This is one of those rare books that made me feel like the author had me - and only me - in mind when she was writing it. And I suppose that's becauseThis is one of those rare books that made me feel like the author had me - and only me - in mind when she was writing it. And I suppose that's because Rebecca Newberger Goldstein and I have similar backgrounds and interests. We both grew up in religious Jewish families, and both of us had our worldviews violently and ecstatically shaken up by philosophy. We are both obsessed with the Ancient Greeks and with contemporary philosophy of science. And, apparently, we are similarly engaged in "pop" intellectual culture, as evidenced by her sneaking in figures like Bill O'Reilly in the character of Roy McCoy (who also makes the vacuous remark, now a meme, that Christianity must be true because the tide goes in, the tide goes out, and you can't explain that) and Amy Chua in the character of Sophie Zee, who, like Chua, is the author of a book about how to produce "off-the-charts" children. Needless to say, I had loads of fun reading Plato at the Googleplex, in large part because it felt like Goldstein and I were coming at all the ideas in the book from very similar perspectives.
The book consists both of essays that place the marvel of Ancient Greek philosophy in historical, political, and cultural contexts, as well as fictional dialogues between Plato and contemporary figures. Goldstein's essays are amazing. Not only are her points brilliantly argued, but some of the sentences in there just sing - Goldstein's command of language is something to be reckoned with. Her dialogues, however, weren't that entertaining. I actually skipped one of them (the one where Plato is giving relationship advice in a newspaper column) because it wasn't nearly as interesting as her essays. Ironically, Goldstein does a better job of animating Socrates and Plato as people in her essays than in her dialogues.
I feel, though, that what made this book so accessible to me might make it less accessible to others. In particular, I don't think many people will understand Goldstein's many jokes that are aimed at a Jewish audience, or at least an audience that is familiar with Yiddish-isms. Likewise, while she does some work to contextualize the plethora of her intellectual and academic references, I think that someone who has little familiarity with the history of philosophy or with contemporary intellectual culture might be overwhelmed by how fast Goldstein can move between ideas and thinkers.
I think there's a lot to be learned from this book. So, overall, I highly recommend it if you're already relatively engaged in intellectual culture. I just wouldn't make this the first philosophy book you read. ...more
This is one of the best books I've ever read. Besides Sagan's somewhat naive politics, this book is near perfect. If I were to build a time capsule toThis is one of the best books I've ever read. Besides Sagan's somewhat naive politics, this book is near perfect. If I were to build a time capsule to let some distant future civilization know who we were and what we thought, all I would put inside is this book....more
Extremely fascinating. I'm not going to go into too much detail, but it's interesting to see the foundations of Western philosophy evolving through thExtremely fascinating. I'm not going to go into too much detail, but it's interesting to see the foundations of Western philosophy evolving through these ancient thinkers.
[I'll probably expand on my review later:]....more