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Arthur Herman has now written the definitive sequel to his New York Times bestseller, How the Scots Invented the Modern World, and extends the themes of the book—which sold half a million copies worldwide—back to the ancient Greeks and forward to the age of the Internet. The Cave and the Light is a magisterial account of how the two greatest thinkers of the ancient worl Arthur Herman has now written the definitive sequel to his New York Times bestseller, How the Scots Invented the Modern World, and extends the themes of the book—which sold half a million copies worldwide—back to the ancient Greeks and forward to the age of the Internet. The Cave and the Light is a magisterial account of how the two greatest thinkers of the ancient world, Plato and Aristotle, laid the foundations of Western culture—and how their rivalry shaped the essential features of our culture down to the present day.   Plato came from a wealthy, connected Athenian family and lived a comfortable upper-class lifestyle until he met an odd little man named Socrates, who showed him a new world of ideas and ideals. Socrates taught Plato that a man must use reason to attain wisdom, and that the life of a lover of wisdom, a philosopher, was the pinnacle of achievement. Plato dedicated himself to living that ideal and went on to create a school, his famed Academy, to teach others the path to enlightenment through contemplation.   However, the same Academy that spread Plato’s teachings also fostered his greatest rival. Born to a family of Greek physicians, Aristotle had learned early on the value of observation and hands-on experience. Rather than rely on pure contemplation, he insisted that the truest path to knowledge is through empirical discovery and exploration of the world around us. Aristotle, Plato’s most brilliant pupil, thus settled on a philosophy very different from his instructor’s and launched a rivalry with profound effects on Western culture.   The two men disagreed on the fundamental purpose of the philosophy. For Plato, the image of the cave summed up man’s destined path, emerging from the darkness of material existence to the light of a higher and more spiritual truth. Aristotle thought otherwise. Instead of rising above mundane reality, he insisted, the philosopher’s job is to explain how the real world works, and how we can find our place in it. Aristotle set up a school in Athens to rival Plato’s Academy: the Lyceum. The competition that ensued between the two schools, and between Plato and Aristotle, set the world on an intellectual adventure that lasted through the Middle Ages and Renaissance and that still continues today.   From Martin Luther (who named Aristotle the third great enemy of true religion, after the devil and the Pope) to Karl Marx (whose utopian views rival Plato’s), heroes and villains of history have been inspired and incensed by these two master philosophers—but never outside their influence.   Accessible, riveting, and eloquently written, The Cave and the Light provides a stunning new perspective on the Western world, certain to open eyes and stir debate. Praise for The Cave and the Light   “A sweeping intellectual history viewed through two ancient Greek lenses . . . breezy and enthusiastic but resting on a sturdy rock of research.”—Kirkus Reviews   “Examining mathematics, politics, theology, and architecture, the book demonstrates the continuing relevance of the ancient world.”—Publishers Weekly   “A fabulous way to understand over two millennia of history, all in one book.”—Library Journal   “Entertaining and often illuminating.”—The Wall Street Journal From the Hardcover edition.


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Arthur Herman has now written the definitive sequel to his New York Times bestseller, How the Scots Invented the Modern World, and extends the themes of the book—which sold half a million copies worldwide—back to the ancient Greeks and forward to the age of the Internet. The Cave and the Light is a magisterial account of how the two greatest thinkers of the ancient worl Arthur Herman has now written the definitive sequel to his New York Times bestseller, How the Scots Invented the Modern World, and extends the themes of the book—which sold half a million copies worldwide—back to the ancient Greeks and forward to the age of the Internet. The Cave and the Light is a magisterial account of how the two greatest thinkers of the ancient world, Plato and Aristotle, laid the foundations of Western culture—and how their rivalry shaped the essential features of our culture down to the present day.   Plato came from a wealthy, connected Athenian family and lived a comfortable upper-class lifestyle until he met an odd little man named Socrates, who showed him a new world of ideas and ideals. Socrates taught Plato that a man must use reason to attain wisdom, and that the life of a lover of wisdom, a philosopher, was the pinnacle of achievement. Plato dedicated himself to living that ideal and went on to create a school, his famed Academy, to teach others the path to enlightenment through contemplation.   However, the same Academy that spread Plato’s teachings also fostered his greatest rival. Born to a family of Greek physicians, Aristotle had learned early on the value of observation and hands-on experience. Rather than rely on pure contemplation, he insisted that the truest path to knowledge is through empirical discovery and exploration of the world around us. Aristotle, Plato’s most brilliant pupil, thus settled on a philosophy very different from his instructor’s and launched a rivalry with profound effects on Western culture.   The two men disagreed on the fundamental purpose of the philosophy. For Plato, the image of the cave summed up man’s destined path, emerging from the darkness of material existence to the light of a higher and more spiritual truth. Aristotle thought otherwise. Instead of rising above mundane reality, he insisted, the philosopher’s job is to explain how the real world works, and how we can find our place in it. Aristotle set up a school in Athens to rival Plato’s Academy: the Lyceum. The competition that ensued between the two schools, and between Plato and Aristotle, set the world on an intellectual adventure that lasted through the Middle Ages and Renaissance and that still continues today.   From Martin Luther (who named Aristotle the third great enemy of true religion, after the devil and the Pope) to Karl Marx (whose utopian views rival Plato’s), heroes and villains of history have been inspired and incensed by these two master philosophers—but never outside their influence.   Accessible, riveting, and eloquently written, The Cave and the Light provides a stunning new perspective on the Western world, certain to open eyes and stir debate. Praise for The Cave and the Light   “A sweeping intellectual history viewed through two ancient Greek lenses . . . breezy and enthusiastic but resting on a sturdy rock of research.”—Kirkus Reviews   “Examining mathematics, politics, theology, and architecture, the book demonstrates the continuing relevance of the ancient world.”—Publishers Weekly   “A fabulous way to understand over two millennia of history, all in one book.”—Library Journal   “Entertaining and often illuminating.”—The Wall Street Journal From the Hardcover edition.

30 review for The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kris

    I definitely am not the right audience for this book. I struggle with sweeping historical surveys at the best of times. I always want more context, more quotations from primary sources, more in-depth analysis than is realistic for a sweeping survey covering thousands of years of history in 700 pages. So you should take my reactions to this book with a grain of salt. There are many aspects of Herman's book that are laudable. He has extensive endnotes to show that he has done thorough research in I definitely am not the right audience for this book. I struggle with sweeping historical surveys at the best of times. I always want more context, more quotations from primary sources, more in-depth analysis than is realistic for a sweeping survey covering thousands of years of history in 700 pages. So you should take my reactions to this book with a grain of salt. There are many aspects of Herman's book that are laudable. He has extensive endnotes to show that he has done thorough research in the history of Western philosophy. I tend to balk at premises such as his -- the conflict between Plato's championing of the ideal and Aristotle's focus on experience formed the foundation for much of Western thought through the 20th century -- but it is true that both Greek philosophers' influences have loomed large. Herman is also writing for a general audience, not for an audience of academics, and there's a good chance that his style and approach will attract many general readers, and in turn may lead them to more in-depth forays into Western philosophy. In the end, though, in spite of these strengths, I was disappointed by this book. Herman does spend some time presenting limited historical context for the philosophers that he studies, but the context is quite limited and pales compared to the Plato versus Aristotle paradigm. This is likely my training as a social historian skewing my response, but I worry about reductive paradigms, and in the end the Plato versus Aristotle paradigm seems quite reductive to me unless it's balanced by an equal attention to how philosophers from past societies combined and transformed other influences as well. Again, Herman does this to some extent, but I would have liked to see much more of this. Herman also tapped into some of my pet peeves in writing. He tends to end each chapter with a strong pronouncement along the lines of "Soon would come Philosopher X to {make some sweeping transformation in Western thought}." I know this is a typical approach to writing surveys -- have a juicy hook at the end of each chapter to prepare for the next one -- but I prefer more understatement. Also, Herman regularly presents physical descriptions of philosophers who are always running through their towns or pacing through studies and then beginning to write. Again, I know this is supposed to provide color and interest for general readers, to make them feel like they are in the presence of the philosophers, but since the descriptions don't go beyond appearances, I don't think they add much. Readers who are quite familiar with Western philosophy are not the target audience for this book. They will likely be frustrated by the quick coverage of philosophers' writings and theories. I do think this is a book to which generalists and newcomers to philosophy will gravitate and enjoy. I hope that it leads them into more detailed studies in philosophy.

