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The Book of Dead Philosophers (Vintage) Paperback – 2009

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Vintage (2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307390438
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307390431
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2 x 22.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 408 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,243,667 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"A provocative and engrossing invitation to think about the human condition and what philosophy can and can't do to illuminate it." --"The Financial Times" "Rigorous, profound and frequently hilarious. . . . Critchley is an engaging, deadpan guide to the metaphysical necropolis. . . . At a time when much popular philosophy is either frivolous, dull or complacent, his is a bracingly serious and properly comic presence." --"The Daily Telegraph" (UK) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Simon Critchley is Professor of Philosophy at the New School in New York. He is the author of many books, most recently On Heidegger's Being and Time and Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance and has also written about the philosophy of humour and poetry. He was born in the UK lives in Brooklyn. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Format: Hardcover
I thought this was a serious book about philosophy which this book is not. Nevertheless, I felt that it was an amusing light-hearted read. "The Book of Dead Philosophers" by Simon Critchley is really like an chronological index of a bunch of world philosophers, a brief summary of their philosophical contribution, then an anecdote about how they died.

The purpose of the book as Critchley states in the introduction is to "humanize" these individuals whom we have placed up on the pedestal. I definitely appreciated his breadth in covering Eastern philosophers as well and not limiting himself to Western philosophers.

Not much depth, but I still recommend this book for anyone looking for a casual read about philosophy. Don't expect any complex analysis or academic jargon, just a simple book about a bunch of people who had ideas about life and how they died.
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Format: Hardcover
if you are serious about facing mortality this book could be considered a first step.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.7 out of 5 stars 33 reviews
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Amusing & thought-provoking, but not philosophy: 3.5 stars March 16 2009
By S. McGee - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
After an interesting (although hardly revolutionary) introduction to the book and its central concept -- that philosophers have something to teach us about death, the single largest defining fact of our lives, through the way they themselves died -- Simon Critchley tackles the deaths (and sometimes the lives) of some 190 philosophers spanning seven millennia at a very rapid clip.

After the well-written and thought-provoking introduction revolving around the role of death -- and thoughts of death -- in philosophy and life, the remainder of the book can feel jarring. In some cases, the philosopher's life and work -- and even their death -- is disposed of in only one or two witty sentence. In others, there is a lot about their deaths, but Critchley doesn't always deliver on his promise to explain how the way in which his subjects met those deaths ties into either their personal philosophies or into a philosophy of death. Sometimes, that just isn't relevant, it seems. The best moments in the book -- such as the discussion of the atheist, David Hume, meeting his end contentedly -- stand out simply because they are relatively rare. In a few cases, Critchley has to admit he doesn't even know how his subject died -- in which case, why is that philosopher included? In a handful of cases, he exaggerates the story behind the philosopher's death, only for the reader to discover that they have been misled. For instance, Simone Weil, he claims in the introduction, starved herself to death in sympathy with her beleagured countrymen in France. In fact, the exiled philosopher limited her caloric intake during the early years of World War II in exile from her homeland to what was available to French citizens under the Nazi regime. She didn't deliberately starve herself to death; she weakened her health so that she was unable to fight off the illness that killed her.

So why, then, do I give this 3.5 stars? Simply because it's a witty romp through a topic that is relatively rarely discussed except in hushed tones and with trite references to Kubler-Ross (who, yes, makes a very brief appearance here, as well). It's also the kind of book that may provoke interest in the philosophers being discussed by readers who would otherwise never pick up a more weighty tome on, say, Hume or Spinoza. The premise is also solid and the author's grasp of his subject is more solid than his delivery sometimes implies. It's also refreshing to see a philosopher write something so accessible.

That said, this is not a book likely to appeal to anyone who heads straight for the philosophy section whenever they enter a bookstore. There's little or no new thinking on the topic of mortality, and serious-minded philosophy students, already be familiar with much of the contents, are less likely to find Critchley's whimsical approach to his subject either amusing or intriguing. For readers with a passing interest in philosophy, it's worth a look, but you probably will want to pick up a paperback copy or find it in a library.

