In this inspirational book Bryan Magee tells the story of his discovery of philosophy, and in doing so introduces the subject to his reader. Experiences of everyday life provide discussion of philosophers and explain why certain philosophical questions persistently exercise our minds. With great fluency Magee untangles philosophy, making it seem part of everyone's life. Intensely personal and brimming with infectious enthusiasm, this is a wonderful introduction to philosophy by one of the most elegant and accessible writers on the subject.
A British popularizer of philosophy, Magee (coauthor, On Blindness, 1995, etc.), writes an overblown account of his lifelong interest in philosophical ideas. The book's title and subtitle capture its two interrelated aims: to confess the existential traumas that led the author to philosophy and to summarize the key ideas of Western metaphysics and epistemology. Magee, a former academic, wants to show that philosophy comes in answer to acutely felt problems about the nature of reality and human knowing. Magee's own angst over death, meaninglessness, and the limits of human knowledge would be more convincing if he showed less satisfaction in his previously published writings and more restraint in condemning strictly academic (especially British analytic) philosophy. The confessions include tantalizing hints of "exhilarating love affairs"; but, despite his insistence on the philosophic importance of sex, Magee provides no details about his affectional life. Was philosophy irrelevant to this side of his life, or does he forget that, for the ancient Greek philosopher Empedocles, love was itself a metaphysical principle? But Empedocles apparently doesn't belong to the mere "half a dozen" philosophers in each century "whose work is of widespread and lasting interest." To this elite group, Kant, Schopenhauer, Bertrand Russell, and Karl Popper do clearly belong, in the author's judgment: Kant, for articulating so persuasively how much conceptions influence perceptions; Schopenhauer for his philosophy of art; Russell for his logic; Popper for his science. Magee is best at presenting the ideas of these, his favorites, but he could have done so in a much shorter book and without the melodramatic portrayals of his own intellectual suffering. (Kirkus Reviews)