theyoungveronica's review against another edition

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4.0


"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.)

holtfan's review against another edition

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4.0

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.

alexander_delorme's review against another edition

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2.0

Pro-capitalism piffle from a pompous man who doesn't even purport to understand Plato.

dngoldman's review against another edition

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4.0

This is a thrilling, sweeping, tour of western thought from pre-socrates to post WWI. From philosophy, science, religion, politics, Herman sees a constant ying/yang battle between Plato and Aristotle. (see bullets below). Of course, any history this sweeping it subject to oversimplification. And his chatty, story telling style makes the book readable but there are times where the narrative thrust get's lost. But the biggest problem is that Herman too often fails to distinguish between ideas and writers directly influenced by Plato or Aristotle and those who just had similar idea. You could make a pretty good Buddha (plato) vs. Confucius (Aristotle) argument although those two thinkers never new the greeks.

While these are real problems, they don't take away from the fact that this is highly readable, highly informative tour of ideas.

Plato

- Idealist
- focus on the ultimate form - wether in morals or politics
- concerned with the meta, not the individual
- truth by logic and deduction
- Legacy is both toayslitarianism and MLk
- mathematics

Aristotle

- observation - verification
- concerned with individual man leading happy life
- Morality was active to be learned and developed. Based on context
- politics - diversity can lead to better opinion than even the best. Democracy but without radical changes

Next Gen

- Both legacies strayed from the masters. Plato’s left the science (cynics, stoics, - ) and concern with ethics; while aristotle is just science divorced from ethics
- Aristotle = library and museum - diverse knowledge
- Practical science v theoretical
- Plato - Euclid - math unrelated to physical

Rome - mixing of A and P
Polybius. Agreed with A's perfect mix of types of authority and thought Rome embodied. But agreed with Plato's analysis of the endless cycle of rise and fall between the many, few, and the one
Cicero attempted to solve that problem by using applying A "virtue ethics" to forms of govnemnt.
Plotinus - the first neo-Platonist. Fused Plantonic god into the entire chain of being. Thus, there was a way out of the cave and one could find truth now by mystical experiences

dcunning11235's review against another edition

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5.0

Wow, this is a book that someone has probably already used the word "magisterial" to describe; and it deserves it. This is a <600 page following of the idea of Aristotle and Plato down the ~2500 years from their time to ours, and focuses on the back-and-forth competition between the ideas (and values, I suppose) of the two philosophers.

This definitely goes in the 're-read' stack.

I was actually quite surprised to find out that Dr. Herman is a fellow at the Hudson Institute (look it up if you don't know), and this kind of leapt out in the last chapter. There are some conclusions drawn there that strike me as... dubious. (E.g. that the reason WWII ended the depression was because of pent of dynamism/productivity just waiting to be unleashed, and that post-New Deal government intervention had little or nothing to do with this, seemingly ignoring the glaring fact that government spending on the war effort was the biggest intervention of all; fan or not of such government activity, it seems a jarring misapprehension.)

That said, I learned a lot from the book, it has lead me to already buy several books referenced (Discourses, Nicomachean Ethics, etc.) and to put several more on my to-read list (I might actually get around to reading Road to Serfdom now.)

<pedantic>
Also, there were a few garbled translations of physics (I forget exactly what... something re: elections) and the description of the formula for entropy (W is the number of states, not the probability of states. And it should be a lower-case k.) You, potential reader, will not suffer any loss from this; I care because physics is my area :)
</pedantic>

shanehawk's review against another edition

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5.0

One of the best books I have read.
Entirely engrossing.
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