Anyone looking for a very personal and extraordinarily eloquent series of random musings on the subject of death itself couldn't do better than check out Julian Barnes's new book on the subject, Nothing to Be Frightened Of. It's not as comforting as Critchley's book ends up being (whether or not Critchley intends it to be!); it's the personal ruminations of one of Britain's best writers (Flaubert's Parrot, et. al.) on aging and the need to come to terms with death not only in the abstract but as something that he will encounter sooner rather than later.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "There is but one chain holding us in fetters and that is the love of our life." Feb. 24 2009
By Ryan C. Holiday - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A wonderful concept for a book. It spends a page and half or so on the deaths of 170 different philosophers. For some, it nicely juxtaposes their beliefs with their practical applications. For others, it illustrates a hypocrisy. Mostly though, I think it does a good job bringing the lot of them back down to earth. The introductions (there are three) are themselves a decent discussion on death and dying. It's one of those books you wish was a Wikipedia page so you could follow all the strands it begins to tug at.
1 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars boring May 7 2009
By K. Bullock - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
i thought that this book would read more as a novel, but was disappointed that it read as an encyclopedia. The subjects were listed in chronological order, but that is where the context ends.
i bought this book for a fun read, but am sorry to say it will end up occupying space on my bookshelf.
it'll looks cool on that shelf, though.
15 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars No concerns too large that Death cannot resolve.... Aug. 31 2008
By Kalikiano Kalei - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is the American `Labor Day' holiday just outside my window, a day that to 98% of all Americans means `time for one last frantic scramble for amusement and diversion before the Fall school term begins' and little else (despite the seriousness of applied study in today's cutthroat academic world). For us two-percenters, who still understand the need to honor labor and appreciate the vital means of production that labor represents, it is time for reflection. As the holiday hours pass, between reflective holiday moments I am gradually working my way through Simon Critchley's just released book, `The Book of Dead Philosophers'.

This Labor Day I have especial reason to be reflective, given the fact that the life of my favorite Siberian Husky male presently hangs in a fragile balance between life and death. I have been spending every possible moment with my `Raki', who has a mystery malady that has eluded all the veterinary diagnosticians in this area (including those of consultants at the nearby prestigious UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine). Last night I slept on the floor near him. Tonight I shall do the same thing. Raki cannot walk by himself, having been overcome by what seems to be a sort of neurological anomaly that defies acute understanding by the best vets in the business. The symptoms seem to be those of one of the tick-borne diseases (with seizures, confusion, disorientation, loss of the use of one forelimb, malaise, loss of appetite, and a wide range of strange effects), but they could also presage serotonin syndrome, a more subtle form of neuropathy, or possibly even a cerebral lesion of some sort. It doesn't help that Raki is also diabetic and has had other rather strange health problems in the course of his past 12 years. It also doesn't help that we have spent more than $15,000 on Raki this year alone, trying to understand the nature of his illness, or the fact that in his infinite Hollywood stage-acting wisdom, the Governor of California has just decided that the best means of punishing California's ineffectual legislators for failing to agree on a state 2008-2009 fiscal year budget is to cut all California State Civil Service salaries (moi) back to the Federal Minimum Wage ($6.55).

All of this helps a normally profoundly reflective tyro philosopher like myself not a whit, nor does it auger well for my splendid canine companion, Raki, whom I love dearly. It is likely that in the short span of three days, I shall have to make the painful decision of whether or not to send Raki across what is known euphemistically as `The Rainbow Bridge', keeping awareness of the quality of his remaining life foremost in my thoughts. It is not a happy time, given this fact, but perhaps it is a matter of the utmost timeliness that I happened to select author Critchley's book to read, whilst sitting up with my best friend in his final hours.

