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All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age
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All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  1,492 ratings  ·  245 reviews

An unrelenting flow of choices confronts us at nearly every moment of our lives, and yet our culture offers us no clear way to choose. This predicament seems inevitable, but in fact it's quite new. In medieval Europe, God's calling was a grounding force. In ancient Greece, a whole pantheon of shining gods stood ready to draw an appropriate action out of you. Like an athlet
ebook, 272 pages
Published January 4th 2011 by Free Press (first published January 4th 2010)
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Oct 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This is the first book I’ve read as a direct result of reading Cal Newport’s excellent book Deep Work.

The problem All Things Shining addresses is that the more choice of thought and actions we have, the more we are prone to nihilistic tendencies. This is counter-intuitive but in many ways, it's true. Being free from the shackles of religion, superstition, fate, and god-ordained kings should be empowering and joyful. But it's not that simple. Freedom can be whatever we make it which, it turns ou
Anna Keating
May 21, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm so grateful to the friend who sent me this book, and someday when I have more time I'd love to write a full review of it, especially as it has garnered so much praise. On the one hand, it was a pleasure to read a book length essay about the books I teach and some I don't (Eat, Pray, Love?!) It was also enjoyable to read authors I disagree with who say things like, whatever diety or system of belief one's gratitude is directed toward is totally irrelevent. The gratitude is the point. This sou ...more
Feb 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
I think over the past couple years, without being aware directly of what I was doing, I was testing the authors' hypothosis. I was looking for a way to innoculate myself against the gravity of a postmodern despair. I started to carve a life that included the classics. I started to look for a positive beauty within and near the Western Cannon. Anyway, this book was a nice framework to continue my 'experiment' with the classics.

Favorite part of this book was the chapter on Melville. I think this
Nov 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
The highest praise that I can give this book is that it makes me want to reread the classics, particularly Homer's ILIAD and ODYSSEY and MOBY DICK, the latter of which the authors regard as crucial in understanding what 21st century western humanity believes in, or doesn't. As well, it makes me want to read, for the first time, the contemporary writings of David Foster Wallace which are at the heart of our existential questioning.

At just over 200 pages this is a short book but packed with prov
May 27, 2019 rated it did not like it
Terribly biased, unfounded and poorly argued.
Fundamental errors in the concepts with which he tries to explain cultures and religions. Quite uninformed on most religious doctrines with an incredible ability to put everything out of its context. Not to mention his extremely subjective interpretation of most philosophical claims.
I couldn't be more disappointed.
Jan 09, 2012 rated it it was ok
Grabbed this on a whim at a cozy independent bookstore in DC over the break. Started reading it over a pint of porter.

The in-depth discussion of David Foster Wallace's suicidal nihilism was pretty interesting, as were some of the bits about Homer. The chapter on Melville was oustanding. Otherwise, it was a mish-mash of woo-infected academic BS trying to pass itself off as "secular." Now I just want to read Moby Dick again.

To grapple with some serious, secular, useful ideas about human life and m
Rick Muir
Mar 08, 2012 rated it did not like it
In the beginning of this book, a premise/opinion is presented as a fact. Most of the rest of the book tries to prop up that opinion. That makes alot of what comes after weak and one-sided. The authors attempt to make their case for nihilism in every chapter with little or no balance to be found. The chapter regarding Herman Melville again makes assumptions presented as fact. Regarding the books cover illustration; Moby Dick appears to be smiling.
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
Nov 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
The message of the book is to advocate for a return of our feelings of gratitude and awe in this disenchanted world and insist that nihilism is misplaced while advocating openness to the moods that surround us and trust our feelings towards the divine.

