American Philosophy: A Love Story - John Kaag

Staff Pick

John Kaag is a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, and while one of his goals with American Philosophy (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26) is to trace the origins of the country’s distinctive takes on transcendentalism and pragmatism, his book is decidedly not academic; rather, he writes to disprove his fear that “philosophy [is] no longer intensely personal.” Structured around the unexpected task of cataloging the library of William Ernest Hocking (1873-1966), the book is at once Kaag’s own Dantesque journey through a dark period that includes the death of an alcoholic father, the end of a marriage, and a disillusion with academia, and a survey of philosophy as he works through Hocking’s tens of thousands of volumes. Though now merely a “nearly famous philosopher,” Hocking was renowned in his day, and counted among his friends William James, George Santayana, Josiah Royce, and many others. As he comes upon their books, Kaag summarizes arguments, reads choice selections, and contextualizes the thoughts within the thinker’s life—and within his own. Immediate and urgent, these aren’t lessons but true discoveries, and Kaag goes from volume to volume, tradition to tradition, 19th-century American to German Romanticism, idealism to phenomenology, famous men to unfairly overlooked women, looking for the answer to James’s question, “Is life worth living?”

American Philosophy: A Love Story Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374154486
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - October 11th, 2016

American Philosophy: A Love Story Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374537203
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - October 3rd, 2017

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