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The Metaphysical Club


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About the Author

Louis Menand is a professor of English at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and a staff writer at The New Yorker, and has been a contributing editor of The New York Review of Books since 1994. He is the author of Discovering Modernism: T. S. Eliot and His Context and the editor of The Future of Academic Freedom and Pragmatism: A Reader.


The Metaphysical Club was an informal intellectual gathering of philosophers and academics that met in Cambridge, Mass., for only nine months in 1872. Menand, known for his contributions to the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, follows the evolution of pragmatism as it emerged from the minds of four of the club's "members": Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, William James, Charles Sanders Peirce and John Dewey. The Metaphysical Club describes how the lives of these great thinkers interconnect in an enjoyable, though sometimes complex, narrative. Leyva's reading is fluid and clean. His delivery, that of an enthusiastic yet slightly removed academic, transports the listener to a classroom seat, alert and ready to take notes. Unlike those audiobooks in which the enthralled listener cannot wait to listen to each subsequent tape in order to see what happens next, listeners may find themselves rewinding the tape to repeat bits here and there, or just turning it off from time to time to digest the thoughts introduced. This audiobook is stimulating for our nation today, as Menand stresses the important role of intellectuals in times of chaos (in this case, after the Civil War), when people's beliefs are put to the test. Based on the Farrar, Straus & Giroux hardcover (Forecasts, Mar. 12, 2001). (Sept.)n Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Menand (English, CUNY) acknowledges at the outset the ephemeral nature of the informal discussion group known as "the metaphysical club," stating that it "was probably in existence for only nine months, and no records were kept." Yet he sees in the work of its principals Oliver Wendell Holmes, William James, and Charles Sanders Peirce a momentous change in the conditions of modern life, brought about in large part because of their thought and work. The three men met informally in Cambridge, MA, in 1872, and out of these meetings a new philosophy was born a uniquely American way of looking at the world, known as pragmatism. To tell this fascinating story, Menand produces a seamless narrative line that moves from the Civil War to the Supreme Court case in 1919 that became the basis for the constitutional doctrine of free speech. Along the way, the reader is introduced to myriad pertinent players and events that bring the era and the thinking vividly to life. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/01.] Leon H. Brody, U.S. Office of Personnel Mgt. Lib., Washington, DC Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"The Metaphysical Club is dramatic and persuasive ... something very like a history of the American mind at work." --Alan Ryan, The New York Review of Books

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