  2. 5 out of 5

    jordan

    After most revolutions tire of fighting their enemies, they begin executing their friends. Having led the “Terror,” Saint-Just stepped to the Guillotine. Trotsky’s final reward came in the form of an ice pick to the ear. The National Review stalks GOP party meetings in search of “Republicans In Name Only” (RHINOs) whom they can declare outside the “Big Tent” and target for defeat. American conservatism may claim many enemies on both sides of the isle, but in his new book, The Cave and the Light: After most revolutions tire of fighting their enemies, they begin executing their friends. Having led the “Terror,” Saint-Just stepped to the Guillotine. Trotsky’s final reward came in the form of an ice pick to the ear. The National Review stalks GOP party meetings in search of “Republicans In Name Only” (RHINOs) whom they can declare outside the “Big Tent” and target for defeat. American conservatism may claim many enemies on both sides of the isle, but in his new book, The Cave and the Light: Plato vs. Aristotle and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization, American Enterprise Institute scholar Arthur Herman argues that they have focused far too much on modern targets. Herman’s previous worked sought to rehabilitate Joseph McCarthy. Here he has bigger fish in mind. Now he sets his sights on ancient greatest thinkers. Using a blizzard of charges from the calumnious to the absurd, Herman struggles to explain why all that is dangerous in modern thought, from Communism to radical Islam, finds its roots in the work of Socrates’ chief student, Plato, even as all that is right (Capitalism, freedom, etc) springs from Plato’s chief student, Aristotle. In this simplistic dichotomy can also be found the central flaw of Herman’s thesis; few readers with much familiar in his portrait of either of these ancient thinkers, let alone his often specious summaries of the great philosophers who came after them. Refugees from Philosophy 101 will recognize the first portion of Herman’s argument: from the Agora forward one can trace most philosophical disputes back to Aristotle’s rejection of his teacher Plato. Yet for Herman this 2,400 year old disagreement is fundamentally Manichean: everything good, beautiful, and light arose from Aristotle, while all that is pernicious, destructive, and dark can be traced back to Plato. If that argument appears simplistic, it sounds no less so after 700-plus pages. In Herman’s construction, Aristotle is “the father of modern science [and] logic… [who] looks steadily forward,” while over on the dark side, “Plato…[spoke] for the theologian, the mystic…One gave us the US Constitution, the Manhattan Project and shopping malls. The other gave us Chartres Cathedral but also the gulag and the Holocaust.” Aristotle is nothing less than Jefferson’s intellectual grandfather. And Plato fans? “Pol Pot [and] the Ayatollah Khomeini…[a] huge admirer of Plato’s Republic.” Kohmeini’s favor must for Herman be particularly important, earning as it does more than one mention. And if this were not enough, he further poisons the pot by naming a variable rogues gallery as Plato fans: Robespierre, Marx, and – for good measure – Hitler. Thank goodness for us, Aristotle came along to rescue us from Plato’s clutches: Plato looks constantly backwards, to what we were, or what we’ve lost or to an original of which we are the pale imitation or copy…Aristotle, by contrast, looks steadily forward to what can we can be rather than what we were. His outlook is by its nature optimistic: “The universe and everything in it is developing towards something continually better than what came before,” including ourselves. It is truly a “philosophy of aspiration,” and for Aristotle the world we make for ourselves continually reflects it. In that sense, Aristotle is the first great advocate of progress – and Plato, creator of the vanished utopia Atlantis, the first great theorist of the idea of decline. Only the very cautious reader will note this passages red flags with regard to Herman’s method. The quotes used come not from Aristotle but from Bertrand Russell’s much criticized A History of Western Philosophy. Yet, as often as not Herman favors controversial secondary sources that fit his program and shows little patience for wrestling with complex original texts. On the page, Herman’s Aristotle is funhouse-mirrored into an unrecognizable Jeffersonian caricature. Consider for example his assertion that “Aristotle concludes that power belongs best with the people [my emphasis].” This claim would no doubt come as a surprise to many, not least of all Aristotle. For Aristotle no one political scheme was “best.” Instead he divided governing schemes into three categories: Monarchy (rule of the one), Aristocracy (rule of the few), and Polity (rule of the many). Each possess strengths and weaknesses. Aristotle then further divided these into the “virtuous” (which strive for the “common advantage) and the“deviant” (where those in power serve not the general interest but only their own). He lays this scheme out in Book III of The Politics: “Tyranny is a kind of monarchy which has in view the interest of the monarch only; oligarchy has in view the interest of the wealthy; democracy, of the needy: none of them the common good of all.” As for “Polity,” for Aristotle the rule of “the many” is hardly popular sovereignty as understood by any democrat, whether modern or back in ancient Athens. His “many” was not our many. Ancient Athenian democracy was far more democratic than any modern state that embraces that particular term. In Athens citizenship included every militarily trained Athenian male over age eighteen. Unlike our system of delegated political power, every Athenian citizen could count himself among the assembly and cast his own vote on any matter of legislation or policy. Athenians likewise distrusted delegation of judicial power and juries could consist of as many as 6,000 members. One such Athenian mass jury condemned Socrates to death for expressing thoughts with which the majority disagreed. No surprise then that Plato and Aristotle alike saw free wheeling Athenian democracy as dangerous. Yet Herman considers only Plato’s distrust for mass rule. Contrary to his argument, however, Aristotle likewise saw the masses as lacking the proper virtue to rule. As he clearly states in Book VII of The Politics, “The citizens must not lead the life of mechanics or tradesmen, for such a life is ignoble, and inimical to virtue. Neither must they be farmers, since leisure is necessary both for the development of virtue and the performance of political duties.” Thus Aristotle’s understanding of citizenship isa far cry from either that of Ancient Athens or our modern liberal image. Even mass citizenship, for Aristotle, means citizenship by a particular elite. Whether by ignorance or duplicity, Herman is all too willing to exploit such linguistic confusion around such terms to further his argument. Nor is this the end of Herman’s efforts to prettify Aristotle and demonize Plato. Intent on dragging these ancient thinkers into every modern dispute, Herman conflates Aristotle with capitalism (and, of course, Plato with communism). While Aristotle saw the ownership of private property as ennobling and Plato saw great inequality between classes as a pernicious source of social friction, it is anachronistic to associate either with modern capitalism. Modern capitalism depends on far more than mere ownership. Neither thinker would likely much understand our modern belief in a natural right of property ownership. Yet Herman will have none of such fine distinctions. Consider for example, his description of the multitudinous virtues of a middle class Eighteenth-century English merchant: “Far from creating a poltroon, the Eighteenth Century saw the world of commerce creating a man who might have stepped out of the pages of Aristotle’s Ethic. This was someone intellectually alert and morally centered, regardful of others by habit and therefore not inclined to extremes of behavior…Above all he is inclined to be tolerant of others [my emphasis], whether they are Christians or Muslims or Jews.” A reader must wonder whether our merchant’s Catholic neighbor– denied the right to own property until 1788 and enfranchised only in 1829 – would share Herman’s rosy assessment. Such simplified schemes, however, remains essential to Herman’s “history” of ideas: from Aristotle through Locke to the Framers flows all the “right” ideas, all realized – apparently– through the ennobling virtues of capitalism and private property. And private property is what inspires those dangerous shadows which lurk in our culture’s darker corners: Plato and his intellectual children. In Herman’s tracing of Plato’s “dangerous” thinking, he borrows liberally from Karl Popper. Herman, like Popper, sees Plato’s flaws arising from multiple points, though primarily the Philosopher’s anti-empiricism. For Plato, “truth” is deduced not through observation but through pure reason. The world exists not as a series of competing opinions, as in a democratic forum, but as an absolute, an absolute only recognizable if the world is properly understood. Of course, one can delete Plato’s “truth” and replace it with a system built around racial superiority or class conflict, which is how Herman, and Popper in The Open Society and its Enemies, lay everything from Auschwitz to the Gulag at Plato’s long-dead feet (not surprisingly, Herman never mentions that the second volume of Popper’s work traces other modern evils back to Aristotle). Not that Herman’s simplistic division of Plato and Aristotle is wholly baseless. On the contrary, readers will recognize his view of their central conflict, with Plato’s method of understanding reality through pure thought against Aristotle’s reliance on empirical observation. Here again, however, in demonizing the former and polishing the latter, Herman fails to properly understand the strengths and weaknesses of either man’s system. Certainly, one of Aristotle’s contributions to thought is the importance of systemic understanding gained through observation. Aristotle’s scheme, however, falls short in its dismissal of innovation. Just as understanding the point of biology is to allow one to maximize understanding and utilization — but not improve — of the animal’s structure, so Aristotle understood the city. By analyzing various constitutions one can pick and choose from among their features; for Aristotle, however, imagining that one can come up with something wholly new is pure fantasy. Yet Herman fails to understand the syncretic light thinkers have derived – and continue to derive – from mixing Plato and Aristotle’s contradictory world views. Consider the American Framers who Herman would place squarely in Aristotle’s column. Following Aristotle’s method they derived their understanding of government through empirical inquiry: the experiences of the 13 colonies and states, Great Britain’s Parliament, the failure of the Articles of Confederation, republics both extant and ancient. The Framers’ aspirational understanding of rights, however, was pure Platonic universalism: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Likewise, when Martin Luther King Jr. offered his dream of universal justice, he was drawing from a Platonic understanding of an ideal for which humanity must eternally strive. This division between the empirical and the reasoned likewise occurs when readers engage in the age-old argument of which of these thinkers is closer to the “modern” view. At first glance, Herman seems correct that it is Aristotle. A closer examination, however, breeds doubt. Where Aristotle defends women’s subordination as nature’s dictate, The Republic implicitly recognizes the potential for gender equality. In a passage subject to much academic debate, Plato’s Socrates reasons that women of each class should engage in the same mental and physical training as men. The same problem can be seen in Aristotle’s praise for the virtues of slavery (an often cited antebellum justification for that ‘peculiar institution’) juxtaposed with Plato’s belief in the universal quality of human reason. Perhaps the strongest example of the potential found in mixing these intellectual rivals comes from one of the thinkers Herman most despises, Jean Jacques Rousseau. For Herman, Rousseau is nothing less than Plato’s most dangerous disciple. Rousseau is the man responsible for the Terror of the French Revolution, anarchism, Communism, Nazism and just about every other ill – impressive work for the son of a Genevan watch maker. Focusing on Rousseau’s most famous book, The Social Contract, Herman argues that Rousseau follows closely in Plato’s footsteps. “This was Plato in the raw, the unflinching moral absolutist who denounced the corruption of his native Athens and admired the austere warriors of Sparta. It was the would-be Philosopher Ruler who wanted to banish the arts and private property…” Now it is worth pausing here to note that, far from imagining himself as a “would-be Philosopher Ruler,” Plato seems to have shown no appetite for engaging in politics beyond his academy, his only foray coming when as an old man he served as adviser to the king of Syracuse and his son’s tutor. Moreover, even a cursory read demonstrates that Rousseau argued for a state not ruled by a king on high, but of free citizens engaged in self rule. Nor did Rousseau’s method rely on Plato’s pure reason. From the beginning of The Social Contract Rousseau draws on empirical evidence to support his understanding of the “state of nature” even as his ideal society borrows liberally from his native city-state of Geneva. Even the work’s most famous line demonstrates the power found in utilizing both Aristotle and Plato: “…taking men as they are and laws as they may be…,” an extraordinary mix of empirical examination and aspirational reason! Unfortunately Herman chooses not to engage Rousseau’s actual thesis, but instead settles for his usual salvos of character assassination, shoddy analysis, and outright misrepresentation (as when he falsely claims that Rousseau’s ideal state will abolish private property), all as part of his broader assault on Plato. Herman’s use of Rousseau to attack Plato (and vice-versa) demonstrates the core of his book’s shortcomings:he condemns thinkers he doesn’t like by attacking them for not being modern, even as he beatifies those of whom he approves by drowning them in a sea of anachronistic modern thought . Instead of trying to understand Plato and Aristotle in their own ancient context he seeks to drag them into our peculiar modern left-right political dichotomy, the former always in his scheme on the wrong side even as the latter is in every sense on the right. Consider for example his argument that sets Plato up as the grandfather of the modern welfare state: “Hegel is the true godfather of the nanny state, or welfare state – with Plato standing beside him at the baptismal font. Unemployment insurance, health and safety regulation, minimum wage laws and aide to dependent children, the income tax and federal deposit insurance: all these become justified as the State acting to protect us from ourselves, because the State is our Better and Higher Self.” Of course, one might look to the actual origins of the welfare state in Bismarck’s realpolitik efforts to counter his social democrat opponents or, as described in President Lincoln’s more generous practical thesis, that “The legitimate object of government is, to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves – in their separate and individual capacities.” In such a formulation, the welfare state is no Leviathan, but instead the reflection of the members of a community acting collectively in purist of what they see as their individual self interest. Herman, however, colorblind in his worldview, only perceives the world through the lens of a black and white conflict. In this duelist construction every thinker must be understood in the context of our current argument, their particular context merely incidental. Yet dismissing ancient thinkers for their failure to share our world view or understanding them exclusively as progenitors of our ephemeral disputes leaves the modern reader intellectually bereft, albeit feeling smugly superior. It tautologically condemns ancient thinkers for the sin of being ancient. One does not further his or her understanding by projecting our modern and post-modern ideas backwards onto thinkers for whom they would be somewhere between inconceivable and absurd. Instead of bending philosophers’ works to suit our particular tastes by dragging them into our now, we do better extending our imagination in an effort to appreciate them in their own context. Yes, this demands a challenging feat of imagination. At the same time, It forces us to wrestle with the thinkers of the past instead of burying them. ***Review first published in Open Letters Monthly (openlettersmonthly.com)****

