavy hitters (Plato, Aquinas, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche), and have dim mem ...more
Jul 24, 2009 Roger rated it really liked it
i've always been interested in philosophical ideas but i'd never taken a class in philosophy or really studied the rich history of the subject aside from familiarizing myself with the more important names. i decided to pick this up from barnes to get a proper introduction. plus, what questions are more important than death and suicide?

this book was definitely a good overview of the subject, and it certainly delivers on its claims - giving the opinions and the reality of the deaths of every promi
Bendick Ong
Nov 04, 2013 Bendick Ong rated it it was ok
Shelves: humanities
Was expecting a collection of last words from oftentime assuming men of wisdom but many accounts turned out to be just their view of death and even short biographies of their lives and ideas, running the risk of off-focussing and even overgeneralisation and missing out the fact that one's view of death often change from phase to phase in life.

But still interesting in some accounts and if you are writing a philosophy term paper at the undergrad level, there is no harm reading a few pages of the r
Mar 03, 2015 Kendra rated it really liked it
I powered through this book. Really loved it- my only critique is that too many of the sections are too short- I just feel like I wanted to know more about some of these historical characters before I found out how they died. Some I'm familiar with already, but many I hadn't been introduced to yet.
Catherine Freimiller
I enjoyed it very much. It reads like an interesting long magazine article. However,it got me interested in Philosophers, and I have look them up and her lectures by them on YouTube. So I am really happy I read this book.
Feb 22, 2014 Evan rated it really liked it
A great way learn about a load of philosophers and how they relate to each other, and how they exist in the context of their time. And adding how each of them were received and how they died is just perfectly tasty.
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Simon Critchley (born 27 February 1960 in Hertfordshire) is an English philosopher currently teaching at The New School. He works in continental philosophy. Critchley argues that philosophy commences in disappointment, either religious or political. These two axes may be said largely to inform his published work: religious disappointment raises the question of meaning and has to, as he sees it, de ...more
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“Death makes cynics of us all” 3 likes
“In a seminar at New York University in 1980, Foucault is reported to have said that the difference between late antiquity and early Christianity might be reduced to the following questions: the patrician pagan asks, "Given that I am who I am, whom can I fuck?" That is, given my status in society, who would it be appropriate for me to take as my lover, which girl or boy, woman or man? By contrast, the Christian asks, "Given that I can fuck no one, who am I?" That is, the question of what it means to be human first arises for Christians in the sight of God. ( 239)” 2 likes
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