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American Philosophy: Book summary and reviews of American Philosophy by John Kaag

American Philosophy

A Love Story

by John Kaag

American Philosophy by John Kaag X
American Philosophy by John Kaag
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  • Published in USA  Oct 2016
    272 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

The epic wisdom contained in a lost library helps the author turn his life around.

In American Philosophy, John Kaag - a disillusioned philosopher at sea in his marriage and career - stumbles upon a treasure trove of rare books on an old estate in the hinterlands of New Hampshire that once belonged to the Harvard philosopher William Ernest Hocking. The library includes notes from Whitman, inscriptions from Frost, and first editions of Hobbes, Descartes, and Kant. As he begins to catalog and preserve these priceless books, Kaag rediscovers the very tenets of American philosophy - self-reliance, pragmatism, the transcendent - and sees them in a twenty-first-century context.

Hocking was one of the last true giants of American philosophy. After studying under Harvard's Philosophical Four - William James, George Santayana, Josiah Royce, and George Herbert Palmer - he held the most prestigious chair at the university for the first three decades of the twentieth century. And when his teachers eventually died, he collected the great books from their libraries (filled with marginalia) and combined them with his own rare volumes at his family's estate. And there they remained for nearly eighty years, a time capsule of American thought.

Part intellectual history, part memoir, American Philosophy is an invigorating investigation of American pragmatism and the wisdom that underlies a meaningful life.

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Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Kaag's lively prose, acute self-examination, unfolding romance, and instructive history of philosophy as a discipline make for a surprisingly absorbing book." - Kirkus

"There are wondrously frank moments in his narrative, as when he struggles to change a tire and, later, attempts to mow the estate field with a scythe. If only Kaag had sweated more and abstracted less, this would be a perfect book." - Publishers Weekly

"This title offers a unique combination of memoir and the history of American philosophy that is a joy to read. Kaag ably presents both subjects in a way that keeps readers engaged as he shows the value of developing a personal philosophy that can help individuals find meaning, or at least some guidance, in their lives." - Library Journal

"John Kaag is the closest thing we have to William James: a breathtakingly good prose stylist; philosophically and psychologically courageous, inventive and inspiring; ruthlessly honest; unsparing about the difficulties of love, intimacy and experience; and above all, human, in the most valuable and moral sense of the word." - Clancy Martin

"Ideas may be Kaag's first love, but they bring him a flesh-and-blood Beatrice in this open-hearted account of a young man's second chance at a sentimental education." - Megan Marshall Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life

"'Is life worth living?' This is the age-old but forever timely question at the center of this remarkable and daring memoir ... This is an absolutely stellar memoir." - Andre Dubus III

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Author Information

John Kaag

John Kaag is a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. He is the author of Idealism, Pragmatism, and Feminism (2011) and Thinking Through the Imagination: Aesthetics in Human Cognition(2014). His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Harper's Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and many other publications.

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