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rick Davis

    There are two sorts of scholars in the world. There are the scholars who write books with conclusions like, “And so we see that these four potsherds found in section G27 of the dig are probably better placed in the LH III period rather than the LH II Period.” And then there are the scholars who write books with conclusions like, “And so we see that all of history is driven by three factors that explain absolutely everything that has ever happened in the world.” Now the former sort of book is usua There are two sorts of scholars in the world. There are the scholars who write books with conclusions like, “And so we see that these four potsherds found in section G27 of the dig are probably better placed in the LH III period rather than the LH II Period.” And then there are the scholars who write books with conclusions like, “And so we see that all of history is driven by three factors that explain absolutely everything that has ever happened in the world.” Now the former sort of book is usually boring to read, but far more accurate because the author has a much more modest goal in mind. The latter sort of book is usually popular and accessible, but because the author is starting with a broad and sweeping assumption, individual facts may get lost in the attempt to make everything fit the big picture. The Cave and the Light by Arthur Herman is the second sort of book. The main thesis of The Cave and the Light is that all of Western history has been shaped by the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, and that we still have a lot to learn from these two philosophers today. I agree wholeheartedly with this proposition. The problem is that Herman overreaches himself many times in the book in an attempt to show that each generation literally comes back to Plato and Aristotle and that these two are the most influential men in all of Western history. I’m not so sure of that. I’ll start with the book’s strengths and move on to its weaknesses. To begin with, this book was loads of fun to read. I enjoyed every minute of the romp through cultural and philosophical history, and was sad every time I had to put it down. Herman is a gifted writer with the ability to draw readers’ attention even to seemingly mundane philosophical issues. He has also read and studied broadly as is evidenced by the massive, and massively helpful, bibliography at the end of the book. Those who know me well know that I’ll keep even a disappointing book on my shelf if it has a good bibliography. Finally, Herman is a great debate partner. Even though there were many times I disagreed with him, I didn’t feel put off. Rather I felt engaged to try to formulate what about his argument I disliked and what I would have said differently. The margins of my copy are full of blue ink now. Unlike some writers who come across as pompous and overbearing, Herman’s prose feels open for conversation. All that said, I don’t know that I would recommend this book to just anyone. Herman is so intent on casting every philosopher in human history as either a Platonist or an Aristotelian that several actual facts get bulldozed along the way. To pull out just one example, he wants to show that Thomas Aquinas was “aware of a larger world around him, and he was fascinated by it. By joining the Dominicans, he would see how the other half lived, people from a variety of lands and speaking a variety of languages...” He then quotes Thomas Aquinas and comments, “…Aquinas wrote, ‘All I have written seems to me so much straw compared to all I have seen and what has been revealed to me’ Aristotle became his compass for figuring out how to understand that larger world.” I was dumbfounded when I read this. Most people who are familiar with Aquinas will immediately recognize this quotation. When Thomas writes, “all I have seen and what has been revealed to me,” he is referring not to the physical world around him but to a mystical vision he had received that caused him to evaluate all of his Aristotelian efforts as mere straw in comparison. So Herman takes an Aquinas quotation of a, what Herman would call, “Platonic” nature and uses it to support the “Aristotelian” nature of Aquinas. Likewise, he gets a lot of things wrong about the Crusades and the Middle Ages in general. Herman equally misunderstands the medieval Catholic doctrine of salvation (saying that every man owes a debt and that that debt is paid down by baptism and penances until the person gets to go to heaven) and Luther’s doctrine of the bondage of the will (saying, in essence, that Luther denies the existence of free will on a metaphysical level and casting Luther as something like a fatalist. For the record Luther was not arguing about the idea of free will, but rather the more concrete question of whether the will of a sinful man can be free, being in bondage to sin.). Moving toward the modern world and away from the world of classical education in which one would expect Aristotle and Plato to have a big influence, he becomes even more grasping, and sometimes it feels as if he has to do mental gymnastics in order to show every conflict in modern history as a reiteration of the debate between “Aristotelianism” and “Platonism”. In the end, the book fails to be wholly compelling. The ground on which it is based, a sharp dualistic divide between Plato and Aristotle, is tenuous. Yes, Plato and Aristotle used different methods to pursue their philosophical ends. However, they also agreed on many points and Aristotle did not wholly rebel against his teacher to the extent that Herman seems to think he must have. The heart of Christianity is not simply a refurbished Neo-Platonism, all science and progress in the world cannot be attributed to Aristotle. There is no way to say, as Herman does, that Booker T. Washington was “Aristotelian” in nature and “Martin Luther King, Jr.” was Platonist. Or for that matter that Martin Luther was somehow “Platonist” and that Erasmus was somehow “Aristotelian”. This book was fun to read, contained many gems for those willing to look for them, and offered an enjoyable opportunity for me to flesh out my own thinking on many issues. However, the broad brush with which Herman paints and the overly generalized pictures of historical conflicts prevent this from being a book I would read again soon or regularly refer to.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Murtaza

    This is a beautifully written grand history showing the influence of the ancient Greeks - in particular the triumvirate of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle - on Western political thought from antiquity until the present day. It would be difficult to do justice to the entire book in any abbreviated summary, but the crux of Herman's argument is that the tension between Plato's metaphysical worldview and Aristotle's empirical one has formed the basis for all subsequent political and ideological debate This is a beautifully written grand history showing the influence of the ancient Greeks - in particular the triumvirate of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle - on Western political thought from antiquity until the present day. It would be difficult to do justice to the entire book in any abbreviated summary, but the crux of Herman's argument is that the tension between Plato's metaphysical worldview and Aristotle's empirical one has formed the basis for all subsequent political and ideological debate since their time. The tension between these two thinkers and the worldviews that they articulated has helped foster a unique level of creativity within the Western tradition, which is constantly in a state of internal conflict, debate and adjustment. For me personally it was was interesting to see the parallels between Plato and Neoplatonic thinkers (like Plotinus and the Romantic philosophers) and Sufi thought, which was evidently deeply influenced by Plato, his teacher Socrates, and many other Western thinkers in their lineage. Since this book is endeavoring to provide an account of Western ideological progression from antiquity until the present day, it understandably packs a lot of information into roughly 600 pages. Somehow, it mostly succeeds at doing this. Although some of the later thinkers are a bit compressed, the accounts of the earlier Greek and medieval Christian figures are very compelling and well-developed. But in my opinion the most memorable stories that Herman recounts are those of the ancients, including the famous triumvirate, but also such figures like Archimedes and Plotinus, thinkers we seldom hear about but who had an outsized influence on the creation of both modern science and religious spirituality. Studying the major figures of ancient Athens is also a potent reminder of how intermixed the world's different ideological traditions are, almost all of them having either a close parallel or direct origin within the intellectual ferment of that time and place. Herman's writing is very refined and he manages to pursue this subject over a very long narrative without even once getting bogged down. In recent years I've really come to wish that I had had a classical education, and while this book is merely an overview and no substitute, it did fill in some gaps of my knowledge, for which I am grateful. I was really moved by the erudition and breadth of knowledge displayed, not to mention the elegant prose. Although the writer is clearly deeply conservative and I disagree with some of his conclusions, its impossible to read this book without coming away with deep respect for both him and the Western tradition to which this book is a tribute. Highly recommended.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sean O'Hara

    This is pop-history at its worst -- a broad, sweeping thesis that simplifies everything too much while relying on historical myths any time the author wanders into areas where he has no expertise -- which, in a book covering 2500 years, is just about everything. To hear Herman tell it, all of Western philosophical tradition stems from the disagreement between Plato's airy-fairy idealism and Aristotle's hard-nosed realism. In two and a half millennia, subsequent philosophers haven't brought anyth This is pop-history at its worst -- a broad, sweeping thesis that simplifies everything too much while relying on historical myths any time the author wanders into areas where he has no expertise -- which, in a book covering 2500 years, is just about everything. To hear Herman tell it, all of Western philosophical tradition stems from the disagreement between Plato's airy-fairy idealism and Aristotle's hard-nosed realism. In two and a half millennia, subsequent philosophers haven't brought anything new to the table. Anything that may seem like a new idea can be chalked up as an expansion on things Plato or Aristotle said. You may think David Hume had some original thoughts, but, no, Herman says Hume's ultra-rationalism is nothing but an outgrowth of Aristotle. Even scientists, apparently, are either Platonists or Aristotelians. Not just early natural philosophers who didn't really distinguish inquiry into the natural order from philosophy, but even experimental physicists like Ernst Mach and Max Planck were taking sides in the ancient debate. And here I thought they were investigating the objective laws of the universe. And then there's the actual history Herman musters to support his views. Well, much of it isn't "actual". Much of it he seems to have taken from a McGraw-Hill World History text book. We get everything from claims that the Romans fed Christians to lions on a regular basis, to some rah-rah jingoism about how the US won WWII, and sure the Soviets helped but they didn't do anything important. James Burke's The Day the Universe Changed may be more than a quarter century old now, but it does a much more coherent job of being a grand unifying theory of Western thought than this mish-mash could ever hope to be.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Porzenheim

