Wednesday 7 May 2014

Descartes Bones- Russell Shorto

A fascinating look at the enlightenment and it's impact on modern society and belief, using the controversies surrounding the loss and location of Descartes bones to illustrate several different aspects and conflicts that have arisen thanks largely to the initial teachings of the great philosopher himself. The manipulation and deviations from his original thoughts are highlighted here in a clear and detailed manner.

This book takes us through the courts of seventeenth century Sweden and France, via the chaos of the French revolution, and right up to the modern 'War on Terror' with it's fundamentalists on all sides. Shorto seems to be highly sympathetic for those who follow Descartes and allow their reason to continue to admit some doubt about mankind's ability to understand everything about the world and self, and 'fundementalist athists' such as Christopher Hitchens come in for as much criticism as any of the early modern thinkers who spent their time trying to defend and maintain Aristotle's views of the world.
The story of the bones is itself complex and very interesting, and I loved the quietly sarcastic tone adopted by Shorto at the more ridiculous elements of the the tale.

If you are looking for a highly readable and well written look at the central themes of the Enlightenment and the impact these have had on shaping modern society and thought then this is the ideal book to choose. Concise, entertaining and absolutely fascinating.

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