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Socrates: A Man for Our Times

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  1,057 ratings  ·  146 reviews
A brilliant portrait of the Greek philosopher who personified philosophy.

Socrates was undeniably one of the greatest thinkers of all time, yet he wrote nothing. Throughout his life, and indeed until his very last moment alive, Socrates fully embodied his philosophy in thought and deed. It is through the story of his life that we can fully grasp his powerful actions and i

Kindle Edition, 225 pages
Published October 13th 2011 by Penguin Books (first published 2011)
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Riku Sayuj

Holy Contortions, Batman!

Paul Johnson has made up his mind. Need I say more?

In his earlier writings Plato presented Socrates as a living, breathing, thinking person, a real man. But as Plato’s ideas took shape, demanding propagation, poor Socrates, whose actual death Plato had so lamented, was killed a second time, so that he became a mere wooden man, a ventriloquist’s doll, to voice not his own philosophy but Plato’s. Being an intellectual, Plato thought that to spread his ideas was far more
David Prager
Jan 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Short and enjoyable intro or refresher to the life and thought of Socrates. Johnson is a good writer, and this goes down easy.
Many reviewers are hard on Johnson. Maybe they think he should have written a different book, but I'm OK with the one he did write. I think it's OK for a historian to insert his own views into the work. The references to more modern events and times are meant to illuminate Socrates' ideas for modern readers. If you're looking for an in-depth description and analysis of So
Lauren Albert
Paul Johnson's Socrates is an Ancient Greek Paul Johnson. In his hands, Socrates becomes an anti-gay monotheist. Yup. To give you an idea of Johnson's reasoning, see this passage:

"When Socrates was at his most devout, he always refers to 'god' or 'the god,' not 'the gods.' He was a monotheist." 107

So, you can be sure that if Socrates mentions "gods" in the plural, he is not being very devout.

A similar reasoning comes into play when Johnson discusses Plato. If Johnson likes the Socrates that Plat
Alex Obrigewitsch
Jul 01, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I would like to preface this by stating that I am not one who delights in polemics. But when a person employs a flagrant neglect of distinction between fact and opinion, or worse, complete fiction, with an air of supreme arrogance and supposed historical knowledge, to facilitate the description of a key historical figure in a way that mars what little of truth we possess of said figure, in the name of bolstering one’s own ethical and moral agenda, then I cannot remain silent.
I have never read a
CentralPA Librarians
"One of the most influential philosophers in our history, Socrates left no written record of his beliefs or methodology. Writing a biography of him, even a short one, would seem a monumental task given this absence, but historian Paul Johnson is more than up to the job in his book Socrates: A Man for Our Times, one entry in his series of short biographies of influential historical figures. This straightforward, generally level-headed work not only sifts through the available sources to bring Soc ...more
Jan 09, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
Isolating the historical Socrates is made difficult by the fact that he himself wrote nothing down and we are able to see him only through the eyes of his friends and, less reliably, later historians. Plato and Xenophon are the primary sources, with Diogenes Laertius adding details later on, and Johnson makes use of all three. What is somewhat troubling is that he doesn't cite these sources (at least not in the Kindle edition that I read). He does acknowledge them (and in the sticky case of Plat ...more
Lucas Chance
Oct 17, 2020 rated it liked it
A bit reductive

It’s good at providing general insight and for synthesizing multiple sources. However, it’s not really giving me much more besides that.

Also, it goes off on the tangent of Socrates’ negative views on homosexuality that the author himself admits is hard to prove but he persists. He also equates homosexuality to the pedophilic power dynamics in Athens and like...that ain’t it, chief.