    Without Aristotle, there would have been no Archimedes and no Steve Jobs. There probably wouldn’t have been a Hiroshima, but neither would there have been gene splicing or laser surgery. We can complain about where technology has taken us. However, we can’t ignore how we got started on the journey: a few brief lines in a book on ethics written more than twenty-three centuries ago. I don’t know about you, but I’m fairly certain that without Aristotle that someone like Archimedes and someone like Without Aristotle, there would have been no Archimedes and no Steve Jobs. There probably wouldn’t have been a Hiroshima, but neither would there have been gene splicing or laser surgery. We can complain about where technology has taken us. However, we can’t ignore how we got started on the journey: a few brief lines in a book on ethics written more than twenty-three centuries ago. I don’t know about you, but I’m fairly certain that without Aristotle that someone like Archimedes and someone like Steve Jobs, if not those exact people, would have eventually come along and created their inventions. Just like I’m certain that if Herman hadn’t written this book, someone else would have written a similarly misleading one I would also urge you to skip. Herman’s, The Cave and The Light: Plato Versus Aristotle and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization, is not for anyone who knows already knows anything about Plato or Aristotle, and while it’s at least easy and enjoyable enough to read, it’s not a good book for a general reader because it’s just going to mislead them. Still, it must be said, Herman, does do a good job explaining the basic doctrines of Plato and Aristotle, but that’s it. He completely misrepresents every other Greco-Roman philosopher he presents. I tried to make it past the first 100 pages, hoping that eventually Herman would get his act together in a different historical period of philosophy, but things just got worse and worse. For example, do you think we can explain “perennial dynamism of the West” by drawing a direct line to Plato and Aristotle? I don’t even think the West has a ‘perennial dynamism’ to begin with, but who cares about details like that, because Herman does and will tell you exactly who we can thank for it: The English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge once said every person is born either a Platonist or Aristotelian. In fact, Platonists, and Aristotelians are not born but made. We are all part of Raphael’s School of Athens. In the end, however it is the enduring tension between those two different worldviews that distinguishes Western civilization from its’ predecessors and counterparts. It explains both the West’s perennial dynamism as a culture, and what at times it presents such a confusing dual face to the rest of the world. The West has been compassionate, visionary, and creative during certain periods of history, yet dynamic, hard headed, and imperialistic in others -even at the same time. It’s technologies have saved millions and killed hundreds of thousands of others at a single press of a button. It’s theologies have inspired some of the greatest works in human history, and also burned helpless victims at the stake. Its ideologies hae created the freest and most dynamic societies in the world, and also the most brutal tyrannies in the history of man. Why? Much, if not all, the answer lies in the perpetual struggle between Plato and Aristotle. I think that anyone, like Herman, who is intelligent enough to enjoyably explain Plato and Aristotle to a mass audience should know better than to suggest to that same mass audience these two men are as influential as, well quite frankly, Gods. But irresponsible or not, Herman does just this again and again, distorting other philosophers along the way, which is precisely why you should skip this book, whether you are a newcomer or expert in Western philosophy.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    This history attempts to hearken back to the more creditable days when conservative spokespeople still chose analysis and reasoning over polemics, but after the first two sections on Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, it falls back into the tone of what the good Professor Barzun once bemoaned as “a glib popularizer.” No, this is not your grandfather’s intellectual history. This is intellectual history as a quick-read graphic novel, as a shaky hand-held camera shot pseudo-documentary pumped up with m This history attempts to hearken back to the more creditable days when conservative spokespeople still chose analysis and reasoning over polemics, but after the first two sections on Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, it falls back into the tone of what the good Professor Barzun once bemoaned as “a glib popularizer.” No, this is not your grandfather’s intellectual history. This is intellectual history as a quick-read graphic novel, as a shaky hand-held camera shot pseudo-documentary pumped up with manic mood music—the unmistakable product of the very pop culture that the author strives to condemn in his jokey asides and footnotes. First the good points. This book shows much evidence of heavy reading and hard thinking. It is an accomplishment in research and a rollicking fun read to boot. Herman writes with an enticing mix of historical fun facts, hectoring contempt for some (i.e., along with the usual suspects of Rousseau, Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche, he throws in the rhetorician Abelard, and those degenerate English poets Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron and Shelly), quick sketches of imagined historical scenes, and condescension toward his readers (e.g., defining exegesis, claiming no one knows or studies various historic personalities he has so insightfully rescued from obscurity, his observation that few people understand a famous quote like he does, and footnotes in which he merely cites his previous work). So do not despair nor be intimidated by the weighty subject matter, dear readers, because this is not careful, old-school, plodding intellectual history, it is super history, whizzing through 2,500 years of Western thought like a Disneyworld ride in the space of roughly 550 (not including endnotes and biblio) low quality paper pages and stopping by fewer than one hundred thinkers (with fewer than 30 in any substantive detail). Herman covers this mass of history and biography in a series of dramatic episodes with an aplomb that Malcolm Gladwell should envy, but which would certainly embarrass a real historian. After setting the stage for various historical figures to have their single defining inspiration, Herman, instead of putting words in their mouths à la most pop histories, simply puts thoughts in their heads (e.g., “Justinian’s spirit was shattered when he realized that Greco-Roman culture was no longer going anywhere without Christianity.”) In addition to his alternately contemptuous and condescending tone, Herman’s prose frequently devolves into contemporary jargon and joking. Kirkus Reviews calls his style breezy. I certainly agree it has something in common with the movement of air. His moral equivalencies, like his writing, tend to be quick and lacking in nuance. He pairs Dr. Kevorkian, who assisted those with terminal conditions to a painless death, with Dr. Josef Mengele, the evil Nazi doctor who treated death camp prisoners like lab rats. He asserts that stealing from the rich to give to the poor is always wrong (tant pis Friar Tuck!), but killing others, under certain circumstances, is justifiable. The message is inherent. Herman has no time for analysis or understanding; he is constructing a new paradigm. If a personage’s views or the historical facts do not quite fit into his preconception, he makes them fit. (Charles Dickens and Oliver Stone are cut from the same French enlightenment cloth! Modern Japanese history fits his theory too!) He is the Samuel George Morton of our age, measuring those skulls and drawing his forgone conclusions. It is a dramatic tale, one with surprising twists and turns, but the denouement is already baked in. He holds the atheism of the contemporary British scientists and Nietzsche as execrable, but he passes over the weak theism of Mill and Hume and the rabid anti-Christianity of his last ‘philosopher’, Ayn Rand, with nary a bon mot. There is no doubt or uncertainty here. If you want that, go down to the mall, he says, watch your lousy television, he says. He rails against the Federal Reserve Board as “the centerpiece of the Hegelianization of the American economy.” He knows what is right and good, but, apparently, in the end, she is a Russian émigrée who hates the idea of both God and Plato, but loves the idea of money. An underlying paean to free trade, private property and individual rights is the mortar that holds the disparate bricks of this pop history together. Along the way Herman takes pot shots at progressivism, environmentalism, and “mainstream media” among others, while remaining oddly silent on any causal connection between America’s endless romance with commercialism and celebration of individualism and the long perceived decline in social morals, which others, e.g., Daniel Bell, have, albeit unsuccessfully, tried to address head on (see the ponderous “Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism”). Here is Herman’s take: “It is the balance between living in the material world and adhering to the spiritual that sustains any society’s cultural health.… The problem has been that the West’s material drive and dynamism—the product of the same creative tension described in this book—has tended to reach out and pull down those older, more stable edifices, the traditional guarantees for social and psychological survival.” This statement, which appears at the end of the book, indicates that Herman understands the issue, although for him, the more pressing contemporary problems appear to be simply atheism (although he oddly gives Ayn Rand a pass) and consumer culture (also odd because consumer culture is the inevitable result of the very forces of commerce and private property he continuously celebrates). So his book merely serves to emphasize, rather than understand, the contradiction that Daniel Bell, Allan Bloom and others have struggled with in the past, and that Reinhold Niebuhr, in “The Nature and Destiny of Man,” covering the same intellectual ground as Herman, managed to explicate so well. Herman’s concern is clear enough: he fears the ideas that represent the other side, an insistence that there should be more to our polity and politics than mere libertarianism, that a just society is one where the good of the whole, and not just the rights of the individual, should be given due consideration. Although he posits (or at least hints) that adherence to some Judeo-Christian religion should be enough, empirically, this is not borne out by the facts. (See, for example, the materialist tendencies of popular Christianity, described in Ross Douthat’s “Bad Religion” or Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Bright-Sided”, or just contemplate from time to time why it is that contemporary American Christianity seems to be so little match for commercialism, and, in fact, seems to be rife with commercial opportunists.) Indeed it is precisely Herman’s line of reasoning about the wonderful power of property and unbridled self-love that leads to financial advisors standing in the pulpit of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral telling us that “the injunction of Jesus to love others as ourselves is a recognition of self-interest” and the CEO of Goldman Sachs saying that he is just “doing God’s work.” In contemporary Anglo-America, the pursuit of wealth has become akin to a moral system. Herman’s history gives aid and comfort to this line of thinking. But would Dostoevsky (who Herman trots on stage in response to Nietzsche) agree with Herman’s brief and embrace him, or is he spinning in his grave? Instead, readers should ask themselves, did we really need at this time yet another book extolling the virtues of free market capitalism? Now, when a tiny group of mortals controls half the economy’s wealth? When the gap between the rich and everyone else widens by the month not only in America but now all over the world? The last time such economic disconnections occurred on this scale, three countries were not able to avoid falling into the thrall of fascism and world war ensued. With a growing trend in Europe, Asia and possibly America towards xenophobia and nationalism, is it not high time to start devoting more attention to thinking about the good of the whole, rather than celebrating individual rights and private property yet again? While praising the good of drawing conclusions from observations, Herman seems to be blissfully unaware of any problem with the global economy. Is he not aware of the ever increasing wealth distribution gap worldwide, information that has been available for some time albeit probably not in the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. Is he not aware of the well confirmed function from economics known as the “multiplier effect” whereby a dollar in the hands of a low income person gives the economy many times the uplift of the same dollar in the hands of someone who already has many? Perhaps in his next book, he will practice what he preaches, spend less time walking in the woods with his Labrador, and instead go gather some actual current world data.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Robert Owen

    Okay, so I admit it…..while I knew that Plato and Aristotle were both ancient Greek philosophers who, according to people who evidently know such things, were significant to Western thought, I had no earthly idea why. After having read “The Cave and the Light” I now do…..and boy, do I feel like a dolt for having waited so long to find out. Why didn’t someone teach me this crap when I was in school? What makes Arthur Herman’s book so good is that after devoting the first few chapters to Plato and Okay, so I admit it…..while I knew that Plato and Aristotle were both ancient Greek philosophers who, according to people who evidently know such things, were significant to Western thought, I had no earthly idea why. After having read “The Cave and the Light” I now do…..and boy, do I feel like a dolt for having waited so long to find out. Why didn’t someone teach me this crap when I was in school? What makes Arthur Herman’s book so good is that after devoting the first few chapters to Plato and Aristotle themselves, he then uses their competing (and often, not so competing) ideas as plumb-lines against which to explore the history of philosophy from the times of the ancient Greeks to today. As it turns out, I had actually read the works of several of the philosophers that Herman references in his survey; yet in having, at the time, been ignorant of Plato, Aristotle and their ideas, I was missing an important piece of context that animates much of what I had read and though I’d understood. “The Cave and the Light” did not equip me with a thoroughgoing and nuanced understanding of Platonist and Aristotelian thought, but it neither needed to nor did it try. Herman instead provides sufficient highlights of each philosopher’s perspectives and insights as to make the reader generally aware of the major conceptual differences between them. With these differences established, he then sets forth to explain the impact that the one or the other of them had on subsequent western thinkers throughout history, and how the tensions between the two served to shape the western world – action and reaction, thought and rebuttal, revolution and counter-revolution manifesting at different times and at different places on a massive human scale. This was an excellent, highly readable book and one that I thoroughly recommend.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Bertrand

