Summary and book reviews of Philosophy Made Simple by Robert Hellenga

Philosophy Made Simple

By Robert Hellenga

Philosophy Made Simple
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2006,
    288 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2007,
    304 pages.

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Book Summary

From the bestselling author of The Sixteen Pleasures comes an unforgettable novel about a man's search for meaning, in the tradition of Louis Begley's About Schmidt and Evan Connell's Mr. Bridge.

Rudy Harrington has spent half his life in a rambling Chicago house, raising three daughters with his independent-minded wife. But his wife has died, his daughters have moved away, and Rudy is restless. In what he interprets as a moment of transcendent vision, he puts the family home up for sale and buys an avocado grove in Texas. While adapting to his new vocation, new home, and new friends, Rudy takes up a book--Philosophy Made Simple--and begins to struggle with Plato and Aristotle, Hume and Schopenhauer. His newly acquired wisdom is put to the test when he enlists the neighborhood elephant to preside over his daughter's Hindu wedding and falls in love with the groom's mother.

Hellenga brings back characters from his bestselling The Sixteen Pleasures and introduces many compelling new ones--including the elephant, who paints--in a novel that illuminates our deepest concerns: love and death, marriage and family, and the mysterious tug of beauty on the human heart.

Allegory of the Cave

Rudy took up philosophy late in life. He wanted some answers, an explanation, or at least a chance to ponder the great mysteries, before it was too late - love and death, the meaning and purpose of human existence, moments of vision, the voice of God, the manifest indifference of the material universe to injustice and suffering, the insanity of war, the mysterious tug of beauty on the human heart. What did he know about these things? Not a lot. But something. He'd never had a college education. He'd turned down a basketball scholarship at Michigan State University in order to go to work for Harry Becker up in Chicago. But he hadn't peddled avocados for thirty years on the South Water Street Market without learning a thing or two about life, and Helen, his wife, had practiced all her lectures on him when she'd started teaching art history at Edgar Lee Masters, dropping her slides one at a time into the projector on the dining room table, the front ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Do you think Rudy's decision to make a radical change in his life is motivated mainly by his daughters' having left the family home? Or is his move from Chicago to an avocado farm in Texas more self-motivated, sparked by his first reading of the great philosophers?
  2. Is it surprising to you that Rudy, a high school graduate in the wholesale produce trade, would be interested in the wisdom of the ages, searching for something beyond the day-to-day? How is his level of education reflected in both his speech patterns and his skepticism about abstraction? Is his age a factor in his attitude? Is his being a Midwesterner? Is the way he addresses life attractive to you?
  3. Is Rudy seriously attracted to any of the ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

It's a quietly funny story set in the late 1960s, and very well observed. If you read and enjoyed books such as The Poet of Tolstoy Park or The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series, then Robert Hellenga's latest is a shoe-in for you.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
Library Journal

If you can keep up with his rapidly shifting thoughts, you might enjoy going along for the ride.

Publisher's Weekly

More twinkly humor, mild insight, clean prose and gentle homilies follow in this thinker's light gem.

Kirkus Reviews

There's nothing whimsical about this solidly grounded fiction, which enchantingly explores the space between philosophical concepts and our hapless floundering in life's challenges.

Booklist

Starred Review. Supremely wily and compelling, Hellenga turns a human tale of reason versus feeling into a cosmic playoff between order and chaos.

Reader Reviews
DipStick

Painfully humorous
I always dream 30 years out. And thirty years out I am Rudy. Author has done a good job composing his thoughts together. It is just a bit fast - with these kind of books I like to soak myself at certain moments - the book in itself did not provide ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

This is Hellenga's fourth novel following The Sixteen Pleasures (1994), The Fall of a Sparrow (1998), and Blues Lessons (2002). Set in the late 1960s, Philosophy Made Simple shares many of the same characters as The Sixteen Pleasures, but it is certainly not necessary to have read the earlier book to enjoy the latter. Having said that, if you're interested to know what came before, below is a brief summary of The Sixteen Pleasures.

About The Sixteen Pleasures
Margot (one of Rudy's daughters) gave up her place at Harvard to care for her ailing mother. Now, at 29, this librarian and book conservator answers the call for volunteers to help Florence save its art treasures from the rapidly flooding Arno River (1966). While ...

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