Ana Aurora
First, I need to tip my hat off to Paul Johnson. This is the author of a mind-boggling 60+ books last time I checked, including his extraordinary History of the American People that is enough to enlighten you on the subject if you never read another one in your life. This man is a force of nature, so there is very little he can do to put a dent in my respect for him. With this in mind, his book about Socrates was a less memorable experience. It’s true that its topic is a guy more than 2,000 year ...more
Jul 09, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
A helpful perspective on Greece around 500-400 BC; Johnson, as usual, describes varied aspects of the life and times, from the political to the artistic. Of particular interest is Socrates' involvement in Athenian life and the links between him and secular and Christian thought. His influence on Western civilization is enormous, though Johnson perhaps overemphasizes the debt we owe him. Ultimately, I think this book achieves its object (at least for those who are willing to be convinced) by show ...more
Jana Light
Blergh. This was a good book to sort of string together the different events of Socrates' life, but I don't think Johnson presents the nuance required to separate Plato's presentation of Socrates from the reality of Socrates. There were far too many unsubstantiated claims to make me trust Johnson's account. Unreliable narrators do not make good biographers. Also, I still don't quite know how Johnson sees Socrates as "a man for our times," but maybe this was where the nuance happened and I failed ...more
Apr 11, 2018 rated it did not like it
I couldn't finish this book. The author is, as far as I can tell, some kind of Christian homophobe who loves to put his ideas into the mouth of Socrates... After 100 pages, I just couldn't take it anymore. ...more
I always appreciate Johnson's concision, but while he satisfactorily covers Socrates' life, death, and the relevant history of Athens, I wish he would have expounded more on Socrates' philosophy and how it was altered by his student, Plato. ...more
Graham Bradley
Nov 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good intro if you want to read something more reliable than a Wikipedia article.
Nov 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fun, quick, engrossing read. Very occasionally funny, and a very easy way to get acquainted or reacquainted with the life and thought of Socrates, with helpful references for those who'd like to do further reading. It was not explained, however, how Socrates is "an man for our times", as the title suggests. However, writing this in 2020, I can see many parallels between the climate of Socrates' Athens and our own. In any event, a book that you might see in a used book store for a few dollars, an ...more
Tom Stamper
Jan 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book answered a question I've had since reading The Republic in the 1990s. Is Socrates really speaking or is Plato speaking through Socrates. According to Johnson it varies from dialogue to dialogue. In The Republic it's Socrates voice in the first book and then Plato plays ventriloquist from there on. We know this because Socrates wasn't a prescriptive philosopher. Philosophy was a practical way to discover virtue. He liked talking with people and he desired to teach them to think about co ...more
Apr 18, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: reallly? no one
Recommended to Jeanne by: was considering it as part of a course on Plato (in Greek)--until I read it
"I prefer a broad-brush approach that makes a general contrast between the Socratic and Platonic mentalities and then counsels the reader to study the dialogues and make up his or her own mind." Never were truer words spoken. This broad-brush technique works like this: what Johnson finds sympatico in Plato, belongs to Socrates; otherwise Plato, who is, by the way, an intellectual academic, ergo bad. How bad? His transformation of Socrates from the real McCoy (because, according to Johnson, the A ...more
Nov 15, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This isn't exactly an introduction, because much of what Johnson discusses will require prior knowledge and familiarity with Socrates and this period of Greek history. However, this work is nowhere near scholarly quality either. This can only be a review or refresher - yet it is a review of the author's highly biased ideas of what he wants Socrates to represent. The author's style is at once narcissistic, pompous, and vague.

Johnson rebukes Plato for using Socrates as a mouthpiece for his own id
Anthony Ragan
Dec 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
When Paul Johnson writes biography, the intent is not simply to recount the facts of someone's life: it is didactic. Johnson is an historian who intends to teach a lesson with this writings, to show us what we should draw from the subject's life, works, and thoughts to better our own lives.

Thus it is with Johnson's biography of Socrates, the first and perhaps still the greatest of the moral philosophers. Rather than a dry recitation of what we know of Socrates's life and works, Johnson looks at
A well summarized view and look at the life of Socrates. The first few chapters details Athens and Greek society as a whole. It also goes heavily into the Sophists, Plato, democracy, and a lot on Pericles and how his governing of Athens affected Socrates. It also goes into Euripedes and Aristophanes a lot and how they affected his life (especially Aristophanes' Clouds play).

Sadly, due to nothing being written by Socrates we have to take a lot from Xenophon, Plato, and others. And Plato tended to
Kevin Kizer
Interesting quick read on Socrates and how his thoughts and ideas were distorted by Plato, especially in his later work. Socrates is portrayed sort of like Athens beloved hermit-warrior. He lived in a small hovel with few comforts and, because of his size and satyr-like face, was a valiant warrior. It was said the Romans would avoid fighting him in battles. Plato was kind of the privileged kid with a great mind, whereas as Socrates was the street-smart guy with a great mind.

