Andrew Shaffer's Reviews > Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche

Examined Lives by James  Miller
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Jan 29, 11


In "Examined Lives," James Miller (a professor at the New School) turns out to be a witty tour guide as he takes readers on a walking tour of the history of Western philosophy. He admits in the introduction that modern textbooks skimp on the lives of philosophers in favor of ideas, but, tracing Western philosophy to its roots in Greece, shows how the lives of these imminent thinkers influenced their thoughts (or vice versa).

Miller points out that there's bound to be disagreement from those who see this as a form of muck-raking. "The details of personal lives seem quite irrelevant to understanding a thinker's views," says philosopher Seyla Benhabib. If such an examination is not in vogue from an academic perspective, then so be it--it still makes for an entertaining and enlightening journey for the layman and scholar alike.

As Sarah Bakewell points out in her New York Times review of "Examined Lives," the takeaway that Miller leaves readers with is "neither simple nor uniformly edifying." Just like life.
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