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John Armstrong
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In Search of Civilization: Remaking a Tarnished Idea

3.73  ·  Rating Details ·  73 Ratings  ·  17 Reviews
Civilization and being civilized is largely perceived in terms of "how far we've come". Technological advances, science and captalism are seen as the key to being a part of a civilized world order. Armstrong shows us that civilization is not limited to such impersonal aspects of life. That deeper more meaningful forces such as freedom, wisdom, maturity and happiness are cr ...more
Paperback, 196 pages
Published 2009 by Penguin
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Lauren Albert
When I was young I wanted to live what I thought of as the "life of the mind." I imagined that this was the opposite of pursuing material goods but that this was a more than worthy exchange. Having read too many old novels, it was clear that one could only combine material wealth with the life of the mind if one was born wealthy. All of this was of course combined with an intense snobbery towards those with material aspirations. So when, unsurprisingly, I began to have some of those myself, it p ...more
Al Bità
Oct 15, 2009 Al Bità rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Armstrong fears civilisation has become tarnished and needs to be rebuffed to return its original shine. He sees this as essentially a disparity between material progress and spiritual progress, with the latter currently in decline. Not that he is negative about material progress — indeed he sees the latter as an essential ingredient for civilisation to exist at all. For civilisation to continue to be that (cultured, refined, sensitive to the finer things in life) we need to counter excesses of ...more
Dec 26, 2013 Katie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A nonfiction book examining the question, "what is civilization"? There were interesting thoughts, concepts, and anecdotes in here, but overall I found it a bit too academic; which is ironic because that's a lot of what the book examined... i.e. cultural sophistication vs. "barbarianism" or "savageness." So, in short, I couldn't get some of the book's highbrow concepts through my thick barbarian skull.

What I did get out of it was this: there are a lot of interpretations of the word "civilization
J Scott Shipman
Nov 16, 2011 J Scott Shipman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
My review is here:
Aug 18, 2015 Austin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I give Armstrong's choice of topic and philosophical cast of characters 5 stars, but the book is too meandering, too much of a flitting survey of the best that has been thought and expressed, to get 5 stars overall. It's a profitable tome to read though: I love his mission to reclaim the word "civilization" and I find myself in violent agreement with him at every turn as to the immediate importance and continued utility of this 'sovereign concept.' He draws from many 'heroes of civilization' acr ...more
Jan 18, 2010 Jeffrey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a serious book written in a light-hearted rhetoric. In this book, Armstrong takes us on a journey to discover the vital elements that make up 'civilization'. Interwoven in this journey are glimpses of Armstrong's personal life and struggles, several snippets of wisdom and acute observations of everyday life. Because of these personal glimpses, Armstrong's book comes closer as a humanistic essay rather than as a brooding piece of philosophical writing on 'civilization'.

There are indeed j
Aug 11, 2011 Roz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Civilization” refers to a high degree of material and spiritual prosperity occurring together, mutually enhanced. A person could be called civilized when this integration is present in his/her life.
“Spiritual” refers to a person’s inner life apart from the intellect. It includes the imagination, emotions, attitudes, and memory. It is a person’s “spirit” that you would recognize in a friend, a complex set of properties.
“Spiritual prosperity” includes:
1. Depth of thought, feeling or experienc
Peter Goodman

“In Search of Civilization: Remaking a Tarnished Idea,” by John Armstrong (Graywolf Press, 2009). Armstrong is a professor of philosophy in Melbourne, Australia. In this slim volume (194 pages, no bibliography, no footnotes), he defines what he means by civilization. It is a place where there is both material and spiritual prosperity. A human needs material prosperity to think beyond survival; spiritual prosperity provides the intellectual and emotional and moral depth to go with that prosperity
Jonathan Chuang
Jan 24, 2014 Jonathan Chuang rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
a book that like all other books of its kind, starts out promising in its earnestness, then fails to reveal to us any meaning other than by a trope or a superficial idea. Books like this make me wonder why these fucks are writing books when they don't even have an intellectual integrity to themselves, if at least their readers. The impression I got of Armstrong was of the hopeful romantic at first, and then the juvenile SNAG. After the 7th chapter I decided, for the first time in a long time, th ...more
Mar 06, 2012 Amari rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Armstrong has been a truly inspiring companion these past few weeks. Meditative, probing and wonderfully articulate, this book has no fear of distilling ideas and actions to their fundamental essences. I happen to agree with most everything Armstrong posits, which makes for very pleasant and reaffirming reading indeed; but, more importantly, I am refreshed and energized by his excellent thinking, expressed as it is in beautiful and erudite -- yet casual and inviting -- prose. This book makes me ...more
Sep 23, 2011 Trent rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book took me six months to read. Should have taken two days. It's only 195 pgs. It's not bad...just tedious. Admittedly, with a nice cover blurb by Alain de Botton my expectations may have been set a wee bit high. Discussing aesthetics and philosophy, even in its LCD form (where my mind resides), can often wear thin without the proper vehicle of layman's language. There were certainly a-ha moments and right-on! voice overs espoused by me. But then my higher thoughts would be subsumed by rhe ...more
Oct 30, 2009 Peaches rated it liked it
Started reading this the other day, haven't finished it though. What few pages i have read is pretty great. It reads very easily, very simplistic and anyone can read it. I assumed the book would be a bit more complicated, perhaps even a bit boring, but not at all. It's quite straight forward.

I've never read any of Armstrong's work before, but this is ruministic, if that's even a word. I'll write more about this as i read more
This book is sort of like a casual one-way discussion about what it means to be civilized, how we can possibly be more civilized and what leading a Good existence is all about. The author brings to light some interesting thoughts and ideas which may inspire more of the same. It did for me.
Rapha Gabriel Benjamin
brilliant!! a beautiful insight into 21st century problems, life and philosophy, a great read well worth it.
Jun 21, 2011 Rachita rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have blogged my thoughts on this book on link below... *spoilers alert*
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Annie Wicks rated it it was ok
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Muzzy rated it it was amazing
May 18, 2014
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Nov 25, 2015
Zac Samuel
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Yonatan rated it it was ok
Feb 11, 2013
Jim Rimmer
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Aug 21, 2010
Arthur Cotton Moore
Arthur Cotton Moore rated it liked it
May 02, 2013
Virginia Bryant
would be nice if more of us would/could take the time to consider the issues in this book.
Pooja Shah
Pooja Shah rated it it was amazing
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John Armstrong is a British philosopher living in Melbourne, Australia. He was born 1966 in Glasgow and worked as a research fellow at the University of London. Armstrong works currently as the Philosopher-in-Residence at the Melbourne Business School at the Melbourne University. He is author of several books on philosophical themes.
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