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Ideas That Matter: The Concepts That Shape the 21st Century by A. C. Grayling

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Grayling is a philosopher with a great sense of humour and a great writing style. This book contains discussions on a list of topics that Grayling considers as important. Its style is somewhere between that of an encyclopedia and that of a collection of short essays. The average length for each entry is about two and a half pages and totally devoid of undefined buzzwords.

Given the breath of the topics discussed, from history to philosophy and from biology to physics, it is natural that not all entries are as clear as they could be or as complete as they could be. A few have unnecessarily multiple entries, like "religion", "Catholic Christianity", "Orthodox Christianity", "Protestantism", since from an ideas point of view nothing new is being added, while for some the treatment is so pedestrian that it is not clear why he bothered including them in the first place. For example, on "tolerance" he spends about two pages discussing the trivially obvious and concludes by saying "We pride ourselves on being tolerant, but this is usually when we do not really care one way or the other about what others are doing. When we mind, and object, and dislike, but recognize the other's right to do what he does...then the hard work of tolerance begins." Well, although that may be trivially true, one would expect a bit more than platitudes from a philosopher. At a minimum a discussion on the limits of tolerance. In other words at what point is tolerance not tolerance anymore but becomes voluntary submission to the opinions of someone else? And at what point social tolerance is tantamount to a different form of totalitarianism where the majority has to voluntarily subjugate itself to the wishes of the few? Or what is the domain where tolerance should reign?

Nevertheless, for most entries I found myself rethinking some of their promises after reading Grayling and as such I would recommend reading this book, but in a slow and contemplative fashion. ( )
  Alex1952 | Mar 25, 2016 |
Grayling discusses issues that are important in the 21st century, not focusing on just the positive, but also on ideas that hang on and create problems. For the most part, the discussion is easy to read and astute, though he does lapse into jargon in some of the more philosophical topics, which may lead to readers skipping those sections (which didn't require philosophical jargon to elucidate). It is arranged encyclopedia style, so you can go alphabetically and find the issue you're interested in, with cross references to other topics. He makes some blunders, especially in the area of US history; while I don't expect the British to all know US history correctly, it is a valuable thing if you are going to write about it in a professional book. Also, it is interesting to note what he includes, and what he leaves out. Are his choices arbitrary, or do they say something important? For instance, he discusses racism and the problems that arise, but he does not mention sexism. This might not be an indication of anything, since his paragraphs on feminism seem fair, but there are some rather pregnant comments in some of the other sections which might suggest a rejection that sexism is an important topic, and which are more revealing coupled with his discussion of Sociobiology. Or he may just figure he covered it enough with feminism. Still, it is an interesting work, and deserves to be considered by anyone interested in the important issues of the day. ( )
  quantum_flapdoodle | Apr 24, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0753826186, Paperback)

'Ideas are the cogs that drive history, and understanding them is half way to being aboard that powerful juggernaut rather than under its wheels'. This is a book that celebrates the power of ideas: thought can, and does, change the world. And, in turn, ideas evolve. Fundamentalism, environmentalism and bioethics are defining our future just as Marxism, feminism or existentialism have influenced our present. So what do we need to know as we move into the 21st century? More than a simple reference work, this is A.C. Grayling's personal and heartfelt guide to the ideas, past and present, that shape our world. Covering religion, philosophy, scientific theory and political movements, each alphabetically ordered entry illuminates, elucidates and provokes. Written with Grayling's customary fire and erudition, the result is a book that aims both to arm readers with knowledge and engage them in philosophical debate.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:02 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Thought can, and does, change the world. And, in turn, ideas evolve. Fundamentalism, environmentalism and bioethics are defining our future just as Marxism, feminism or existentialism have influenced our present. So what do we need to know as we move into the 21st century? More than a simple reference work, this is Grayling's personal and heartfelt guide to the ideas, past and present, that shape our world. Covering religion, philosophy, scientific theory and political movements, each alphabetically ordered entry illuminates, elucidates and provokes.… (more)

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