This book of thoughtful mini-essays on life’s big topics is a pleasure to read. But maybe I only think that because I agree with a lot of what Grayling has to say. But maybe I only agree with him because he’s right. You’ll have to read it and decide for yourself.
Most of the essays are only a page or two, so this is a good book to delve into at random. (In fact that’s what Grayling recommends. I always ignore recommendations like that though — I’m a “begin-at-the-beginning” kind of guy.) They are grouped into three categories: Virtues and Attributes (such as Fear, Death, and Blame); Foes and Fallacies (Racism, Christianity, Capitalism); and Amenities and Goods (Education, Reading, Age). The essays originally appeared as newspaper columns, so there is some repetition and a few rough edges — the book could do with a bit of editing.
As a liberal (but not Liberal) intellectual, Grayling’s general views on many topics are not hard to guess. However, his points are nicely nuanced — I do like his slightly ambiguous take on Capitalism, for example. And what makes this book really enjoyable is the writing, which is rich and evocative. Here’s an excerpt from the essay on Love.
People attempt love as climbers attempt Everest; they scramble along, and end by camping in the foothills, or half-way up, wherever their compromises leave them. Some get high enough to see the view, which we know is magnificent, for we have all glimpsed it in dreams.
Indeed, our compromises leave us in the gutter, but our dreams have us looking at the stars. Beautiful.