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Surfing with Sartre

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About the Author

AARON JAMES holds a PhD from Harvard and is professor of philosophy at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of Assholes: A Theory, Assholes: A Theory of Donald Trump, and Fairness in Practice: A Social Contract for a Global Economy and numerous academic articles. He was awarded a Burkhardt Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, and spent the 2009-10 academic year at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. He's an avid, lifelong surfer and lives in Irvine, California.


"I surf, therefore I am: a good-natured exploration of some of the big questions philosophy raises, all while hanging 10. In this nimble set of essays on topics such as work and freedom, James... gives a fine if idiosyncratic account of how philosophers puzzle out the world--idiosyncratic because it's framed from the point of view of a surfer. Throughout, the book is provocative and less laid-back than it might appear at first glance. A 12-page glossary defines some surfing and philosophy terms alike. Heidegger as ho-daddy? The approach is unusual, but to fruitful--and entertaining--ends."
--Kirkus Reviews

"Surfing With Sartre: An Aquatic Inquiry Into a Life of Meaning by Aaron James [is] a great book. James is a philosophy professor. He's written a beautiful book, essentially a dialogue with Jean-Paul Sartre about work and play. He's arguing that working less and playing more, especially in the surf, is not only an okay choice but a moral one. He makes a beautiful argument for why leisure and dedication to nature is a moral imperative at this time. It might sound like a stretch but he builds a case. The book also gives you a good excuse to surf a little more.
--Jaimal Yogis, author of Saltwater Buddha

"Stacks of pop philosophy books, from the late Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance on down, have sought to equate everyday activities with a deeper understanding of reality and self. In Aaron James' new book, Surfing with Sartre, he uses the surfboard as a vehicle of enlightenment. It seems, at first glance, like a simple task. "Go with the flow," after all, might as well be the mantra of both the surfer and the sophist. But there's much more to Surfing with Sartre than that. Erudite yet engaging, the book strikes a winning balance between waxing wise and catching waves... James is both a professor of philosophy and an avid surfer, and his passion is palpable on the page... For all its heady discussion of philosophy and the technical aspects of surfing, Surfing with Sartre is surprisingly lively. James cannily navigates the metaphysics of Leibniz and the point breaks of Malibu with equal ease... he infuses Surfing with Sartre with just the right mix of personal insight and universal scope. The author himself playfully calls his book "comically grandiose," and it's exactly that, a work of both ambition and humility. Ultimately, it's as concerned with peace, fulfillment, and humanity's future as it is about the spray of salty surf on a summer's day. In fact, the two are the same. And his departing lesson is profound in its clarity: Surfing -- like life -- should be a thing of both pleasure and meaning."

"What can surfing teach us about politics, work, and freedom of choice, everyday getting around in the world, and even climate change? Turns out quite a lot, according to Aaron James, a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Irvine, and author of the new book Surfing With Sartre: An Aquatic Inquiry Into a Life of Meaning. James is known for mapping philosophical inquiry onto cultural touchpoints in ways that make dense theory accessible to the lay reader (see his heady and often hilarious theory of social relations via "asshole studies" in Assholes: A Theory). Surfing With Sartre, however, is not only a fun and informative read, it's also an important achievement in the way it draws together phenomenology and existentialism with a fresh look at some of the most serious ills plaguing modern life today--all told through a surfer theory of how to work less and be stoked more, and in so doing, make the world a more sustainable place. If it sounds silly, it's not: Surfing With Sartre recalls the zen glories of Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Hubert Dreyfus's and Sean Dorrance Kelly's All Things Shining with the uberdude axioms of Point Break and The Big Lebowski. This is Nietzsche on a surfboard, and it's an epic ride."
--Sierra Club staff

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