Most people today never become truly educated — even if they graduate from college. Colleges today emphasize vocational training instead of education in the humanities. Even students who focus on the humanities usually acquire only specialized knowledge, not broad education.
This book brings together the various branches of the humanities — literature, history, philosophy, psychology, religion, etc. — and combines them into a unified whole. It introduces you to the classics of many different fields, and it also introduces you to the people who created those classics. Thus, you’ll become acquainted with the classics in an intimate, personal way; you’ll feel that you can reach out and shake hands with writers from previous centuries. Reading this book is like traveling to a foreign country — the country of literature and ideas and the classics.
The chapter on literature attempts to describe the essential features of numerous major writers — Joyce, Proust, Tolstoy, Kafka, etc. The chapter on literature also discusses the major philosophical questions surrounding literature, such as the purpose of literature, why people enjoy tragedy, and whether literature is subjective or objective.
Chapter 14 sets forth a new theory of history, a theory of decadence and renaissance. This theory predicts that there will be a renaissance in our time, the first renaissance in four hundred years. A prominent 19th-century philosopher, Thomas Carlyle, predicted a renaissance in our time.1 It is our destiny to be alive during a renaissance epoch. This renaissance is beginning now, when people least expect it, when people see only decadence and sterility. Chapter 14 argues that a renaissance is bound to occur when decadence has reached an extreme.
The chapter on genius enables you to see the classics from the inside, to meet the people behind the books. But it does more than introduce you to writers and artists. Genius is a subset of human nature, just as neurotics are a subset of human nature. Freud focused on neurotics, but his conclusions were relevant to mankind as a whole. Likewise, when we explore the psychology of genius, our conclusions throw light on man in general. The chapter on genius gives you an introduction to psychology, to Freud’s work, and to the whole modern movement toward exploring the unconscious. One well-known Chinese scholar, Dong Leshan, said that it’s the best piece he has seen on the subject of genius.
This book is dead serious, but fun to read. It makes philosophy as readable as a newspaper article, but it also has the scholarship and the depth of genuine philosophy. It’s free from the technical terms that weigh down many philosophical works; it’s written in plain English. A reader of this book quickly becomes familiar with the major categories of culture; he becomes familiar with Russian novelists, with German philosophers, with the history of the English language, with the psychology of genius, etc. This is an original philosophical work, in which the reader will find a hunger for knowledge, a passion for the life of the mind, and a love of literature.
© L. James Hammond 2004