The authors know the problem with ‘whooshing up’ (what the Greeks called ‘physis’ for nature, aka a revealing of the presence in the present as truth but what the authors call ('whoosh up’). Donald Trump with his Nuremburg rallies wants nothing mo
David Sasaki
Mar 13, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: paperback
I get the feeling that a lot of us, privileged Americans, as we enter our early 30s, have to find a way to put away childish things and confront stuff about spirituality and values.
David Foster Wallace

Somewhere in the digital ether I'm sure an NSA surveillance bot is concerned that I'm having an existential crisis. Last week I read Man's Search for Meaning and now this week, All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age. I promise, I'm not having an exist
David Gross
One possible summary: don't look for a unifying intelligence or purpose to life, the universe, and everything. Instead, develop an attentiveness, intelligence, and craft that aligns with what you care about, and be receptive to the emergence of opportunities to apply these things. This worldview corresponds less with scientific reductionism and with monotheism than with the ancient polytheism, and we would be wise to investigate how this polytheism worked and may work for us again in some form. ...more
Michelle Schwarze
Feb 07, 2011 rated it did not like it
"Rubbish" is the best word to describe this book. It's too bad, given how good Dreyfus' work on Heidegger is. ...more
Tom Quinn
Mar 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Too often this reads like an undergraduate's final paper being padded for word count. But I can't fault the enthusiasm. And there are a number of inspiring quotes amid a few warm and fuzzy passages.

3 stars.
Mary Ronan Drew
Jan 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
Polytheism. Greek polytheism. That's the solution to modern nihilism, according to the two very clever philosophers who have written this book, a quick overview of the highlights of Western Civilization as interpreted by literary and religious figures.

Sounds pretty dull but it's actually crackling with electricity. I would have said it was not humanly possible to write a chapter entitled, "From Dante to Kant: The Dangers and Attractions of Autonomy" and keep me on the edge of my chair but Dreyfu
Jan 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book in sum: why we're cynics, and what we can do about it. Dreyfus and Kelly spell out the why in a succinct and incisive survey of key moments in the evolution of western civ (as filtered through the lens of a number of its most cherished texts) -- with the aim of explaining how it is that we, as a many-society-ed culture, progressed from a state of wonder-in-the-world, in Classical Greek times, by stages (some more direct than others) to a prevailing state of nihilism today. Their sketch ...more
Oct 01, 2011 rated it did not like it
Are you kidding me? We go from a heady discussion about the nature of the sacred and the evolution of thought on the character of the divine, and conclude that it's all meaningless compared to watching Roger Federer work his magic from the baseline? After the chapter on Moby Dick, I was thinking this is a 4- or 5-star book. Brilliant insights and well-thought themes from the literature reviewed. And then to conclude that the ideal state for man is a polytheistic culture that worhips at the altar ...more
Feb 19, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
I very much enjoyed the literary criticism parts of this book, but was less enchanted with the final "self-help" chapters. (But then, I wasn't looking for a self-help sort of book...) The authors are philosophy professors and the book is at its best when they relate ideas of philosophers to their chosen literary texts. The western classics explored at length are Homer's "Iliad" and "Odyssey", works of Aeschylus, Dante's "Divine Comedy" and Melville's "Moby Dick". I only read Homer fairly recentl ...more
Nov 22, 2015 rated it it was ok
Yikes, somebody hire an editor. On page 18, the authors repeat the exact same sentence we read at the bottom of page 17. Later, they misuse the word "nonplussed" when they clearly mean to say "not surprised."

A very bad sign: the first sentence of chapter two gushes: "David Foster Wallace was the greatest writer of his generation; perhaps the greatest mind altogether." Anybody else sick of the DFW worship? Reading this book is like overhearing a pair of college professors over-explain an idea to
Sep 10, 2011 rated it it was ok
This book seemed adrift, as if the authors didn't really know where they were going with it. It jumped around way too much and the conclusion was pretty disappointing. I think my own personal approach to life is less complicated and more in-tune with big ideas than anything they wrote about. I was very disappointed by this book. ...more
Daniel Sierra
Dec 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: existentialism
From Polytheism to (Chrisitan) Monotheism and back again.