    At first I thought the book was a very good introduction. The premise, I think, are interesting but accessible: a retelling of two and a half millennia of ideas through the lens of Aristotle's foundational reaction to Plato's doctrine. Of course, as many other reviewers noted, this a very narrow—procrustean, in fact—lens, one that necessarily starts by obscuring the many continuities between the two philosophers, and then proceeds to reduce a long string of philosophers (from Augustine to Ayn Ra At first I thought the book was a very good introduction. The premise, I think, are interesting but accessible: a retelling of two and a half millennia of ideas through the lens of Aristotle's foundational reaction to Plato's doctrine. Of course, as many other reviewers noted, this a very narrow—procrustean, in fact—lens, one that necessarily starts by obscuring the many continuities between the two philosophers, and then proceeds to reduce a long string of philosophers (from Augustine to Ayn Rand) to the 'platonic' or 'artistotelian' category. As a result, both the innovations of later philosophers, and the synthetic character of their doctrines, are downplayed, presenting the history of thought as a matter of 'tradition(s)' rather than 'invention'. Herman, in other words, is not frightened of 'grand narratives'—and that seems for me the strength of his book: as an introduction, or a work of popular history, it is necessary to adopt some kind of narrative, and leave it to the perspicacious reader to search for its biases once she finished the book. And as grand narratives go, the near-gnostic confrontation between the two titanic forces of Plato and Aristotle throughout history is a compelling one! Many a time in the first half of the book, I caught myself thinking this would translate wonderfully well in a high-fantasy TV series à la Game of Thrones, with the secret war between the Academy and the Lyceum reverberating throughout history. Herman writes well, weaving anecdotes, explanations and facts in a compelling comic-book chronicle, which, if it often favours the picturesque over depth of analysis, still manage to provide a coherent and absorbing account. Up until the XVIIIth c., Herman seems—as he should—to avoid taking side: Whereas the Platonic tradition (Plato, Plotinus, Augustine, Ficino, Galileo...) accounts, with its idealist thymos, for justice and heroism, the Aristotelian one (Aristotle, Cicero, Aquinas, Ockham, Locke...) accounts for realism and 'moderation'. Platonists provide the ends, Aristotelians examine the means. Simplistic and worn out as it is, as a grid to read the history of ideas, I find it not irrelevant. 'Moderation', of course, is the well-offs' perpetual argument for preserving the status-quo : one for which I am yet to read a defense both coherent and honest. To our modern mind, the 'middle of the road' seems transparently circumstantial: both the Nazi and the Fascist movements had a 'leftwing' and a 'rightwing', and I doubt not some among them claimed to advocate 'moderation' (post-Lateran Mussolini certainly did). The conservative (Aristotelian, in Herman's scheme) thinker must thus posit some (arbitrary) ahistorical and universal spectrum, on which to base their advocacy of restraint: that's the role of 'human nature', which in narrative of 'The Cave and the Light' is kindly provided by the Enlightenment. Herman, who elsewhere described 'How the Scots Invented the Modern World', brushes aside the impact of slavery, and then paints a rosy picture, first of Locke and Voltaire, then of Hutcheson, Kames and of course Adam Smith, who stand as the heroic Aristotelian discoverers of eternal Human Nature, constituted mostly of an acquisitive propensity and a divine right to property. From here onward, it's all downhill for Herman's book. Now that the Scottish liberal Enlightenment has brought the Aristotelian tradition to its historical telos (XIXth century British capitalism, supposedly), the platonic gadfly has lost its right to be, and one after the other of its representative is dismissed as insane, opportunistic, dishonest, totalitarian or puerile. Thus Rousseau, in many ways, is for Herman the root of all evil. Having radicalised and secularised a harmless platonism (harmless as long as it stuck to religion and its realm of ideas), he is found to be an advocate of 'Strength through Joy' and 'Arbeit macht Frei' both (p. 395 – 'Arbeit macht Frei', if anything, sounds more like Locke actually!), motivated mostly by resentment at his lower middle-class station and bohemian artistic failures. While other deluded intellectuals, inspired by him, turn into terrorists, the 'ordinary people' (397 – Herman unfortunately provide us with no reference) turn on him – here, embodying not the ochlocratic threat Aristotle warned about, but rather the indignant voice of reason. Now as long as the author keeps his wits about and provide a balanced account, I have no grudge against carlylian history: for history to become a story, it must be couched in the idiom of the day, which in our age dominated by popular culture, is still one of heroes and villains, of great deeds and unexpected plot twists. 'The Avengers' might not be such a bad model to tell the story of 'The Academy'. But as Herman turns from narration to pamphlet, he falls immediately into the worse kind of ad-hominem argument, revealing first of all that he (predictably) stands steadfastly on the aristotelian side of divide he constructed, and secondly that this very 'aristotelian tradition' is not only his own, but that of a particular, dishonest and opportunistic brand of conservatism, running from the classicist reaction of the Action Française (Maurras & co.) through British-American modernism (T.S. Eliot) down to our own days. The comic-book turns into a theodicy. Maurras and his acolytes, caught in the fin-de-siècle revival of romanticism, proceeded to rewrite the intellectual history of the West as a manichean struggle between their own classicism (homogeneous, rational, realist, orthodox Catholic, royalist, traditional...) and their enemies' romanticism (eccentric, emotional, escapist, mystical, protestant, liberal, modern...). Romanticism, as is still often rightly noted, is a difficult concept to outline, because it seems premised on the twin concepts of the coincidence of the opposites, and the excluded middle. This seems to me, in good part at least, due to its being a reaction against just 'moderate' Enlightenment celebrated by Herman. By that point, it is pretty clear that Herman's relatively sympathetic account of platonism was an elaborate lubricant to introduce his manichean reading of the XIXth and XXth centuries: one that owes maybe more to Irving Babbitt than to Maurras himself (the first perceptively dismissed the second as 'romantically anti-romantic', but otherwise shared much of his black-and-white historical analysis), but which eschews the relatively neutral binary of platonic thymos and aristotelian moderation, in favour of a charge against blind romantic hubris in the name of a high-minded, magically self-regulating free-market. Herman, who seems so concerned with totalitarianism, should have recognised that it is precisely the kind of manichean worldviews which he cunningly constructs (even when the good is 'moderation,' and evil is 'excess') that are instrumental to mass-mobilisations, rather than romantic platonisms... but as reveals the plasticity of his 'ordinary people' (threatening mob when he disagrees with them, righteous voice of the nation when he doesn't), that never was the point. To add insult to injury, Herman's scholarship, and his bibliography in particular, which was never brilliant (not something I'd normally hold against a work of popular history) sinks ever closer to rock-bottom, as we progress toward the XXth century: the worse is probably chapter 27, 'Triumph of the Will: Nietzsche and the Death of Reason.' After a piss-poor caricature of Nietzsche, we move on to Bergson first, of whom Herman demonstrates swiftly how little he understands, and then Sorel, whom I had to conclude he has not even read. The only secondary source he mentions (Hughes' 'Consciousness and Society', dated but accurate and balanced) he either misunderstood or skimmed through. The whole chapter is littered with factual errors and disingenuous short-cuts. I write down a few of the more blaring ones: - Herman claims that Lenin's 'Materialism and Empirio-Criticism' (1909) was an attack on Logical Positivism (the Vienna Circle started in the mid-20s) when in truth it's an attack on Bogdanov, whose 'godbuilding' would have sounded too 'platonic' to fit in Herman's scheme. - After completely misunderstanding Sorel's doctrine, claiming that his idea of myth has to do with propaganda, he tells us Sorel dreamed of a world of 'avant-garde books, films and paintings' (509) despite the fact that Sorel remained a dedicated classicist throughout his life. - Last but not least, Herman make a list of modernists who sympathised with nazism, probably in a clumsy attempt at enlisting the ignorance of his provincial audience in the good fight: some in the mix, like the Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin or the jurist Carl Schmitt (great adversary of 'political romanticism') seem out of place, others, like László Moholy-Nagy, who fled nazism not once but twice, I simply can't fathom. Maybe I am being too harsh? You know the feeling, when you see an alluring link on social media, you click on it just to find that there's a paywall behind? That's just how I feel about this book. I bought Herman's story, it's engaging, fun, well written. But then you reach the paywall of the XVIIIth c., and he punishes pay with a barrage of cheap propaganda. I resent him for wasting a neat idea. Who should read this, then? Well, for starters, not its intended audience: Although the first two thirds are a great introduction to the history of philosophy, as others have noted in their reviews, it is also cunningly manipulative, and likely to mislead anyone who does not have some pre-existing knowledge of modern thinkers. If you do have that knowledge, you probably won't learn all that much new: I did, there was plenty of anecdotes and asides I was happy to discover, but mostly because I know so little about the ancient and medieval periods. So you might want to read this if, like me, you are looking to expand your knowledge of pre-modern thought and you don't mind shaking your head in disbelief for the last third of the book. Another type it might suit is the convinced conservative: after all, if you are already convinced of the existence of a perennial human nature, and of the fact that liberal conservatives are an embattled minority seeking to liberate common-sense from the shackles of political-correctness, then this book will probably confirm you in your views, and give you a sense of what makes up that tradition you stands for.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Hatch

    8.5/10 I'm surprised to find so many negative reviews of this book. Maybe it's because I didn't know a ton about the history of philosophy in the western world, but I thought this was an almost perfect attempt to do what Herman set out to do: give a somewhat in depth chronological history of Socrates' most influential students. Herman's a decent writer and, although he tends to make a few sweeping definite statements that are clearly just his opinions, I found him to be credible enough to at leas 8.5/10 I'm surprised to find so many negative reviews of this book. Maybe it's because I didn't know a ton about the history of philosophy in the western world, but I thought this was an almost perfect attempt to do what Herman set out to do: give a somewhat in depth chronological history of Socrates' most influential students. Herman's a decent writer and, although he tends to make a few sweeping definite statements that are clearly just his opinions, I found him to be credible enough to at least feel like his opinions matter. It's not a definitive analysis of either Aristotle or Plato, it's a crash course on their teachings and how those teachings have affected some of the greatest minds of western civilization. As a Christian, I do find it fascinating that scholars often act like Christianity pulled from some Greek and Roman teachings because of their similarities, rather than admit that they could be so similar because ultimately the inspiration comes from the same divine source. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Newton, Galileo, and almost all of the greatest minds of the past believed they were taught by a great Being. Only somewhat recently have we decided that science and religion somehow don't mix.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Veronica