And of course his fa
Jeffrey Falk
Apr 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Everyone who reads books, and almost everyone else, should read this concise, powerful biography of the man who brought philosophy out of the trivial, disputative nattering of the Sophists (the original "ivory tower") and applied it universally, practically, and absolutely, to the ethical choices of all humans. Some of the sentences are too long and difficult to parse; the book should have been at least slightly longer (broken up into more sentences). Also, it could have addressed the issue of w ...more
Ross Cohen
Jun 12, 2015 rated it liked it
A fine biography that nevertheless makes me wonder:

1) Why does the author, who holds Socrates up as an ideal thinker for recognizing his own want of knowledge, seem so sure about so many statements? Ancient Athens existed a long time ago, should we be so sure about everything?

2) If the purpose of an analogy is to bring a reader a clearer understanding, why refer to out of reach anecdotes about British history like Gladstone's farewell to his cabinet? Who's to benefit from this?
Oct 24, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book, though I was hoping to learn more about what Socrates actually said as opposed to his life events. Sadly, as this book points out, that is very difficult to do since Socrates did not bother to write anything down and we have to rely on Plato for what Socrates said. This is problematic because Plato quite possibly put a significant number of ideas into Socrates’s mouth. Quite disappointing, but it can also be said that the life of Socrates was a lecture in and of itself.
Nov 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Interesting attempt to separate Socrates and Plato. As we all know Socrates left no written record. So, like a surgeon, Johnson has to surgically remove Socrates from the Dialogues. In my opinion, although I am no expert, he appears to have done this very successfully. The real Socrates is revealed.
Michael Andrews
It's always disheartening when a scholar of Mr. Johnson's caliber infuses his Christian ideals and perspectives into a study of a vastly important philosopher such as Socrates. It doesn't belong there. ...more
Jake Keyes
Jan 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not an in depth study on the philosophy of Socrates. This book is not meant for those who want heavy reading and analysis on his ideas. This book is best for people, like me, who want a concise understanding of the man, his beliefs, and his life.
stephanie suh
Jun 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In the constellation of philosophers in the intellectual firmament, Socrates's star shines on on humanity, ranging from academic disciplines to everyday cultural memes, and its resounding decibel strikes the chords with the contemporary minds at its simplest form. It is this ministry of Socrates’s simple but profound moral philosophy for the benefit of the universal minds that has been enshrined in the pantheon of Immortal Knowledge of our collective human civilization for thousands of years. In ...more
Jan 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book after hearing it as a recommendation from Dr. George Grant in one of his humanities' lectures on Antiquity. Overall, the book is a good summary of the life of Socrates, and I particularly enjoyed the history of the times that Johnson effortlessly included throughout the book. Johnson truly is a master at including large amounts of information in shorter works without the reader feeling overwhelmed.

I do agree with some reviewers that I'm skeptical concerning some of Johnson's in
Jul 03, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ugh
It's a shame the cover of this book is so beautiful.

Because it was horrible and written by an equally horrible man.

I was biased before I read this book. I picked it up at a used book shop, thinking it would be an interesting biography on Socrates, a figure I find to be funny and interesting. After finally deciding to read it, I see in other Goodreads reviews that the man who wrote it makes Socrates out to be a homophobic pre-Christian patriot. That prompted me to Google who Paul Johnson was --
Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Historians face a difficult task. Unlike a fictional or quasi-fictional world, they must factually tell the story of a person, culture, or nation in an engaging and interesting way, after piecing together a cohesive narrative using countless sources and studies, all of varying degrees of usefulness and credibility. Along with all that, they themselves need to know what they are writing about or seeking to prove and adequately defend their view. Some people believe the myth that historians are me ...more
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Paul Johnson works as a historian, journalist and author. He was educated at Stonyhurst School in Clitheroe, Lancashire and Magdalen College, Oxford, and first came to prominence in the 1950s as a journalist writing for, and later editing, the New Statesman magazine. He has also written for leading newspapers and magazines in Britain, the US and Europe.

Paul Johnson has published over 40 books incl

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