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This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  594 ratings  ·  102 reviews
A profound, original, and accessible book that offers a new secular vision of how we can lead our lives. Ranging from fundamental existential questions to the most pressing social issues of our time, This Life shows why our commitment to freedom and democracy should lead us beyond both religion and capitalism.

In this groundbreaking book, the philosopher Martin Hägglund cha
Hardcover, 452 pages
Published March 5th 2019 by Pantheon Books (first published 2019)
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Swedish Mist

I find it odd and oddly annoying that Martin Hägglund should choose to present his otherwise sensible philosophy in terms of faith. He apparently intends to establish philosophical thought as a sound basis for ethics without reference to religion and its supposed revelations of ultimate truth. On the face of it, he would like to replace religious faith with faith of some other sort. My question is ‘Why?’

Although not all religions rely on faith, Christian insistence that faith is equi
Jul 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
A thought provoking work. Hägglund's basic thesis, developed out of a close inspection of primarily Marx (but decorated with dozens of writers and thinkers), suggests that both capitalism and religious faith limit our ability to maximize our freedom and our quest for the good.

I'm with him about 4/5 of the way. I wish he had edited the book down a bit (he got a bit repetitive and could have probably said the same thing in 1/2 the words). Like I said, I need a bit more time (my leisure) to really
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
Apr 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Being is time and time is finite. The being that we care most about is human being or any being that can take a stand on its own understanding, the most important being in the universe. Hägglund wrote a marvelous book which unpacks that italicized sentence for the reader. I’m going to explain why I thought this was such a marvelous and necessary book for today’s reader, but, I need to mention first that I listened to it on audio and therefore didn’t get the footnotes as I was listening and that ...more
Ryan Bell
Jun 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Incredible, programmatic, interdisciplinary analysis of our diminished lives under capitalism and religion, and the emancipatory possibilities under democratic socialism.

Possibly the best book I’ve ever read integrating our “spiritual” lives with our political commitments into a coherent humanist call to action. I had an hour long conversation with the author on my podcast, Life After God, covering many of the themes he explores in the book. You can hear the podcast on my website, www.lifeafterg
Jack Wolfe
Jun 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I want to apologize in advance to everyone who actually knows me: all I'm gonna wanna talk about for the next several months (years?) is "This Life" by Martin Hagglund. This is the kind of big effing mindblower that I luck into every once in a while... A game changer for my personal and political identity... A book that I hope (that I'm gonna try to make sure) has as wide a readership as possible. Cuz, hoo wee. This one makes "Capital in the 21st Century" look like the Boxcar Children. (Hagglund ...more
Dan Graser
May 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is, perhaps, the most intelligently formed and poetically written argument for secular thought since Bertrand Russell. In this dual critique of religious and economic fundamentalism, Hägglund engages with the most complicated issues and previous works with great authority and erudition.

The dual critique of religion and economic dogmas is one that most will be familiar with since Marx. Hägglund works through the tangled webs spun by the likes of Kierkegaard and Augustine to show the fatuity
Daniel C.
May 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a book about atheism, but it would be wrong to group it with books by Dawkins, Harris, or Hitchens. Where popular books on atheism largely focus on ridiculing the irrationality and lack of empirical evidence supporting religious belief, or casting it in the causal role of various atrocities, Hägglund has a more constructive project in mind. As he writes late in the book, echoing Marx: "If we merely criticized religious beliefs as illusions—without being committed to overcoming the forms ...more
Peggy Kahn
Jun 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is an engaging, intellectually rich, focused book, making the argument that human, lived time is central to human identity and the social world. The positive arguments about the finitude of human life and inevitability and importance of loss, suffering and boredom; about the practical making of projects and practical identities through not only individual commitments and efforts but social norms and institutions; and about the necessity of a radical critique of capitalist value and social t ...more
Jun 07, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: gave-up
More repetitive than even "The High Cost of Free Parking". And although Parking repeats the same (probably) correct logic over and over, this book keeps circling back to "and you can only feel loss, love or commitment because the person's life is finite" and it's like "Wait, what?" That statement that doesn't make sense is not explained in the first ~200 pages, but is repeated over and over. Abraham (and Isaac) are mentioned what must have been 500 times, with very little variation.
There is no
Jun 09, 2019 rated it liked it
A real disappointment. I have been a fan of Hagglund's since his early articles and Radical Atheism was a very important book in my young life so I was incredibly excited for this book to arrive.

