American Philosophy: A Love Story

Author(s): John Jacob Kaag

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The epic wisdom contained in a lost library helps the author turn his life aroundIn "American Philosophy," John Kaag--a disillusioned philosopher at sea in his marriage and career--stumbles upon a treasure trove of rare books on an old estate in the hinterlands of New Hampshire that once belonged to the Harvard philosopher William Ernest Hocking. The library includes notes from Whitman, inscriptions from Frost, and first editions of Hobbes, Descartes, and Kant. As he begins to catalog and preserve these priceless books, Kaag rediscovers the very tenets of American philosophy--self-reliance, pragmatism, the transcendent--and sees them in a twenty-first-century context. Hocking was one of the last true giants of American philosophy. After studying under Harvard's Philosophical Four--William James, George Santayana, Josiah Royce, and George Herbert Palmer--he held the most prestigious chair at the university for the first three decades of the twentieth century. And when his teachers eventually died, he collected the great books from their libraries (filled with marginalia) and combined them with his own rare volumes at his family's estate. And there they remained for nearly eighty years, a time capsule of American thought.Part intellectual history, part memoir, "American Philosophy" is an invigorating investigation of American pragmatism and the wisdom that underlies a meaningful life.


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The epic wisdom contained in a lost library helps the author turn his life around.

A compelling hybrid combining memoir, a dramatic narrative about saving an endangered rare book collection, and the intellectual history of philosophy . . . Throughout the book, the author deftly intertwines the narrative threads in a story perfect for book lovers and soul searchers alike. Kaag's lively prose, acute self-examination, unfolding romance, and instructive history of philosophy as a discipline make for a surprisingly absorbing book. "Kirkus Reviews "(starred review)"John Kaag is the closest thing we have to William James: a breathtakingly good prose stylist; philosophically and psychologically courageous, inventive and inspiring; ruthlessly honest; unsparing about the difficulties of love, intimacy and experience; and above all, human, in the most valuable and moral sense of the word." Clancy Martin"John Kaag s "American Philosophy: A Love Story" is one of the most entertaining guides to philosophical inquiry to come along in decades. Stumbling on the library of a long-forgotten Harvard professor abandoned on the great man s country estate, John Kaag examines the trove and finds himself communing with the likes of William James, Josiah Royce, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ideas may be Kaag s first love, but they bring him a flesh-and-blood Beatrice in this open-hearted account of a young man s second chance at a sentimental education." Megan Marshall Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Margaret Fuller: A New American Life" Is life worth living? This is the age-old but forever timely question at the center of this remarkable and daring memoir. Part history of American philosophy, part personal narrative, "American Philosophy: A Love Story," takes us deeply into that 'epic love affair with wisdom' that is philosophy, but it does so through the wonderfully intimate lens of the author himself, a young and accomplished philosopher who has summoned the nerve to expose his flaws, his failures, his deepest doubts about it all, a rare act of creative courage and generosity that leads us to where the heart of true philosophy lies: to a deep and abiding sense of wonder. This is an absolutely stellar memoir." Andre Dubus III"

John Kaag is a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. He is the author of "Idealism, Pragmatism, and Feminism" (2011) and "Thinking Through the Imagination: Aesthetics in Human Cognition"(2014). His writing has appeared in" The" "New York Times," "Harper's Magazine," "The Christian Science Monitor," "The Chronicle of Higher Education," and many other publications.

General Fields

  • : 9780374154486
  • : Farrar, Straus & Giroux Inc
  • : Farrar, Straus & Giroux Inc
  • : December 2016
  • : 210mm X 140mm X 24mm
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : John Jacob Kaag
  • : Hardback
  • : 1
  • : en
  • : 272
  • : selected bibliography and suggested reading index