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The Sunday Philosophy Club

(Isabel Dalhousie #1)

3.36  ·  Rating details ·  20,420 ratings  ·  2,369 reviews
With The Sunday Philosophy Club, Alexander McCall Smith, the author of the best-selling and beloved No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novels, begins a wonderful new series starring the irrepressibly curious Isabel Dalhousie.

Isabel is fond of problems, and sometimes she becomes interested in problems that are, quite frankly, none of her business. This may be the case when Isab
Paperback, 272 pages
Published July 12th 2005 by Anchor (first published January 1st 2004)
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Geoffrey Aronson I actually found her philosophizing the highlight of the book. Very insightful and opportunely placed theorizing. I found the insider trading issue ul…moreI actually found her philosophizing the highlight of the book. Very insightful and opportunely placed theorizing. I found the insider trading issue ultimately impertinent to the plot of the book-very disappointing. I was a bit annoyed that Isabel never went to the police nor to a private detective agency to help her in her search. How unprofessional! How foolhardy.!!(less)

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Average rating 3.36  · 
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 ·  20,420 ratings  ·  2,369 reviews

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I was just telling a friend that I rarely leave two-star reviews, but this is one of them. I probably wouldn't have read the entire book (Davina Porter's usual terrific narration notwithstanding), except for the resolution of the "mystery" presented at the outset; to avoid a spoiler, I'll leave it that Smith handles that aspect well in terms of a surprise.
What isn't handled so well are the characters - there wasn't a single one I care to hear about enough to read the second book in this series.
This is a quick and likeable read that is mildly engaging. It is the first of the philosopher Isabel Dalhousie series set in Edinburgh. She edits a philosophy journal on applied ethics and ponders on the ethics and morality on the minutae of life. Upon seeing a man fall from a balcony at Usher Hall, she wonders if its just a case of being unlucky or murder. She settles on murder and delves into the mystery which gives rise to numerous ethical issues. She is aided by her wise and able housekeeper ...more
Mar 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
To be honest, I'd have to call this series a guilty pleasure. The plotlines don't always ring true to life, although I've never been a wealthy philosopher living in Scotland, with a major crush on my niece's ex-boyfriend, a bassoon player who's at least a decade younger than me. I'm not as intellectual as Isabel, or as nosy, but I happen to love anyone who ponders the bigger moral questions in life, and who loves a crossword puzzle and a cup of freshly brewed coffee. So there you have it. Althou ...more
Jan 30, 2009 rated it did not like it
Alexander McCall Smith is best known for his No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, of which I am a fan. He has another series featuring Isabel Dalhousie, a cultured and wealthy Scottish lady (and I use the term advisedly), which sounds far more like my usual preference than a genial African woman. So I began the first book in the Dalhousie series, The Sunday Philosophy Club, with great anticipation.

Alas, my hopes foundered. It started off well enough; Isabel sees a man fall past her, from the t
Aug 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who wonder about life
Recommended to Sharon by: read other words by the author
Shelves: mccall-smith
 I didn’t think I would like this series as I compared Isabel to Precious (from the author’s other series The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency). The contrasts were obvious. Isabel Dalhousie is a very different heroine from Precious. Where Precious was a gentle, simple soul Isabel is a complex creature. Precious accepts life as it is and Isabel wonders why? As time went on, I grew fond of Isabel. She is just as fascinating a creature as Precious once you understand her.

Once again the mysteries ar
Oct 19, 2007 rated it it was ok
I wasn't crazy about the narrator. She's too airy to narrate a whodunit. The protagonist, Isabel Dalhousie, is the editor of an ethics magazine and the asides about ethics and philosophy are as dry as they sound - the ethical quandaries she finds herself in aren't engaging. And she needs a flaw - committing ethical hypocrisy, farting in an elevator, something. It's no wonder she can't get the Sunday Philosophy Club together because she's so boring! (Why is that the name of the book when they nev ...more
Anne Hawn Smith
As with most of Alexander McCall Smiths books, the plot is only half the story. This series is about Isabelle Dalhousie, an educated middle aged woman living in Edinburgh, Scotland. She reviews magazine articles for a Philosophy of Ethics journal and is a member of the Sunday Philosophy club if and when it meets. We not only get a picture of her comfortable life, but a treatise on the ethical dilemmas of everyday life.

