Book report

Only a few more days of school, a few more days of Hyde Park. Amazing. In honor of my last few days of classes, here are some books I like that have little or nothing to do with school.

Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy
I took a class on the philosophical bases of different approaches to historiography last year, and this book was recommended as a general introduction to western philosophy. I found it very reader-friendly and understandable, though I previously knew little to nothing about philosophy. Its chapters center around selected individual philosophers, and begin with biographical sketches of each. For me this approach enlivened what might have been a series of rather dry expositions of philosophical systems: Durant seems to genuinely like all of these people, he celebrates the good and quirky aspects of their personalities and thinking, and seems saddened when they seem to go wrong either morally or intellectually.
Some of Durant’s choices of people to include were surprising to me. I was surprised that Voltaire and Bacon each got a chapter to themselves, since I have never thought of either of them as philosophers. On the other hand, Karl Marx is barely mentioned; and Marxist thought has had a tremendous influence on the social sciences (not to mention politically). The choices Durant made seem to reflect his own personality and socio-political place in the world, which was as interesting as anything else about the book.
Fernand Braudel, Memory and the Mediterranean
Braudel was one of the founders of the Annales school of historiography, which reacted against the predominant “great men” approach which focused on the doings of kings and other prominent individuals. Braudel wants to show us the broad sweep of history, how broad social trends and geological/environmental constraints shape the individual event. The book

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