Critchley poses the question, only half in jest, "How have the renown philosophers of recorded human history regarded the ultimate, unavoidable end of their own existence?" It is a very interesting question in its own right, since as Critchley infers, the proper regard for life ought perhaps to be a preparation for and a coming to terms with the finity of human life as we individually know it. Fortunately (or perhaps not), Critchley makes it clear in his introduction that his intent is to make his researches as entertaining as possible, going on to exhibit a strong compulsion to heighten the hilarity of his focus on how philosophers have handled the subject of their own impending doom. Perhaps, given that objective, it is just what I need today as I regard the imminent death of a creature I love more than most people in my life.

The book is divided into sections, each dealing with a selection of philosophers drawn from various historical epochs (the Greeks, the Romans, the Asiatics, the Humanists, the Existentialists, etc.) and the information presented in most cases is both as mildly entertaining as it is informative, but it manages to be fulfilling and interesting throughout. It is certainly anything but a deadly serious romp through the eternally unanswered questions that philosophers have pondered since humankind first realized it was all too fleetingly mortal, and although Critchley disclaims any preference for Zen or Ch'an Buddist sentiment, there is a most palpable Zen-like disparagement of serious concern with death discernible throughout his book. Bravo for that, say I.

I obtained a copy of this book expecting far more than it offers, but I readily admit to being sometimes almost morbidly sincere in my own philosophic inquiries and for that reason it is perhaps a good and useful partial antidote to the bitter hemlock that my much-loved Raki may soon be forced to ingest. I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in philosophy, but most especially to those who don't take life too seriously (as I do) and who understand that there's no sense in getting all caught up in the prospect of their own future demise long before that time presents itself. If the whole meaning of life is to be found in the journey, rather than in a speculative and highly conjecturable `Ultimate Reality of Faith' that for so many constitutes a `real' destination, this book is a great way to take some of the pressure off and synchronise with the present moment (which is all we really have anyway). It is a book that may be taken anywhere and enjoyed equally (e.g. in a Benedictine Monastery or a Serbian torture cell) and worth the price of admission. PS: It pairs up quite beautifully with Monty Python's `The Meaning of Life', for those who enjoy video as well as written media on philosophy.

Excuse me now. I must go back to my pet's side and memorise every lovely little doggie whisker on his furry Siberian face while there is still time. Be well, do right. Malama pono!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Light but Good reading (from Ahadada Books) Jan. 10 2010
By M. Hori - Published on
Format: Paperback
"Death and philosophers" goes together like love and marriage, soup and sandwich, flotsam and jetsam (great, but largely forgotten Brit. singers as well as the gooey junk thrown up on the beach!), hearses and morgues, hay foot and straw foot, etc. and so on. We all know that Sir Francis Bacon died from stuffing a chicken full of snow, but how many of us knew that this anecdote originated with Thomas Hobbes, who himself was fond of singing from books of bawdy songs late at night, thinking that such an endeavor would help him attain a long life. (Apparently it worked--he lived past 90.) This is that kind of book, folks. Good to have when laying a bar-room bet, or honing your one-upmanship for when the humanities bully of the university watering hole wants to steal your girl and kick sand in your face. A head-scratcher it's not; a page-turner it is. Simon Crtichley could write for the Letterman show--yes, he's THAT GOOD (ta-tum-tum!)! On the other hand, he can be genuinely moving, as when he describes something of the life, character, and death of his own teacher Dominique Janicaud. The absolute best bit of information that I walked away with was the great anecdote about the problematic meeting of A. J. ("Freddie" to his friends) Ayer and Mike Tyson at a party thrown by a fashionable underwear designer in Manhattan. Ayer was talking to some models and heard that Tyson.... Well, I'm not going to give away the spectaular punch-line here (pun!), but will tell you that it's worth every penny I paid for this book, and set me searching out the works, and biography, of Professor Ayer. Highly recommended for this and about a dozen other anecdotes retold with wit and vast charm by the author. P.S. Should be found on every thinker's bathroom book shelf.

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