I found the ethical delemmas to be extremely interesting. When I was in colle
Mar 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
I enjoyed The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, so when a member of my library book club proposed this, another series by the same author, this time headed by a Scottish “Mma Precious Ramotswe,” I figured it was bound to be enjoyable. Ha! Isabel Dalhousie wins the trophy for the most unappealing protagonist I've encountered in quite a while, and my recent reading has included Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus and Richard III, so that's saying something. Okay, maybe she's not quite as bad as Titus and ...more
Aug 23, 2008 rated it did not like it
With all due respect to McCall Smith's fans, I couldn't stand this book. I'm sure there are many folks out there who loved it--it was, after all, a national bestseller--but I found it much too British-upper-class for my taste. The book, for a cheap little large-ish-print paperback mystery, is way too heady and intellectual for what, to me, looks like a "beach book". Ninety percent of the book was taken up by this woman's philosophical ramblings over why she is or isn't in love with her niece's e ...more
Jammin Jenny
I enjoyed this mystery set in Scotland, another country I'd love to visit. Isabel Dalhousie is an interesting character, and I do enjoy a good murder in the Scottish countryside. And I didn't figure out who did the murder until it was announced, which I think is great! ...more
Beth Bonini
Mar 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: contemporary, mystery
Isabel Dalhousie, the protagonist of this series, reminds me more than a bit of Emma Woodhouse: "handsome, clever and rich". She is also a bit bored, although that is more inferred by the reader than actually stated. While Emma stirs up some interest (and trouble) by match-making, Isabel involves herself in the mystery of young man's fall "from the gods" (ie, the upper reaches of the Usher Hall). Isabel accidentally glimpses the young man as he plummets to his death, and then decides that it is ...more
Jan 05, 2009 rated it liked it
While I love Alexander McCall Smith's Ladies Detective Agency Series, I was less into this book. He follows a similar pattern and writing style in that he focuses on the characters, with the mystery being secondary. The problem is that I found the characters mildly interesting, and the solution to the mystery somewhat boring. Also, I felt the title had little to nothing to do with the book, other than a mention of the Sunday Philosophy Club. With Mma Ramotswe, I was fascinated from the first cha ...more
Apr 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book a lot. Had I known Alexander McCall Smith was so good, I would have read him a long time ago. Now I'm going to read him more.

The author definitely has the writing chops. Here’s a pretty amusing excerpt:

“ ‘…And then, when we arrived at his parents’ place in Cork, it was a middle-class bungalow with a Sacred Heart on the kitchen wall. And his mother did her best to freeze me out. That was awful. We had a flaming row after I came right out and asked her whether she disliked
Richard Derus
Rating: 3.5* of five

The Book Report: Isabel Dalhousie is a quiet, contented woman. She's got all the money she will ever need, she lives in a comfortable home where she grew up, she has survived the ghastly experience of loving a rotten man. She edits the Review of Applied Ethics because she's a philosopher, and because she's extremely interested in the subject of ethics (see above re: rotten man), and because she doesn't need any money or want any fame.

It's a quiet life. Then Isabel sees a murd
Dec 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: mystery and philosophy lovers
I love the fact that Isabelle Dalhousie is the president and cofounder of a Sunday philosophy club that can never get around to meeting because Sunday is such a bad day....I also like her categorizations of people. For example, she believes in the existence of the "profoundly unreasonable," a small subclass of people who are beyond any reasonableness of solving their own problems or their problems with the interactions of others. I also like her belief that one must have a "moral imagination" in ...more
Jan 31, 2012 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 04, 2012 rated it did not like it
So my office has a shelf of donated books that we exchange with one another, and last week I found myself - unusually and unexpectedly - without a book in my bag, so I picked up Alexander McCall Smith’s The Sunday Philosophy Club, having heard good things about The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency and being keen to work on my “spies and detectives” category. Let this be a lesson in choosing books: do not choose out of expediency and do not choose out of the vague remembrance that someone once said t ...more
Mar 17, 2008 rated it liked it
Although Isabel, the main character, is described as being in her early 40s I kept picturing someone at least 25 years older. The prim, didactic editor of a small journal of applied philosophy gets herself mixed up in investigating the death of a young man at the symphony, and her sheltered life is mildly disrupted as she tries to figure out whether he was murdered. I found Isabel's incessant philosophizing and moral navel-gazing irritating; as most of the book is told from her point of view wit ...more
Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂
I have long wanted to read a book by Alexander McCall Smith, but if I hadn't been doing this as part of a group read at Book Loving Kiwis & if it hadn't been a reasonably short book, I would never have finished this.

I didn't like Isabel. I found her manipulative, judgemental, entitled & controlling. Other readers tell me that she improves on acquaintance but I want to be engaged from book one of a series not book two or book three.

The beginning did catch my attention, but for long periods nothi
Jun 16, 2009 rated it did not like it
Occasionally I enjoy bland food. Hey, even bland movies or television can be a nice way to relax sometimes. There is never, never an excuse for a bland book, which is exactly what this is. It's not good, it's not bad, it is absolutely mundane. I can think of no reason that something like this should have even been published. As an aside, a good friend of mine met Smith a few weeks ago in Tanzania. She described him as horrible, complaining, and completely self-absorbed. Somehow, I'm not at all s ...more
3.5 stars, rounded down

The first in a new series by Alexander McCall Smith, the prolific author of both the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency and the Bertie novels. He is a favourite of mine, with his light-hearted books all similar in their outlook and commentary on human nature.