    "Rome it seemed, was never in worse shape; and never more powerful...'the steady degeneration of its noble character into vice and corruption'—of which the chief sign was, paradoxically, its imperial growth and steady advance over its foreign rivals." "Self-restraint, integrity, and virtue were disregarded; unscrupulous conduct, bribery, bribery, and profit-seeking were rife." "On the one hand, Rome enjoyed a power without equal or limits. On the other, the glory surrounding that power would seem "Rome it seemed, was never in worse shape; and never more powerful...'the steady degeneration of its noble character into vice and corruption'—of which the chief sign was, paradoxically, its imperial growth and steady advance over its foreign rivals." "Self-restraint, integrity, and virtue were disregarded; unscrupulous conduct, bribery, bribery, and profit-seeking were rife." "On the one hand, Rome enjoyed a power without equal or limits. On the other, the glory surrounding that power would seem increasingly hollow—even a sign of imminent dissolution and moral collapse... 'Here in the city nothing is left,' wrote one of Sallust's contemporaries, 'the real Rome is gone forever.'" "To the perceptive eye,' Plato wrote in the Timaeus, "the depth of their degeneration was clear enough, but to those whose judgement of true happiness is defective they seemed, in their pursuit of unbridled ambition and power, to be at the height of their fame and fortune." Zeus and the gods knew the truth, Plato says; and together they plotted the doom of Atlantis—a doom so devastating it vanished forever." "'Plato raised up the walls of Atlantis', Aristotle wrote, 'and then plunged them under the waves.'" The old signs of a republic paradoxically at the height of its power & prosperity and on the precipice overlooking imminent decline . . . As it was with Rome and with Atlantis, so it is with us. Give me a lever and a place to stand, and I shall move the earth. —Archimedes (287-12 B.C.E.)

  12. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    Actual rating somewhere between 3.5 and 4 stars Despite the length (704 pages!), this is a remarkably cohesive overview of Western political thinkers from Socrates to Ayn Rand. The book begins by drawing a distinction between the philosophical approaches of Plato and Aristotle. It then places Western philosophers over the ages in one of their camps. The main thesis is that everyone approaches the world either as a Platonist or Aristotelian. Further, the book argues, every time in history one camp Actual rating somewhere between 3.5 and 4 stars Despite the length (704 pages!), this is a remarkably cohesive overview of Western political thinkers from Socrates to Ayn Rand. The book begins by drawing a distinction between the philosophical approaches of Plato and Aristotle. It then places Western philosophers over the ages in one of their camps. The main thesis is that everyone approaches the world either as a Platonist or Aristotelian. Further, the book argues, every time in history one camp gets the upper hand, the other sneaks in to steal the limelight. So, for every Adam Smith (allegedly Aristotelian), there is a Karl Marx (allegedly Platonist.) I do say allegedly because I think the author's thesis grows thinner and thinner the farther he gets from the ancient philosophers. It is easier to shelve Saint Augustine as a Platonist and Saint Aquinas an Aristotelian than it is to call Robespierre a Platonist and Newton an Aristotelian. Only at a fairly superficial glance do later philosophers fall neatly into one camp or the other—at least, not without more caveats. Just because someone believes in the eschaton does not mean they want to immanentize it. But I do think considering the widely disparate periods of history and sheer number of philosophers (and philosophies) covered, the book does a remarkably good job giving a big picture look at Western thought. I could certainly see this as a useful tool in helping students understand history. It is also fairly easy to read and understand without further background, though I do recommend the audio version if daunted by the length.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Justine Olawsky

    When I was at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in 2009, I first saw this quote from Joseph Stalin, which has haunted me ever since: "Ideas are far more powerful than guns. We don't allow our enemies to have guns, why should we allow them to have ideas?" This quote has become quite chilling to me as I see debate and discourse stifled ever more in the Western world. Oh sure, you can have ideas, so long as they're the same ones everyone else has. Arthur Herman takes ideas seriously, and he is When I was at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in 2009, I first saw this quote from Joseph Stalin, which has haunted me ever since: "Ideas are far more powerful than guns. We don't allow our enemies to have guns, why should we allow them to have ideas?" This quote has become quite chilling to me as I see debate and discourse stifled ever more in the Western world. Oh sure, you can have ideas, so long as they're the same ones everyone else has. Arthur Herman takes ideas seriously, and he is unafraid to unload a whole arsenal of them in his masterwork of Western philosophy, The Cave and the Light: Plato versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization. And, I do mean masterwork. I cannot imagine a more sweeping, stimulating, thought-provoking, and entertaining look at 2500 years of Western thought than this book. It was a pleasure to read from beginning to end. In the beginning, there was Socrates: the first philosopher, the master inquirer, the original proponent of the examined life. Then Plato, with his contentions concerning the existence of a higher truth than what is seen by the eye. Then Aristotle, with his sense of wonder in the truth that is seen by the eye. Then, Christ, the Word made flesh; following close behind comes Paul, whose writings held the promise of a synthesis of both Plato and Aristotle in the Christian worldview. And so on throughout the Western tradition, with first one philosopher then the other in ascendance, yet neither fully able to cancel the other out. It is this metaphysical tension between the two schools that has fueled the incredible richness of the Western world. Especially interesting to me was the effect that both Plato and Aristotle had on the Roman Republic as it struggled to hold onto its “divided powers” government before it became, officially, an empire. In the hands of the historian Polybius, the fatalistic cycle of decay and painful rebirth delineated by Plato was prophesied to readers as the inescapable fate of the first Republic. In the soaring oratory of the Republic’s last great orator, Cicero, Aristotelian virtues of moderation and upright living encouraged hope in the face of bitter cynicism. I was surprised to find an American philosophical invention near the end of the book. Pragmatism, as it was called, attempted a conscious synthesis of Plato and Aristotle – or as its main proponent, William James, put it, the tender-minded vs. the tough-minded. This was “an intellectual creed tender-minded enough to show us our connection to something outside ourselves; but also tough enough to deal with robust reality, whether it’s a presidential election, analyzing the behavior of atoms, or driving a locomotive across the Great Plains.” In a way, it sounds ideally suited to the Protestant American ethos, and so, to this Protestant American, quite a comfortable way of thinking. The Cave and the Light definitely paints the contrasts between Plato and Aristotle with a broad brush; there may be nuances in their philosophies that do not get due attention. Mr. Herman surely wanted to highlight the differences in a stark way as a literary device. This is, after all, not a textbook dissection of Aristotle or Plato. This is a survey of the power of ideas across an epic swath of civilization. This power has always been known and used by tyrants; may free men rise forever and use it better to the purpose of liberty and righteousness.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey Rasley

    I loved the vast sweep of the book - to illuminate the intellectual history of Western Civilization through the analytical lens of Platonism and Aristotelian-ism.You might not agree with Herman's thesis, that every significant development in Western Thought was (to some extent) inspired by Plato, Aristotle, or a combination thereof. But, the book is a delightful journey through the great ideas generated by the great minds of the Western World from the pre-Socratics to Karl Popper and late 20th C I loved the vast sweep of the book - to illuminate the intellectual history of Western Civilization through the analytical lens of Platonism and Aristotelian-ism.You might not agree with Herman's thesis, that every significant development in Western Thought was (to some extent) inspired by Plato, Aristotle, or a combination thereof. But, the book is a delightful journey through the great ideas generated by the great minds of the Western World from the pre-Socratics to Karl Popper and late 20th Century philosophers. And, the book doesn't just cover thinkers who would be strictly categorized as philosophers. Herman discusses the major developments in social thought, economics, political theories, and science. Other reviewers criticize Herman for his superficial treatment, but, come on, how deep can a writer plumb when he is trying to cover 3,000 years of intellectual history? The book is also criticized for over-simplifications of Plato's and Aristotle's thought. Okay, but one could write (others have) an entire book explicating Plato's or Aristotle's philosophy on just on subject. Herman's purpose was to take his readers on an enjoyable and educational journey through Western Thought. Plato and Aristotle are the drivers of the tour bus. (Sorry for the lame metaphor.) Herman's reach might have exceeded his grasp somewhat, but what a grand effort. When I took Philosophy 101 as a college freshman, the text book was "From Socrates to Sartre". The text was difficult, boring, and painful to struggle through. The ideas presented turned me on, but it was hard not to fall asleep slogging through the reading assignments. "The Cave and the Light", I think, conveys much of the same information about the great ideas of Western Thought, and it was a joy to read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Gary Beauregard Bottomley

    Generally there are two approaches to study any subject, either chronologically or thematically. Now, I have to add a third method: use a chronological order with a narrative tying all the pieces together. The author first sets up the listener by putting his spin on who Plato and Aristotle were and explains each by contrasting them with each other, a very good way to understand who each are and what they believed. I think a real philosopher would pick apart the authors characterization, but I'm n Generally there are two approaches to study any subject, either chronologically or thematically. Now, I have to add a third method: use a chronological order with a narrative tying all the pieces together. The author first sets up the listener by putting his spin on who Plato and Aristotle were and explains each by contrasting them with each other, a very good way to understand who each are and what they believed. I think a real philosopher would pick apart the authors characterization, but I'm not a real philosopher and I love a good narrative. At the heart of the difference between the two is contained in the analogy of the Cave. Plato would say that reality is never truly knowable and is hidden behind the shadows while Aristotle would say we can know by studying the individual and see beyond the shadows. The author gives you many simple analogies in order to understand. For example, the Colonel in "The Bridge on the River Kwai" looks at the destruction of the bridge in the final reel and says "madness, madness" that would be as Plato would see it as the whole not the sum of its parts, Aristotle's perspective would be as the viewer of the film and who knows all the individuals involved and why the bridge must be destroyed. The author steps the listener through the skeptics, cynics, and stoics, the Romans and some very early Christian thought to the neo-platonist and all the time he relates all development of thought through the Plato/Aristotle lens. If your like me, you would love to read all the 2 million words that St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, but you know you wouldn't really understand them and you are best served by having someone summarize them for you. This book explains why he's so important and how he ties them so strongly to the thinking of Aristotle and undoes the Platonic thinking of St. Augustine who defined the dark ages. He gives a good account of the Renaissance and the Reformation and some of its major thinkers. He does quickly skip over the Enlightenment and goes straight to Rosseau. He does that because he wants to lead into the French Revolution to Hegel to Marx, all Platonic thinkers. I really do understand Hegel for the first time because of the way he explains him through the lens of the Cave. He doesn't ignore the progress and significance of science in his outline of thought through the lens of the Cave. One thing I really appreciated he gave Newton and Darwin a prominent place in his story. How could anyone write about philosophy without mentioning Darwin? Not only that, he gave my hero, Ludwig Boltzman, the creator of the word "quanta" the real discoverer of the second law of thermodynamics (entropy), and the advocate of atoms before it became fashionable a whole section and explained why he is so important in the history of western thought. The author made me realize a point. Sometimes, as in Boltzman's case, the theory comes before the 'knowledge based on experience' (Aristotle's main way of seeing the universe). Perhaps, the bad mouthing of String Theory is premature and maybe the beauty of the mathematics will lead to something just as Boltzman's atoms came to be accepted after he killed himself? This is really a great book and is the best way to understand the theory of development of thought. I just thought it was weird (or was it silly?) to end the story by giving Hayek the last word on economics and Ayn Rand (of all people) the last word on philosophy (is she even a Philosopher?). Don't let that mar the book since he tells such a fun story in such a compelling way. This book is really a shout out for why philosophy is still relevant for today. If your like me, and want to know your place in the universe and why it matters this book will take you major steps there. You know your listening to a really good book when you can relate over half of the 100 or so science, history and philosophy books you've listened to over the last 3 years directly to this book. That's why I can recommend this book so strongly (with just a minor quibble in the previous paragraph of this review).

