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The Metaphysical Club: Book summary and reviews of The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand

The Metaphysical Club

A Story of Ideas in America

by Louis Menand

The Metaphysical Club

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Book Summary

The story told in The Metaphysical Club runs through the lives of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., a Civil War hero who became the dominant legal thinker of his time; his best friend as a young man, William James, son of an eccentric moral philosopher, brother of a great novelist, and the father of modern psychology in America; and the brilliant and troubled logician, scientist, and founder of semiotics, Charles Sanders Peirce. Together they belonged to an informal discussion group that met in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1872 and called itself the Metaphysical Club. The club was probably in existence for only nine months, and no records were kept. The one thing we know that came out of it was an idea - an idea about ideas, about the role beliefs play in people's lives. This idea informs the writings of these three thinkers, and the work of the fourth figure in the book, John Dewey - student of Peirce, friend and ally of James, admirer of Holmes.

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Book Awards

  • award image Pulitzer Prize for Letters, Drama and Music, 2002

Reviews

Media Reviews

"Over its narrative arc and the arc of its subjects' lives, the book slowly and surely makes the ideas of another era available and usable to our own." - PW

"A singular achievement of intellectual history as well as a weighty entertainment." - Kirkus

"[A] detailed and fascinating essay on the history of American intellectual life . . . It enlivens virtually everything it touches. . . " - Economist

"Hugely ambitious, unmistakably brilliant." - New York Times

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