Dreyfus and Kelly find the pervasive nihilism of modern people as the inevitable outcome of the West's progress towards monotheism. Instead of situating persons in an enchanted universe where the gods charge reality with meaning, Christian monotheism, as articulated by the Apostle Paul and Saint Augustine, inaugurated the West on its decline towards a desacralized universe (the authors admit that much of their thought is influenced by C.
Luna  Saint Claire
Sep 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A truly valuable book to read bringing philosophy, metaphysics, and literature together.
Jun 19, 2011 rated it liked it
This book was interesting, although I was not sure I liked it until I got all the way through it. It came to my attention in a joint review with "Examined Lives" about books that look at ethics and morality through the point of view of the classics. The intended punch line seemed to be a reaffirmation of the liberal arts perspective and the generalist approach to dealing with the big questions of life. There was an early chapter on David Foster Wallace that really whetted my appetite. But then i ...more
Chris Holliman
Aug 13, 2011 rated it liked it
It was the title that attracted me: All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age. I felt that the authors were making two assumptions outright: 1) that we dwell in a fallen age devoid of the intensely passionate lives that our ancestors enjoyed and 2) that great books can cure this.

Sure enough, the authors suppose that the overarching zeigeist of our time is nihilism, marked by a loneliness and alienation familiar to us all. They also take for granted that t
Angie Boyter
Aug 10, 2013 rated it it was ok
This book sounded so interesting I talked my Sunday Philosophers group into choosing it for our discussion this month. Bad idea; now they'll blame me.
I found myself disagreeing with the authors on page 3. I should have realized when they described David Foster Wallace as "the greatest writer of his generation; perhaps the greatest mind altogether" that the authors and I were not sympatico ( for more reasons than that they apparently do not know how to use a semi-colon properly). Then things got
Barbara Carder
Jul 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: insight
When I first perused this book I thought 'noooooo ~ totally weird book, misinterpretation of Moby Dick . . . . all-adoring worship of 'existentialism' making it into a religion' ------ that was my first take. Now that I've studied with Dr. Hubert Dreyfus [UC Berkeley online "From the gods to God and Back,"] I now get what this book was driving after. To gain the greater, larger view, you have to have many many more discussions with Professor Dreyfus. . . . . ...more
May 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
Interesting and thought-provoking literary criticism, although the last self-help-esque chapter can easily fall short of expectations. This book doesn't do much in terms of telling you what you should do, but it has changed the way I think about certain things. ...more
Steve Walker
Very flawed book that runs out of steam at the half way point.
They pose an interesting question, in a post-God world what
really matters? They fail to answer the question.
Jun 07, 2011 added it
Shelves: 2011
I'm over a week overdue on this book already, and YET, and YET I have to finish it despite its density. ...more
Rich Yavorsky
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"Man can embody the truth, but he cannot know it." - W. B. Yeats

What a title. "All Things Shining" takes the reader on a tour of Western philosophy to discover how our world migrated from divinity to nihilism over the past three millennia, and what might the reader today be capable of in order to find a life of meaning. A point of departure for the discussion is modern-day nihilist David Foster Wallace, a writer who in his own 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College stated "if you cannot cont
Clare Cannon
Jul 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
A full response to this book would require a doctoral thesis. Below are some brief thoughts about what I understood were the books claims and why I agreed or disagreed.

This is a complex discussion of some philosophical problems of our age, which considers aspects of philosophies discovered in the cultural or religious traditions of Western history. Many of the philosophical concerns are valid, as are many of the historical philosophies they look to for insight, but the authors formulate the cont
Jan 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Felt like I was back in college! Fascinating analysis of Moby Dick, and interesting run through some of the major Western philosophers which made me want to go back and read all of them again but I won't, so it was kind of a useful "Cliff Notes." Ultimately, I will say the takeaway of the book is:
"To recognize when it's appropriate to let oneself be swept up and when it's appropriate to walk away is a higher-order skill that is crucial for us in the contemporary world." I mean - duh! and yet, gi
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Hubert Lederer Dreyfus was professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, where his interests include phenomenology, existentialism, the philosophy of psychology and literature, and the philosophical implications of artificial intelligence.

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“Indeed, Nietzsche believed that the only possibility for existence was for each of us to become gods ourselves.” 2 likes
“It is an echo, in fact, from the last lines of Dante’s Divine Comedy, the lines in which Dante describes what it is to feel ecstatic bliss in the mystical union with God, to give up your entire identity and subsume it beneath the sacred power of God’s divine love, the love that moves the sun and the other stars.” 1 likes
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