The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View by Richard Tarnas

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The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View by Richard Tarnas

Category: History
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: This is a weighty tome in terms of size, number of pages and content material. Academic and scholarly this publication covers the history of Western thought through the centuries right up to the present day.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 560 Date: September 2010
Publisher: Pimlico
ISBN: 978-1845951627

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With plaudits such as Ten years in the making and a US Bestseller, this book has serious pedigree. It is a serious book in content also. At its very heart is the link between the disciplines of philosophy, religion and science. Small sentence, huge implications, I'm thinking right at the outset. Where to begin? Well, all the chapters are usefully sub-divided into bite-sized pieces. So, although this book may look daunting to some at first glance, the subject matter can be broken down very easily. Therefore, it starts with a section headed The Greek World View and as many might expect, covers Socrates, Plato and Homer.

And straight away Tarnas asks the obvious question(s) 'Why the Greeks?' 'Why not another country?' and then gives an extremely fulsome and detailed explanation. Tarnas leaves no question unanswered, no stone unturned. Let me give just a tiny flavour. Tarnas reasonably puts to the reader one of his philosophical points If one wishes to choose actions that are good one must know what 'good' is. And this whole section struck a chord with me. I believe much of what is covered is timeless - whether early civilization or society today. Food for the mind to chew over. Tarnas then plunges into the whole area of subjective/objective giving a few innocent examples along the way. For example, what could be a cool breeze to some could be a warm breeze to others (subjective). We move smoothly onto Plato and we're informed that he distrusted knowledge and information gained purely from sense perceptions. His argument? This knowledge is constantly changing; it never stands still. A tad unreliable then.

We move on into the chapter concentrating on the birth of philosophy (and we're only on page 19). I would respectfully suggest that this book will be of most interest to readers who have a love of all things philosophical and historical. That said, this publication is easy to dip into and refer to. When reading it, I personally came across some interesting facts - the fact that mathematics was absolutely crucial, as far as Plato was concerned, to the whole philosophical debate. You may not think that these two disciplines would gel. Some think they are like chalk and cheese. Apparently not.

The Greek myths unsurprisingly make quite a few appearances and once again, Tarnas fully explains within the context of the book's subject matter including the important area: tension between Greek myth and reason. Fascinating.

Another interesting chapter devotes itself to Socrates. I was surprised to learn that Socrates himself wrote nothing. His intelligence made him ask questions no one had asked before him. I admire intellectual curiosity from whatever source. There's a terrific line from political orator Cicero when he says of Socrates that he somehow called down philosophy from the skies and implanted it in the cities and homes of men. A line to be remembered.

Paradoxically, although academic in content, this book is easy to read. Moreover, the reader can pinpoint and identify philosophers easily. This is a comprehensive (with a capital 'C') book of reference both for scholars and the lay person alike. Most chapters have a useful summary covering the key points therefore if time was short, or the mind a bit lazy, you could just as easily skim read or read the summaries only. The choice is yours. Others chapters cover eg: Christianity, the pagan mind right up to The Modern World View.

As someone with an interest in philosophy I enjoyed this book. However, I did choose to read it in fairly large chunks over a relatively short period (less than a week). Perhaps information overload. I think to gain maximum benefit best to dip into, read a chapter or two. Each and every line is heavy with meaning and needs time to fully digest and appreciate. As you may expect of such a publication there's a comprehensive Epilogue, Bibliography, notes and what I really found fascinating was the Chronology section: 2000 BC right up to the present day. In today's fast changing world, this book is a timely addition. First class and thoroughly recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then we think that you might also enjoy Science: A Four Thousand Year History by Patricia Fara.

Buy The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View by Richard Tarnas at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View by Richard Tarnas at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View by Richard Tarnas at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View by Richard Tarnas at Amazon.com.


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