The Edinburgh depicted in this series centres around the main character of Isabel Dalhousie, an independently wealthy, intellectual and cultured woman in her early 40s who edits a philosophy journal. Isabel gets involved (as
Bon Tom
Nov 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was pleasantly surprised by this. There's far more philosophy than I expected, which is great. Since it's a mystery book, a lot of things are going on "in the head". Of course, there need to be some thinking processes leading to resolution. So of course, it's a natural playground for our philosophically minded hobbyist detective. ...more
Will Byrnes
Oct 24, 2008 rated it liked it
Smith has created yet another female detective. This time it is Isabel Dalhousie, an independent 40-something who leads the club of the title. She is not a professional like Mma Rowatse of the number 1 ladies detective agency series, but a gifted amateur in the manner of Miss Marple. She is a lady of independent means so never needs be concerned about having to handle the mundane to put haggis on the table. The Edinburgh setting certainly gives it a more British setting than can be found in Afri ...more
Jan 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
Let me begin by saying that the only McCall Smith which I had read before picking up The Sunday Philosophy Club was the first in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. I hated it. I chose to download this from Netgalley as it is set in Edinburgh, a city which I am now familiar with, and because it seemed to fit snugly into my Reading Scotland Project. Whilst this book started off quite well, it soon became rather dull. I read the first tenth of it before giving up altogether; it just held ve ...more
Nov 10, 2020 rated it liked it
Whenever a book is set in Scotland.. it just makes me want to go visit even more.

The Sunday Philosophy Club was a cute little mystery book to dive into. I will admit that was a bit more entertaining and interesting than some of my other books today. It just sucks that went by way too quickly for me. So in a weird way, I wanted it to be longer just to get more from the characters.

Don't get me wrong, everything that was written was great. I did end up liking the characters - Isabel a bit more tha
C. Clark
Jul 03, 2019 rated it liked it
The author is a beautiful writer, no doubt. The depiction of Scotland is solid and even cute in places. But Isabel Dalhousie is not a likable character for me, and in several places I could see through the curtain and spot the male author attempting to write female. And the ending, while I'll give no spoilers here, was disappointingly simple. ...more
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
This is the dullest book I've read in a long time! I can hardly believe this is the same author who writes the lively Precious Romotswe novels. In the first place, the Sunday Philosophy Club never convenes; you never hear anything about the members. I'm hardly surprised, since the president is a professional philosopher (how much does that pay?) who never does anything. Independently wealty (and it's a good thing, I guess) she does cryptic crosswords (probably in ink), and there's a lot of unnec ...more
Apr 07, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: mystery, feminist
Okay, I have always read this author's name as "Alexandra McCall Smith," I guess because his really famous series is that African ladies' detective club one, and I'm a big sexist jerk. I was telling my mom about the books I'd picked up at the Richmond Public Library book sale, and she had to correct me. Oops.
I didn't enjoy this much. The mystery wasn't very interesting. I didn't care for the subplot about the niece's love-life or the sub-subplot about the main character's lost love from twenty y
Mar 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Settle down for a read that resembles a very slow-moving stream. Isabel is a member of the Sunday Philosophy Club (which never actually meets in the book), and she is given to introspective internal musings about life in general which are intriguing if you like that sort of thing. Fortunately, I do. There is a murder mystery, but it seems less important than the relationships between Isabel, her niece Cat, Cat's current boyfriend, and Cat's ex-boyfriend. Grace is Isabel's housekeeper and soundin ...more
Amanda Arra
Sep 29, 2007 rated it liked it
Once you discover Isabelle Dalhousie, just like Precious Ramotswe of the Ladies No. 1 detective agency, you won't want to stop reading. Isabelle is a philospher who reviews an obscure philosophy journal and in her free time, pries into others affairs. Not action packed, but rather filled with insights into human nature and observations about culture and society. ...more
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Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the international phenomenon The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie Series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, and the 44 Scotland Street series. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and has served on many national and international bodies concerned with bioethics. He was born in what ...more

Other books in the series

Isabel Dalhousie (1 - 10 of 13 books)
  • Friends, Lovers, Chocolate (Isabel Dalhousie, #2)
  • The Right Attitude to Rain (Isabel Dalhousie, #3)
  • The Careful Use of Compliments (Isabel Dalhousie, #4)
  • The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday (Isabel Dalhousie, #5)
  • The Lost Art of Gratitude (Isabel Dalhousie, #6)
  • The Charming Quirks of Others (Isabel Dalhousie, #7)
  • The Forgotten Affairs of Youth (Isabel Dalhousie, #8)
  • The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds (Isabel Dalhousie, #9)
  • The Novel Habits of Happiness (Isabel Dalhousie, #10)
  • A Distant View of Everything (Isabel Dalhousie #11)

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