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Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation
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Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  385 ratings  ·  42 reviews
Shortly before he died, Plenty Coups, the last great Chief of the Crow Nation, told his story—up to a certain point. “When the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground,” he said, “and they could not lift them up again. After this nothing happened.” It is precisely this point—that of a people faced with the end of their way of life—that prompts the philo ...more
Paperback, 187 pages
Published April 1st 2008 by Harvard University Press (first published September 1st 2006)
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Julie Barrett I'm currently reading this for a book club & it's the worst. If it wasn't for book club I'd definitely stop reading it.
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3.81  · 
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 ·  385 ratings  ·  42 reviews

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Oct 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book addresses something I've been thinking about constantly for some time--that is how people who have been stripped of a context in which to live as human beings manage to imagine survival and then to venture forth on that imagined thread. The author does not pretend to be an expert on Crow Indian culture of but he uses the situation of cultural collapse they found themselves in the late 1900's to examine the
difference between wistful or magical thinking and radical hope springing from an
Nov 02, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book mining the effects of cultural devastation from the point of view of one Native American Indian tribe - the Crow of Montana. It is an interesting premise, and well thought through, but should have been just a long New Yorker type article. The author is very repetitive, and as a philosphy professor, the book is kind of hybrid between accessible by lay audiences and being academic. My book group got a good 1 and half discussion out of it though - better read if discussed with others ...more
Laura Howard
In many ways, exactly what a philosophical text should be--grounded in real events, focused on real people, and interested in real application of ideas. A humble, accessible, and important little book.
Kathleen O'Neal
Jonathan Lear's beautifully written and thought-provoking book "Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation" is a fascinating philosophical exploration of a rarely discussed topic - how should we as human beings lives against the backdrop of the possibility that the civilization and cultures within which our lives and our sense of their meaning is embedded? The book was a joy to read from start to finish which is saying something fairly meaningful given that most works by analytic ...more
Undrakh Ganzorig
Mar 31, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: i-own
What would you do if everything you believe and your nation aspire to is gone? The wall that used to protect your culture, tradition, and ethics has fallen down. You and your people are now standing against the unknown world with full of threats and enormous changes. Can everyone be enough courageous to confront such disaster? Plenty Coups, last great chief of Crow nation, managed to get his tribe go through the hardest period of their entire history. In Radical Hope, Jonathan Lear explains how ...more
Gregory Sotir
I had conflicting responses to this book, on the nature of the violence of warrior culture in the Crow people, on their collaboration with the US soldiers against the Sioux, and with the repetitive and academic style of Jonathan Lear, yet the concept of Radical Hope as a creative way of facing and overcoming cultural devastation is an important one. But the title and concept are somewhat misleading. Many would argue that collaboration with an enemy invader is always wrong, and perhaps rightfully ...more
Aug 07, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: oregon-extension
what is our buffalo?
what would our culture be like without them?
Joshua moses
Jan 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
You could live on this book alone I think.
Karen Celano
Jul 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's rare that a philosophy book can bring me to tears, but the first chapter of Radical Hope, in its description of the shattered souls of the Crow people in the wake of cultural devastation, was wincingly painful. Admittedly, Lear does not pretend that his description of cognitive disarray actually represents what the Crow endured; he acknowledges his inability and unwillingness to describe their true psychological states, instead choosing to perform a philosophical "thought experiment" based ...more
Alina W.
Aug 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is extraordinary in how short and rich it is. It is rich in ethical truths and the one philosophical truth, which I believe, is the most important truth for any person alive to understand. This is not an overstatement. I will first summarize Lear’s work and return to these truths.

Drawing on Heideggerian existential phenomenology, Aristotelian ethics, and Freudian psychology, Lear examines the ways by which the Crow nation managed to “survive” through colonial devastations. He first pro
Kyle van Oosterum
While this book does make use of philosophy, psychoanalysis, anthropology and much more (studies of knowledge that I find fascinating), it is far too bogged down in the details of its primary case study: the cultural devastation of the Crow Native American tribes. I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if its titular concept "radical hope" - defined as 'hope that is directed toward a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is" - was explored without the allus ...more
Peter Landau
Oct 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What do you do when your culture no longer exists? That happens to me every day. As I grow older my life feels less relevant to the culture writ large. I’m pushed into a dead end, watching everyone move on without me. Boohoo. But what about if everything I knew, everything everyone knows, was taken away. Could you live with that? How would you live in a world in which has been erased, all you have learned to survive is irrelevant? In RADICAL HOPE: ETHICS IN THE FACE OF CULTURAL DEVASTATION, Jona ...more
Julie Barrett
Jun 02, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Repetitive, meandering, wordy, self indulgent, dull.... it boggles the mind that anyone gave this book a great rating. Friends of the author? If Lear had written a 2 page magazine article about this subject, I'd have enjoyed it. There is zero reason to blather on for 154 pages when 2 would have gotten the idea across.