If this book was framed simply as a positive vision of a life affirming, secular metaphysics it could have been a real achievement. That's what makes this so frustrating; the seeds of a great book are all here, but they've been smothered by several hundred unnecessary pages of Hegel and Hayek. As an att
Clinton Wilson
Apr 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Did Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling blow your mind and shift your thinking about faith? Does Hegel both inspire and confound you? Do you have a tentative grasp of democratic socialism. Can you just not put your finger on it?

If you appreciate the work of Sam Harris, but prefer something a little more penetrating and scholarly, read this book. This is an essential and masterful critique of religion and capitalism that sets forth and argument of how we can lead better and more enriched lives of sp
Nick Klagge
Aug 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
I unfortunately had to read this at a bit of a faster pace than I would have preferred, because I got it from the Brooklyn Public Library shortly before moving out of the city. I did finish it on time though!

From the first time I read about TL, I felt a deep-seated need to read it--the integration of reflections on atheism, socialism, and literature sounded really attractive. (Also, it is blurbed by Yanis Varoufakis, which is bizarre but awesome.) I was raised by divorced parents, one of whom wa
Winston Plum
Aug 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is a game changer. What did I feel while reading it? I felt I was reading the ideas of the smartest person in the metaphorical room. I used to get the same feeling reading David Foster Wallace: this fricking guy is thinking in a way no one else is; this person is expressing himself in a way very few can. I often thought as I read "This Life" about the blurb on the back of "Infinite Jest"--"it's as if Wittgenstein had gone on Jeopardy; or Paul Bunyan had joined the NFL."

Martin Hagglund'
May 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was a really insightful read that is really broad--perhaps a bit too broad? He covers Kierkegaard, Marx, MLK, CS Lewis and even contemporary philosophers. The thesis is hard to argue with and I think he spends too much time making the point, but his engagement with other thinkers was really enlightening. Basically, life is short YOLO
Mesut Bostancı
Apr 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Such an incredible book that deepens your thinking on each philosopher he takes up. A fantastic synthesis of the life philosophy and political philosophy I already ascribed to.
Clelia Albano
Dec 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
We are fragile. We should acknowledge this and accept it.
This is the first thought that sprang to my mind as I read the early pages of This Life. And a sudden emotion has pervaded me. Because it is not merely a philosophical book addressed to thinkers ( the approach is very far from being academic) but it is also an investigation into the meaning of life and death, and a book about how our "lives matter" to rephrase the author himself, addressed to “you”, the reader. Martin Hägglund with a mesm
Kyle Minton
Oct 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This Life by Martin Hagglund basically argues we're all actually atheists and because of that we should be's compelling as hell.

The argument is that we all, at least implicitly, adhere to what Hagglund calls secular faith: "secular faith is a condition of intelligibility for any form of care. For anything to be intelligible as mattering - for anything to be at stake - we have to believe in the irreplaceable value of someone or something that is finite. The secular faith - which
Aug 19, 2019 rated it liked it
This was an early birthday present from my son who rightly surmised the topic of this book to be in my wheelhouse. However: One, it's awfully big to lug on the Metro, which is where I mostly read. But seriously: Martin Hagglund is very serious. I have not read anything in this style since my days as a philosophy student: Very dense, distant academic writing. So, what's funny is, most readers of this sort of book are going to be highly educated and/or very intelligent; otherwise, they would throw ...more
Jack Waters
Mar 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020, the-exalted
Incredible book that very nearly defines the way I think about the world. It certainly helps that it is written by a Swedish author, covers democratic socialism, offers a compelling secularism that doesn't flagrantly disregard theists the way 'new atheism' does, modern Kierkegaardian takes on life and faith, a model for how to appreciate the here and now, steady Marxist frameworks, etc.

Can't wait to read it again.
Nicolaus Stengl
Jul 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, to-reread
This Life is probably one of the most important books I’ve read this year. Maybe in the last few years. Look out for a review in the coming week as I try to synthesize my reading notes.
Ignatius Vonnegut
May 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Very naive, utopian and hopeful, somehow. But also hopeless because of 'the realm of necessity'.... and the need for capitalism to break down, for everybody to grasp 'democratic socialism' (the trickiest part of the book).

I'm not a skilled reader of philosophy, but follow his arguments ok. It's very repetitive and written for the people. I like it. Most of all it pinpoints my feelings for religion and the afterlife. The basic faults, so to speak.

