The Socrates Express: In Search of Life Lessons from Dead Philosophers

S. & S. Jun. 2020. 352p. ISBN 9781501129018. $28. PHIL
Traveling by train to philosophers’ physical terrains, former NPR journalist Weiner (The Geography of Genius) confronts 14 quotidian and existential “how to’s”—how to walk, wonder, be kind, be attentive, and grow old and how to die. Along the way, he dispenses warm wisdom drawn from an eclectic set of succinctly put perspectives. The travelog takes readers by rail with Weiner to the spot where Gandhi was assassinated, to search for the Swiss boulder where Nietzsche was struck with the concept of Eternal Recurrence, and to find Confucian kindness riding the subway’s F train to New York City’s Chinatown. Amid his travels and personal reminiscences, Weiner loops back to Stoic voices: he depicts Marcus Aurelius struggling to get out of bed, joins a “Stoic Camp” in Wyoming to read Epictetus, and finds Stoic resonances in Montaigne and Simone de Beauvoir.
VERDICT Weiner offers bubble gum philosophy that provides a quick, sweet taste and occasionally implies that the jaw exercise of chewing on philosophically challenging concepts is not rewarding. Readers seeking travelog will feel shortchanged, but those looking for lite insights will be drawn in gradually from the shallow (getting out of bed and walking) to the deep end (ageing and death).
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