May 25, 2008

What I’m Reading: The Everything Philosophy Book

Filed under: reading — crcb @ 10:35 am
Tags: , , ,

I’ve been working through a slim volume of Pico della Mirandola’s writings for weeks. The 282-page* Everything Philosophy Book, by James Mannion, took me three days.

I usually like the Everything series of books from Adams Media. Mannion’s book is interesting in spots, but overall it disappointed me. It’s badly written (the “breezy,” “casual,” “cliches don’t count against you if they’re in quotes” style grows tiresome quickly), it’s badly proofed, and it’s unfocused.

The first 16 chapters are an overview of Western philosophy, from the pre-Socratics to “Modern and Postmodern Philosophers.” The remaining nine chapters are a grab-bag — almost as if the author had run out of things to say, but had to pad the book to a contracted-for length. I suppose I can see a reason for the chapters on religions, and (sparse though it is) the chapter on African and Native American philosophies. But shouldn’t chapter 21, on Objectivism and Right Livelihood, and chapter 24, on New Age beliefs, be included in the historical overview? (As chapters 18 and 19, perhaps. Just a thought.)

And then there are the more puzzling chapters. Chapter 17, “Sociology and Anthropology.” Chapter 18, “Psychology.” OK, I could make a case for those fields being relevant to philosophy (Marx and Maslow), though I’m not sure Mannion makes that case. But a long chapter on Alcoholics Anonymous? The philosophies of Star Trek (the original series), The Avengers (not the movie) and other long-defunct TV shows? Couldn’t the author just bump up the font size and use wider margins?

And then there are the oversimplifications. Some degree of that is necessary in an overview for a general audience. I’m just not sure how much is deliberate, and how much is through ignorance. Does Mannion really not know the difference between reincarnation and transmigration of souls, for example?

But perhaps the most perplexing philosophical question this book raises is — Why do I write more about books I dislike than books I like?

*Counting appendices, which I read.


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