  16. 5 out of 5

    JoséMaría BlancoWhite

    As entertaining and educational as pointless. I just finished the book without figuring out what it was about, that is, besides pointing out the redundancies of both Plato and Aristotles philosophies along 2500 years of history. And a history it is, in spite of the author's introductory comment telling the reader otherwise. A history of the West, of its politics, economics, arts, and everything that can be claimed to have happened under the ineluctable influence of the aforementoned duet. I chose As entertaining and educational as pointless. I just finished the book without figuring out what it was about, that is, besides pointing out the redundancies of both Plato and Aristotles philosophies along 2500 years of history. And a history it is, in spite of the author's introductory comment telling the reader otherwise. A history of the West, of its politics, economics, arts, and everything that can be claimed to have happened under the ineluctable influence of the aforementoned duet. I chose this book having read others by the same author and having come off with more than a fine impression. I leave this one off today with a nagging voice in my head telling me I've been wasting my time, even though, i got my entertainment share. But I wasn't expecting a history the size of this one, 500+ pages. I was expecting, and hoping till the end, a thesis, a proposition put forward, some kind of analysis that could go straight to today's life and world. But no. This was just good old schooltime. A good time to learn about all those philosophers from the pre-Socratics to today's global-warming prophets of doom. A long story indeed. Not one single politically incorrect sentence in the whole book. My man, this I do not forgive. When I read, right at the end of the book, that corny sentence, "to save the world", as a nice hope this book and its lessons entailed, I felt a little embarrassed and thanked the Lord Jesus it was the last page I had to read. Well, this is your chance to learn about the West and forget about the rest. You never had it so easy. It wasn't just the book for me at this day and time.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Chris Matthys

    Herman tries so hard to appear objective but fails miserably. Reads as a justification for the view that Aristotle is good and Plato is bad. What made this go to one star is that existentialism is barely noted, but a whole chapter is given to Ayn Rand, without a decent explanation of her philosophy in depth. The Rand chapter seems tacked on as an end point to the Aristotelian road and therefore the high point of 'Aristotelian' philosophy. Would have been better served to end on Pragmatism. This Herman tries so hard to appear objective but fails miserably. Reads as a justification for the view that Aristotle is good and Plato is bad. What made this go to one star is that existentialism is barely noted, but a whole chapter is given to Ayn Rand, without a decent explanation of her philosophy in depth. The Rand chapter seems tacked on as an end point to the Aristotelian road and therefore the high point of 'Aristotelian' philosophy. Would have been better served to end on Pragmatism. This book appears to me to be mental masturbation for pseudo-intellectuals who want to read a "Philosophy" book that justifies their philosophic leanings. The authors views on 'platonic' philosophies are readily apparent as he dismisses them as the causes of and justifications for a host of 20th century atrocities. Those looking for an objective book on the history of philosophy should look elsewhere. . As a fan of Plato and Aristotle I really wish this had been better, I was really looking forward to this book. Instead of an objective look at their influence on the world through history I was treated to an intellectual justification of a modern political viewpoint. I could understand if it leaned a little one way or the other, but it doesn't. Please don't waste your time. Any intro to philosophy textbook would be better.

  18. 4 out of 5

    James

    Started out as an enjoyable survey of Western intellectual history that was well paced as it moved from Ancient thru Medieval periods. By midstream, circa the Renaissance, it was clear that the author's premise, that a fundamental dichotomy existed between Plato and Aristotle, was strained, forced to unreasonable extremes, way too contorted to be of any use and a sign of shallow thinking. By the time he arrived at the Scottish Enlightenment and the rise of capitalism, Herman's cards were on the Started out as an enjoyable survey of Western intellectual history that was well paced as it moved from Ancient thru Medieval periods. By midstream, circa the Renaissance, it was clear that the author's premise, that a fundamental dichotomy existed between Plato and Aristotle, was strained, forced to unreasonable extremes, way too contorted to be of any use and a sign of shallow thinking. By the time he arrived at the Scottish Enlightenment and the rise of capitalism, Herman's cards were on the table: the conservative political agenda and love shown for bourgeois values showed through all too glaringly. It made me doubt the accuracy of what he was saying in general. It's the kind of book that will introduce you to major thinkers, and I learned about some obscure Hellenistic and Early Church thinkers that I hadn't not read much about before (good thing), but please don't let this be the final word.

  19. 5 out of 5

    J Brandon Gibson

    One of the best books I have ever read. Really helped me understand Western Civilization. This book is in short a 3000 year history of the West, relating to philosophy, religion, government, society, culture, etc.. Highly recommended. And yes.. I had to give it 5 stars. Why? Because it took me to a loftier sphere, more than I imagined a book on philosophical history could ever do. Well written, highly informative, and as far I as I can, only mildly biased (on the side of Aristotle I think)

  20. 4 out of 5

    David Withun

    -

  21. 4 out of 5

    0

    Image description: A picture of a black Labrador retriever puppy looking forlornly at the viewer; the caption reads "A Labrador retriever puppy reveals a lot about Aristotle's theory of nature." Herman identifies himself as adhering to the "Great Man" theory of history. More specifically, Herman's version of history has room for only two Great Men--Plato and Aristotle--with everyone else being a variation or admixture of the two, The book's thesis is that literally the entire history of the en Image description: A picture of a black Labrador retriever puppy looking forlornly at the viewer; the caption reads "A Labrador retriever puppy reveals a lot about Aristotle's theory of nature." Herman identifies himself as adhering to the "Great Man" theory of history. More specifically, Herman's version of history has room for only two Great Men--Plato and Aristotle--with everyone else being a variation or admixture of the two, The book's thesis is that literally the entire history of the entire world after Plato and Aristotle is the product of an endless dual between their philosophical legacies. Herman runs through a brief history of the world filtered through the lens of Plato and Aristotle, in which every social phenomenon, from religions to political revolutions to quantum physics and reality television, is either Platonic or Aristotelian in nature. "We are all part of Raphael's School of Athens, standing on one side or the other." Herman means this literally--the engine of world history is the fallout between a battle of ideas waged by Aristotelians and Platonists. Aristotle, for example, is "the progenitor not only of sending rockets to the moon but of democratic individualism and free markets...Aristotle's politics will give us Thomas Aquinas and Thomas Jefferson, as well as Boss Tweed." Plato, on the other hand, is responsible for Hinduism and the American Green Party. Too much Aristotle results in "the credit card culture of the shopaholic and the megamall, of the Kardashians and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills." On the other hand, too much Plato produces "Hitler and Stalin and Mao." Ultimately, "Both are indispensable to our culture and our future--and perhaps all futures. Whether it is called yin and tang or right brain versus left brain, the tense tug-of-war is all-pervasive." Fling me into the sun... What can I say about Herman's prose, except that it has to be encountered for itself? Aristotle hails from the land of "Macedonia, the Texas of ancient Greece." Solon is "Athenian democracy's George Washington and Thomas Jefferson rolled into one." When Herman ponders the meaning of Plato's name (Greek for "broad"), I shuddered: "Did Plato have a weight problem? No one knows." Plato's allegory of the cave is equivalent to "what we see on CNN and E!TV." Explaining that Plato's hatred of democracy stemmed from his early experiences with it, Herman eloquently writes: "Having seen how the democratic sausage was made, Plato was in no mood to sit at the feast." Encountering early Christianity for the first time, "Traditional Platonists found themselves like MIT graduates being confronted by people who claim to have learned plasma physics by taking an Internet class over the summer." I honestly can't tell if these poetic turns of phrase are meant to be amusing or illuminating, but, they're, uh...neither... "democratic sausage"

