The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand
(Highbridge Distribution)

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Synopsis

The Metaphysical Club is the winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for History.


A riveting, original book about the creation of modern American thought.


The Metaphysical Club was an informal group that met in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1872, to talk about ideas. Its members included Oliver Well Holmes, Jr., future associate justice of the United States Supreme Court; William James, the father of modern American psychology; and Charles Sanders Peirce, logician, scientist, and the founder of semiotics. The Club was probably in existence for about nine months. No records were kept. The one thing we know that came out of it was an idea -- an idea about ideas. This book is the story of that idea. Holmes, James, and Peirce all believed that ideas are not things "out there" waiting to be discovered but are tools people invent -- like knives and forks and microchips -- to make their way in the world. They thought that ideas are produced not by individuals, but by groups of individuals -- that ideas are social. They do not develop according to some inner logic of their own but are entirely depent -- like germs -- on their human carriers and environment. And they thought that the survival of any idea deps not on its immutability but on its adaptability. The Metaphysical Club is written in the spirit of this idea about ideas. It is not a history of philosophy but an absorbing narrative about personalities and social history, a story about America. It begins with the Civil War and s in 1919 with Justice Holmes's dissenting opinion in the case of U.S. v. Abrams-the basis for the constitutional law of free speech. The first four sections of the book focus on Holmes, James, Peirce, and their intellectual heir, John Dewey. The last section discusses some of the fundamental twentieth-century ideas they are associated with. This is a book about a way of thinking that changed American life.

 

About Louis Menand

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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.
 
Published April 10, 2002 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 568 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Law & Philosophy, Professional & Technical, Political & Social Sciences, Education & Reference. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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In his sharp and expansive appreciation of pragmatism’s formative quartet (Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., William James, Charles Sanders Peirce, and John Dewey), Menand brings their intermingled lives into colorful focus: Holmes goes to war, James to Brazil, Peirce becomes homeless, and Dewey helps o...

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Publishers Weekly

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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.

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Publishers Weekly

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Another rejected absolutes in favor of experiments and experience, insisting (in Menand's words) ""that there is no one way that things must be."" Together these ideas and their progeny are called pragmatism, a home-grown method for splitting differences that launched the American Century, and th...

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Christian Science Monitor

[This review from the Monitor's archives ran originally ran on June 21, 2001.] In 1776, a congress of savvy landowners in Philadelphia announced to the world (particularly to King George) that they held self-evident truths.

Nov 29 2009 | Read Full Review of The Metaphysical Club (Highbr...

The Millions

Contact Book and Reviews Book Lists Links Support the Millions Features Essays Reviews Lists Prizes The Future of the Book Torch Ballads & Jukebox Music Screening Room Columns Ask a Book Question Staff Picks Millions Quiz The Millions Interview ...

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Austin Chronicle

But Menand's pragmatists -- Peirce, James, Holmes, and John Dewey (who Menand includes in this account although Dewey was not a member of the Metaphysical Club;

Jun 08 2001 | Read Full Review of The Metaphysical Club (Highbr...

Project MUSE

A cross among the genres of biography, history, cultural studies, intellectual description, high gossip, and anecdote, Menand's book reenacts America's varied personal, historical, and intellectual strands as, all of them, sources and scenes of American pragmatism.

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Project MUSE

Above all, ideas do not refer to things, only to other ideas.

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