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The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America (2001)

por Louis Menand

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2,730315,361 (4.13)49
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Hardly a club in the conventional sense, the organization referred to in the title of this superb literary hybrid??part history, part biography, part philosophy??consisted of four members and probably existed for less than nine months. Yet its impact upon American intellectual life remains incalculable. Louis Menand masterfully weaves pivotal late 19th-and early 20th-century events, colorful biographical anecdotes, and abstract ideas into a narrative whole that both entralls and enlightens.

The Metaphysical Club is a compellingly vital account of how the cluster of ideas that came to be called pragmatism was forged from the searing experiences of its progenitors' lives. Here are Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey, all of them giants of American thought made colloquially accessible both as human beings and as intellects… (mais)

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Mostrando 1-5 de 31 (seguinte | mostrar todos)
In this book, we learn a little of the lives of Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Henry, Charles Pierce, John Dewey. We learn about the lectures each gave in Universities, how they influenced each other’s philosophies, and that for about nine months in 1872, they met one Tuesday a month as the “Metaphysical Club”. Most seemed to be looking for a finite way to define the intangibles—such questions as "effects have a cause, but what’s the cause of cause?” Many of the philosophies put forward seemed a bit circular in this way and it’s not surprising that at least a couple of these gentleman reached periods of suicidal depression. The frustration of trying to pack the Universe and it’s workings into a tidy package can be overwhelming, but these gents gave it their all, and made abundant and massive contributions to our sense of self as individuals and as a country. (Nicely narrated by Henry Leyva) ( )
  TraSea | Apr 29, 2024 |
Ideas and America. They have kept this country afloat since its beginning. I fear their loss. ( )
  ben_r47 | Feb 22, 2024 |
I found this most interesting for the parts on Charles Sanders Peirce (rhymes with nurse), ground-breaking Harvard logician and mathematician, who along with William James developed a philosophy in which there are no absolutes, only beliefs and probabilities. But this theme was only scarcely touched upon; this book, rather than studying ideas, is on the whole clotted with social minutiae and name-droppings of the Cambridge-based intelligentsia of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. ( )
  Cr00 | Apr 1, 2023 |
This "Story of Ideas in America" deals with American intellectual history from the Civil War to WWI. In wanting to add his 'personal touch' (so it would appear) in linking the evolution of pragmatism with the Civil War, Menand bungles it from the outset - and as he proceeds his "story" gets lost, on the one side, by getting bogged down in too much detail, and on the other, in too many digressions and 'amusing' anecdotes. And the "ideas" referred to in the book’s title, likewise tend to get lost in Menand’s interpretation(s) of them.

While Menand devotes quite a lot of attention to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and John Dewey, there's little of real substance about Charles S. Pierce - curiously, Menand writes a lot more about his father - which I thought a rather nonchalant approach towards a philosophical genius. And then there's a sort of mildly amused treatment of William James (and, again, his father). - The reason I decided to read this book in the first place was mainly to get an overview of the lives of those four men and their times - a fair expectancy I would think, judging from the blurb. In that regard I at least got something out of it, that is: insofar as they are actually given any consistent attention at all. A small consolation indeed. Other than that, I felt more or less cheated. First of all, the title 'The Metaphysical Club' is actually quite misleading: you would expect the book to deal mainly with the people that came together in that informal philosophical discussion group in Cambridge, MA in 1872 (and later jestingly referred to by that name by C.S. Peirce) and their ideas. – Instead you get Menand’s idea of their ideas, with those four mentioned (along with Chauncey Wright and other members) more or less sidelined by constant introductions of minor characters in the thousands (and everyone must be named, preferably along with their father, who they studied with, and where, and whose sister or daughter or niece they married, etc. etc. – yes, I am exaggerating, but only slightly. At times I was actually wondering whether the author was being paid per word.) Menand takes his time with endless practical detail, a bit like a chatty old aunt who never seems to be able to get to the point... I only wish he would have applied at least some of that attention to detail when it comes to the pragmatist philosophy (or, more correctly: philosophies - Peirce even decided on calling his philosophy pragmaticism to separate it clearly from that of James) that’s supposedly the main topic of this book. It is a mystery to me that this book won a Pulitzer prize - or any prize whatsoever.