I can't compare it with anything I've read before
Nov 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
Despite its merits, This Life is poorly argued, repetitive, entirely theoretical and lacking any empirical grounding, and narrow-minded. It is an ambitious book that attempts to set out a rigorous anti-religious and anti-capitalist philosophy of life. It is hard not to applaud the author for his sweeping vision -- he's essentially arguing in favor of a dramatic reshaping of global life -- even if I found his execution tremendously flawed.

Hägglund's biggest strength is his detailed and insightful
James Murphy
Nov 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
I believe this to be the most difficult book I've read this year. I love a challenging book and am not afraid to read anything. I feel this one, however, is poorly written. The content itself isn't hard to understand. It's just that in my opinion Hagglund overthought his explanations. It's written in such a convoluted thicket of prose that I found it difficult to stay focused on whatever point he was making. Many sentences are interrupted by a clause set off by hyphens--I'm often guilty of this ...more
Jul 03, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book that is good enough to be worth reading despite the fact that it is often repetitive and sometimes infuriating. Hägglund should have written two books, the first about religion and the second about socialism. If he had, I'd have given the first one 2 stars, and the second one 4.

I'll start with the second half, which is excellent, and the reason you should read this book. It's a critique of capitalism and a close reading of Marx. It focuses on the problem that capitalism does not p
Ewout Dam
May 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book beautifully describes the endeavour of secular life and the struggle to give purpose to it. Hagglund argues that we need to accept that this battle is not a means to an end, but the end itself.
This personal struggle and the necessity of taking (democratic) control over our finite time is what he calls spiritual freedom and the acceptance that this is our purpose in life, secular faith.
Hagglund describes and elaborates on these two concepts in a fascinating way, which deepens my under
Tom Pepper
Aug 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Overall, a good book. Fairly easy reading (although a bit repetitive), and raises crucial issues for today’s world.

The book is strongest when talking about the finite and the eternal. It is crucial to overcome the idea that only what is eternal can be meaningful, and Hägglund does a good job of that. We can in fact only find something meaningful if it is not eternal, and he explains why at great length. A corollary of this is the idea that we can only be motivated to act by demands that are beyo
Raoul G
Dec 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book by Martin Hägglund is a very ambitious and extensive one. From the introduction alone, which is over 30 pages, one can already understand that what Hägglund sets out to do here is, in a way, to present a theory of the meaning of life. The main structure and the pillars of this theory are already shown in the introduction, but are then elaborated on the over 350 following pages. These pages are dense and full of profound reflections drawing form many different thinkers. His theory itsel ...more
Aug 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed the book and I think my values align pretty closely with Hägglund's. I like his ideas but we disagree on a lot of the details. But his ideas are well articulated, even if a little bit repetitive, so this was a great read that forced me to think and defend my own positions.

I'm constantly apprehensive about death, and I took a lot of comfort in the first half where Hägglund argues that our finite timespans are what gives meaning to our lives. I've always been an atheist, but one t
Sabina Knight
May 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
"This book should win a prize," I told a friend when I was part way through Martin Hägglund’s _This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom_ (Pantheon, 2019). The ACLA concurred and awarded Hägglund the René Wellek Prize. Hägglund does for philosophy and literature what LeBron James does for basketball.

_This Life_ offers an eloquent plea for democratic socialism. In this regard, his is the most persuasive of recent books I know. For Hägglund envisions a world beyond capitalism, one in which g
Eric Sutton
Feb 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Profound and stirring. I finished Hagglund's work about a week ago and have been formulating my thoughts on it since. Nothing I can say about it can accurately distill its essence. It's a difficult work, sometimes redundant, but it gave life to so many thoughts I've had in the past three years of Trump's America, where despite a rising economy and falling unemployment the quality of life for most Americans has markedly deteriorated. Why is this? Neoliberal policies and unfettered capitalism is t ...more
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Martin Hägglund is a Charlotte W. Newcombe Fellow in Comparative Literature at Cornell University. He is the author of Chronophobia: Essays on Time and Finitude, which was published in Swedish in 2002. In Spring 2009, CR: The New Centennial Review published a special issue devoted to his work.

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Karen M. McManus, the bestselling author of One of Us Is Lying, Two Can Keep a Secret, and One of Us Is Next, doesn’t shy away from secrets and...
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“Being a person is not a goal that can be achieved but a purpose that must be sustained.” 3 likes
“To keep faith in mortal life, then, is to remain vulnerable to a pain that no strength can finally master. Mortality is not only intrinsic to what makes life meaningful, but also makes life susceptible to lose meaning and become unbearable. The point is not to overcome this vulnerability but to recognize that it is an essential part of why our lifes matter and why we care. (49)” 2 likes
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