Martin Rowe
Sep 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This beautiful and resonant book struck many chords with me. Not only does it demand that you, the reader, reflect on the lessons that we will all have to learn as we move deeper into a century that will very likely ask us to cope with changes caused by a warming planet as devastating and unforeseeable as those that affected Plenty Coups and the Crow nation, but it has made me want to go back and examine my connections to people I've known—particularly Wangari Maathai (about whom I wrote in THE ...more
Sep 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There's something about this book that reminds me of a podcast -- it goes into depth on a single person's story, explores their context and what followed them, and then explores larger ethical, spiritual, and epistemological implications of that story. As a fascinating book to just read, it offers a fascinating story followed by really thought-provoking consideration of not just how we make meaning in the world, but how we are able to make meaning (and later understand it).
Jun 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great human accomplishment, Plenty Coups' miracle of moral reframing in the wake of the devastation of his people's way of life is effectively conveyed by Jonathan Lear.
Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation by Jonathan Lear was a book I would not have read on my own accord. It wouldn't have appealed to me. But I'm glad I did. It gave me insight into the Native American - Crow people (although written by someone who was not crow) that otherwise, I would not have obtained.
From the first to maybe midway through the book the emotion that stayed with me was anger. Anger over learning more about the devastation and erasure of life the United Sta
Feb 27, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5. Doesn’t devote enough attention to the narrative role spiritual convictions played for the Crow. They were crucial it seemed to me. A great book though on a fascinating topic of trying to envision how to live in the face of civilization collapse when that very vision breaks down.
Jon Gagas
Jun 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"It is one thing to dance as though nothing has happened; it is another to acknowledge that something singularly awful has happened - the collapse of happenings -and then decide to dance."
Howard Mansfield
Jan 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
About twenty years ago, Jonathan Lear went to a lecture on the writing of history. The lecturer quoted Plenty Coups, the last great chief of the Crow Nation. Once the Crow were forced to live on a reservation, Plenty Coups told his biographer, "After the buffalo went away, the hearts of my people fell to the ground and we could not lift them up again. After this, nothing happened."
“That phrase never left me,” says Lear, who is professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago. What did the
Jun 16, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Like Williams's Shame and Necessity, this book engages in ethical investigation by studying a distant culture. But Williams was looking at canonized works of Greek literature, while Lear is dealing with the much more obscure history of the Crow tribe. It is admirable that Lear is willing to explore material far outside the philosophical mainstream: explaining what it means to embrace the virtues of the chickadee, for example. The payoff in new, interesting raw philosophical material is substanti ...more
Michael Lewyn
Oct 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is best read as a case study of how people managed to address cultural collapse. The Crow culture was a warrior culture, and the Crow idea of excellence involved fighting other tribes over territory and capturing their horses. Their chief realized that the white man's triumph was inevitable, and allied with the American government. The Crow were still faced with a collective loss of purpose. The Crow idea of moral excellence simply became impossible to implement, since the U.S. governm ...more
Steven Fowler
Lear, who already wrote an excellent book on Freud (Love and its Place in Nature), has managed to introduce a Heideggerian conception of world and worldliness into a retelling of the oral history as seen by the last great chief of the Crow. It not only examines the devastation, even if mistakenly well meant, wrought by the white conquest of the native nations but points to a method for examining just how our own civilization is collapsing. This may be the century when the West must say, "after t ...more
Feb 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How would you live the good life, if the good life as your culture defined it no longer existed? The author tackles this question, using the life of Crow chief Plenty Coups as a case study. Scholarly and philosophical, one may find the subject timely.
Js Gladstone
Aug 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Radical Hope is an inspiring and insightful look into the prophetic life of 'Plenty Coups,' the last great Chief of the Crow Nation; A leader who - in the face of cultural abolition - planted hope in a crumbling society using imaginative moral philosophy and "radical" spiritual optimism.
Jonathan Lear skillfully investigates the profound questions posed in this incredible story, calling upon the reader to examine culture and virtue-ethics from a whole new perspective... that of their own.
Paul Womack
Aug 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A work of deep analysis, the book explores the imaginative and practical foundation of Plenty Coups response to the demise of traditional Crow culture with the onslaught of white settlement and governmental duplicity. The range of religious and psychoanalytic insight is challenging and informative. The idea of radical hope as realistic and creative is profound and his treatment of courage merits reflection and internalization. I shall often return to this book for insight and encouragement.
Jay Quarantello
This book has an interesting premise but is really racist. Lear uses Crow people as an object to talk about his theory on hope in the face of cultural devastation. In the process, he frequently belittles his subjects by using simulacrum of indigenous people. Lear's Native person is stuck in the 1800s and neither existed before or after.
Jan 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well written, highly readable, and not shying away from big and important questions. His objections to Sitting Bull at the end remain a bit unconvincing though and the argument - while it might hold very well for the case examined - seems not much scalable. I would have loved to see more about other cases and about what lessons JL think we can draw from this for our own situation.
An interesting examination of the first-hand account of chief Plenty Coups of Crow life before and after the US subjugation of the Indian tribes. At times plodding in its painstaking unpacking of the meaning inside the words, but overall respectful and valuable insights are drawn.
Liz Brennan
A study of the autobiographical testimony of the last great chief of the Crow nation, Plenty Coups, reflecting on the devastation of the Crow's traditional way of life. "The goodness of the world transcends one's limited and vulnerable attempts to understand it."
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