All right, so this is 'popular history', but nevertheless: when dealing with the history of ideas, it ought to be expected that the author would have at least a good grip on those ideas he is devoting an entire book to. That Menand starts out with the Civil War is one thing (and no problem with that per se), but when he then proceeds to tie that in with the development of pragmatism as a philosophy, this made me question his approach already in the early chapters of this book. Menand’s only 'link' to the Civil War is Holmes, and he didn’t even consider himself a pragmatist. Frankly, my trust that the author would be able to provide any pertinent information slowly evaporated after that. – I almost gave this book up towards the end, but I had by then decided to write a short review, so I stayed with it. Menand makes an interesting statement in his chapter titled 'Pluralisms': "Human beings produce culture in the same sense that they produce carbon dioxide: they cant help it, but the stuff has absolutely no value in itself. It’s just there." (p. 407) – I can’t say I agree, though I am inclined to agree when it comes to Menand himself, since it would clearly follow that he writes simply because he "can’t help it, but the stuff has absolutely no value in itself. It’s just there." With which I expect he would concur, unless he sees himself somehow exempt from his own definition. - On the back cover of my copy some reviewer is commenting favorably about the "clarity and energy of his [Menand’s] writing" – my impression is rather to the contrary, this book is unfocused and sprawling. You are hereby warned.

Admittedly, I should have done a bit more checking before buying this book (never judge a book by its cover, or title - or Pulitzers... right?) - I could have written more in depth about the different flaws of this book, but as it is, I am not inclined to waste any more time on it. And I don't need to: If you think I sound unduly negative or simply still need more convincing, I suggest you check out philosopher Thomas L. Short’s thorough and well-written review, where I found much to agree with, titled 'Sham Scholarship', (note that there are two reviews, the second is by Short), here: http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/articles.aspx?article=1127&theme=home&...




This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. ( )
1 vote saltr | Feb 15, 2023 |
The evolution of civil thought and politics between the Civil War and the Depression. Familiar and unfamiliar names from the American intellectual elite digest and rethink Darwin and other scientists and philosophers from the late 19th century. Menand effectively shows how these, mostly men, affect American thinking today and how the idea of individual freedom of expression protected by law did not really emerge until after WWI. ( )
  JBreedlove | Aug 26, 2021 |
Mostrando 1-5 de 31 (seguinte | mostrar todos)
Very few books can be legitimately described as important, but this is one such. Menand, a superb and subtle stylist, is an academic and a New Yorker writer, and here he shows his powers both as a scholar, and as a populariser in the best sense.
adicionada por paradoxosalpha | editarThe Irish Times, John Banville (sítio Web pago) (Jun 8, 2002)
 
Menand brings rare common sense and graceful, witty prose to his richly nuanced reading of American intellectual history -- a story that takes in (to name only a few of the other players) Emerson, Louis Agassiz, Chauncey Wright, the fathers of Holmes, James and Peirce, Charles W. Eliot, Jane Addams, Hetty Green, Franz Boas, Hegel, Kant, Wilhelm Wundt, W. E. B. Du Bois, the Second Great Awakening, probability theory, the nebular hypothesis, the Pullman strike, academic freedom and the ever-present issue of race.
adicionada por mikeg2 | editarNew York Times, Jean Strouse (Jun 10, 2001)
 
The 2002 Pulitzer Prize for history went to Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America. The book, highly praised in the press for its scholarship, is an amusingly written account of the philosophy named “pragmatism.” It is popular history, but that is what the Pulitzer Prize is for. So, what better recipient? The only problem is that Menand’s scholarship, even granted its nonspecialist aim, is an empty pretense. What is worse, the emptiness of its pretense is, in several ways, obvious. It appears, then, that educated, intelligent, and informed people, charged with responsibility for reviewing and judging books, can no longer tell the difference between scholarship and sham, or do not care to.
 
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History. Nonfiction. HTML:

Hardly a club in the conventional sense, the organization referred to in the title of this superb literary hybrid??part history, part biography, part philosophy??consisted of four members and probably existed for less than nine months. Yet its impact upon American intellectual life remains incalculable. Louis Menand masterfully weaves pivotal late 19th-and early 20th-century events, colorful biographical anecdotes, and abstract ideas into a narrative whole that both entralls and enlightens.

The Metaphysical Club is a compellingly vital account of how the cluster of ideas that came to be called pragmatism was forged from the searing experiences of its progenitors' lives. Here are Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey, all of them giants of American thought made colloquially accessible both as human beings and as intellects

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