  22. 4 out of 5

    Leah

    Enquire Within About Everything... In this comprehensive view of the last 2,500 years, Arthur Herman sets out to prove his contention that the history of Western civilisation has been influenced and affected through the centuries by the tension between the worldviews of the two greatest of the Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle. And for this reader at least, his argument is a convincing one. The book covers so much in terms of both philosophy and history that a full review would run to thousa Enquire Within About Everything... In this comprehensive view of the last 2,500 years, Arthur Herman sets out to prove his contention that the history of Western civilisation has been influenced and affected through the centuries by the tension between the worldviews of the two greatest of the Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle. And for this reader at least, his argument is a convincing one. The book covers so much in terms of both philosophy and history that a full review would run to thousands of words. Happily that's not going to happen here, dear reader. I will simply say that, from knowing virtually nothing about philosophy, I now feel as well informed as if I had done an undergraduate level course in the subject. Herman starts way back at Socrates and brings us right up to the philosophers of the late twentieth century. He begins by giving a fairly in-depth analysis of the chief insights of both Plato and his former pupil Aristotle, using Plato's metaphor of the cave and the light to show how their views diverged. He shows Plato as the mystic and idealist, believer in the divinity of Pythagorean geometry, advocate of the philosopher king, believing that the route to the light of wisdom is available only to some through contemplation and speculation and that these few should set rules for the rest to follow. Aristotle is shown as the man of science and common sense, believing that there is much to be learned from an examination of life in the cave itself and advocating that all men (sorry, women, you'll have to wait a couple of millennia) should be involved in government with the family at the heart of society. Herman takes these rival viewpoints (which I have grossly oversimplified and can only hope that I've got the basics approximately right) and shows how each has achieved ascendancy at different points in history. And what a journey he takes us on! The fall of Greek civilisation, the Roman Empire, the birth and rise of Christianity, the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment, Revolution and on past the rise of totalitarianism to the end of the Cold War. Phew! At each step along the way, he discusses the leading philosophers of the time, linking the chain of development of the various schools of thought back in a continuous line to one or other of Plato and Aristotle - occasionally both - and showing how the thinkers of the time affected the politics of nations. To my personal delight, he pays considerable attention to the Scottish contribution to the Enlightenment. This is not just a history of philosophy and philosophers though - like philosophy itself, it covers just about every area of human interaction. The book provides the clearest overview I have ever read of the rise and development of Christianity, the divisions and schisms, the beliefs of the various factions. Herman leads us through from the Old Testament, St Paul, St Thomas Aquinas, Abelard, Erasmus - well, you name them, they're here. He tells us about the people as individuals as well as their beliefs, so we learn about their backgrounds, where they were educated, whom they were influenced by and whom they in turn influenced. On politics, amongst many other things, Herman writes in depth about the philosophers of the French Revolution, the founding of the American constitution and the rise of Nazism and fascism. He convincingly argues that the twentieth century history of the parallel rise of democracy and totalitarianism was seeded in the divide between Aristotle and Plato over two millennia earlier. Again the links in the chain are carefully connected - from Plato to Karl Marx, from Aristotle to Karl Popper. The third main strand is science, and again Herman leads us through the ages, showing the close interconnection between the development of science and philosophy, together with the influence of scientific advancement on religion and politics - and vice versa. Herman's writing style is amazingly accessible considering the breadth and depth of the information that he conveys. He doesn't over-simplify, but explains clearly enough for the non-academic to follow his arguments. My review suggests that he treats each of the strands separately, but in fact he tells the story in a linear fashion, weaving all the strands together, so that a very clear picture is given of the different stages of development of each at a given point in time. At points where it might all get too confusing, he takes the time to repeat the basics to put them into the context of the period he's discussing, meaning that this poor befuddled reader didn't have to keep flicking back to remind herself of who believed what. There is so much in the book that I found this review particularly difficult to write. If I have given any idea of how impressive I found it, then the review has worked. That's not to say I didn't disagree with Herman from time to time. On occasion I felt he was stretching his argument a bit too far, perhaps, and once or twice he would make a sweeping statement completely dismissing conventionally held views in favour of his own. And towards the end I felt he was allowing his own political viewpoint to show through a little too much, in favour of 'Aristotelian' capitalism as opposed to 'Platonic' socialism for instance (though he pulled that back a little in his conclusion). But the very fact that, by the end of the book, I occasionally felt in a position to question his stance showed me how much I had gained from reading it. Not the lightest read in the world, but for anyone who wants to understand the fundamentals and history of Western philosophy, highly recommended. (Phew! Made it in less than 1000 words - just! Apologies!) Arthur Herman has been a Professor of History at various universities in the US and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for his book Gandhi and Churchill. NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Caterina

    This could be a good start for anyone with limited knowledge on ancient Greek philosophy and its impact on modern world. However, I am not actually convinced of the author's broader assumptions, for instance that the world is divided into Platonists and Aristotelians, as in apollonian versus dionysian. Surely the foundations of modern western thought were laid around the Acropolis, from the Academy of Plato, the location of which is now a beautiful park in the borders of Athens' city center, to This could be a good start for anyone with limited knowledge on ancient Greek philosophy and its impact on modern world. However, I am not actually convinced of the author's broader assumptions, for instance that the world is divided into Platonists and Aristotelians, as in apollonian versus dionysian. Surely the foundations of modern western thought were laid around the Acropolis, from the Academy of Plato, the location of which is now a beautiful park in the borders of Athens' city center, to the aristotelian Lyceum in exactly the opposite side of the city. But I find it difficult to connect the thoughts and works of those brilliant philosophers with the atrocities, for instance, of WWII or with the deeds of 2oth century dictators just because the "Republic" was a favourite reading. Anyhow, it is well researched and written, and the historical background is beautifully narrated (after all the author is a historian). Not bad, but don't take it for granted.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Charles Gonzalez

    I hesitated about the rating, as I thought it easily rated 4. Thinking about what I learned from this book and the enjoyment I had opening it up every few days led me to pondering the 5th star. Would I recommend it to other readers interested in history, philosophy and the history of thought and culture? Yes. To those looking for a powerful and useful introduction to the thinking of Plato and Aristotle, yes. As a neophyte to the world of western philosophy in general,and not having read either p I hesitated about the rating, as I thought it easily rated 4. Thinking about what I learned from this book and the enjoyment I had opening it up every few days led me to pondering the 5th star. Would I recommend it to other readers interested in history, philosophy and the history of thought and culture? Yes. To those looking for a powerful and useful introduction to the thinking of Plato and Aristotle, yes. As a neophyte to the world of western philosophy in general,and not having read either philosopher's original works yet, did the book encourage me, command me to seek them out; of course. Thus, the 5th star. Another reviewer comments on Herman's deep notes and bibliography, and those elements of the book are indeed alone worth worth the price of admission. Aristotle's Politics and Ethics are next on my to read list, and hopefully Plato's Laws thereafter. The Cave and the Light produced the result that any writer would treasure; the readers gratitude for beaming a light of knowledge and insight into his subject, totally engaging the reader in the adventure and creating a desire to learn more on the subject. As a life long student of history, any book that deepens and extends my intellectual curiosity and desire to learn more has more than met its objective.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Christine Nolfi

    Superb. Highly recommended.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    Epic, need I say more. Alas, I will say more. This was a highly enlightening, inspiring, quite comprehensive masterpiece. My mind was lifted beyond anything I could have imagined, my soul was invigorated and my depth of philosophical understanding widely expanded. The expansive history of the western world over a few thousand years has helped broadened my horizon on how philosophy has shaped the politics, religions, cultures and viewpoints of our world today. It is amazing to me how the writings, Epic, need I say more. Alas, I will say more. This was a highly enlightening, inspiring, quite comprehensive masterpiece. My mind was lifted beyond anything I could have imagined, my soul was invigorated and my depth of philosophical understanding widely expanded. The expansive history of the western world over a few thousand years has helped broadened my horizon on how philosophy has shaped the politics, religions, cultures and viewpoints of our world today. It is amazing to me how the writings, teachings and understandings of a few men have played such a significant role in how the world today works. The concepts and viewpoints presented by this men have helped to shape so much of our own viewpoints on life. To understand exactly what I mean you will have to read the book, but I will say that the brilliant minds of these men played an integral part in opening the minds and hearts of thousands of people through the ages.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Simon Robs

    Plato was Socrates student just as Aristotle was his, so? Wanna take a readride down a rediscovery mindtrail, a ride throughout recorded [pre- Soc's too] history of ideas in science, philosophy, politics, economy, even history itself, as seen through the prism of the dichotomy that won't seem to go away? The real Q is have they, can they be fused to balance or/and should they? Plato was Socrates student just as Aristotle was his, so? Wanna take a readride down a rediscovery mindtrail, a ride throughout recorded [pre- Soc's too] history of ideas in science, philosophy, politics, economy, even history itself, as seen through the prism of the dichotomy that won't seem to go away? The real Q is have they, can they be fused to balance or/and should they?

  28. 4 out of 5

    Noah Goats

    This is an interesting book about how the competing ideas of Plato and Aristotle have reverberated through the history of the West. The two philosophers have been in a wrestling match for the hearts and minds of educated participants in Western culture for over 2,000 years, each one taking turns as the dominant force. Plato found expression through Saint Augustine before being pushed to the side by Thomas Aquinus to make room for Aristotle again. Later Plato found adherents in the continental Ra This is an interesting book about how the competing ideas of Plato and Aristotle have reverberated through the history of the West. The two philosophers have been in a wrestling match for the hearts and minds of educated participants in Western culture for over 2,000 years, each one taking turns as the dominant force. Plato found expression through Saint Augustine before being pushed to the side by Thomas Aquinus to make room for Aristotle again. Later Plato found adherents in the continental Rationalists while British Empiricists championed the Aristotelian point of view, and on and on up to the present day. When writing a book like this, it's easy to attribute more influence to its subjects than they really deserve, and when you look at history specifically through the lenses of Plato and Aristotle they will naturally become overemphasized. So, for example, when Herman puts Darwin on Team Aristotle, you should probably be careful not to give Aristotle too much credit for Darwin's discoveries (or perhaps any credit?). The farther we get from the times of the two great philosophers, the more diffuse and hard to prove their influence becomes. In the later chapters in the book it seems almost as if Herman is just assigning various thinkers to one camp or the other, although it's hard to say if they have actually been guided by either Aristotle or Plato. After a quick analysis of my own mind and character I can put myself squarely on Team Aristotle, but that doesn't mean that anything I have ever done has been directly influenced by anything that Aristotle ever wrote. You can say I've received his ideas secondhand through our culture, and you might be right, but you can never prove it. Also, I noticed a few errors in the chapters of the book related to Roman history. The author confuses the emperor Caracalla with Commodus, and he also says that Cicero was murdered five days after Caesar's assassination. This first of these mistakes is easily excused as a slip of the mind, but if you don't understand that Cicero lived for months after Caesar's death, I'm not sure you have any business discussing his philippics against Marc Antony since you can't possibly understand the context in which those speeches were delivered. Still, I liked this book. It's an interesting exploration of how Greek philosophy has put its stamp upon the world.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Bryan Alkire

    Surprisingly good. Books on philosophy are generally a pain to read unless one loves the subject. But, the author does a really nice job outlining and explaining in simple, modern analogies, the push and pull of Plato and Aristotle through the history of Western Civilization. The pace is actually fast for a philosophical inquiry, with short chapters and few if any wasted words. The writing, as mentioned previously mentioned, is simple, yet does a good job of explaining the concepts. The analysis Surprisingly good. Books on philosophy are generally a pain to read unless one loves the subject. But, the author does a really nice job outlining and explaining in simple, modern analogies, the push and pull of Plato and Aristotle through the history of Western Civilization. The pace is actually fast for a philosophical inquiry, with short chapters and few if any wasted words. The writing, as mentioned previously mentioned, is simple, yet does a good job of explaining the concepts. The analysis seems sound, what one would learn in a basic philosophy 101 class and highlights the ideas of the age which derive from Plato and Aristotle. In short, this book exceeded my expectations of a dry dull text. It kept my interest throughout, though, as with any philosophy test, was a bit slow going to digest which is me, not the book itself. So, I give this one a 4. It’s a great readable work on philosophy and the history of Plato and Aristotle’s ideas.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Review here Review here

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