A wide-ranging, delightful tour de force.

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THE LAGOON

HOW ARISTOTLE INVENTED SCIENCE

Leroi (Evolutionary Development Biology/Imperial Coll. London; Mutants: On the Form, Variety and Errors of the Human Body, 2003) calls on his expertise and his experience as a BBC science presenter to explain why Aristotle's writings on science are still relevant today.

The author introduces readers to Aristotle's work in the field of biology and shows where it accords with modern understanding and where it is wildly off-base. Although best known as a philosopher, Leroi explains that the major body of Aristotle’s work (much of which has been lost) dealt with natural science. In his search for the causes of change, the philosopher embarked on an ambitious project. “By the time he was done,” writes the author, “matter, form, purpose and change were no longer the playthings of speculative philosophy but a research programme.” Aristotle based his groundbreaking efforts to discover the workings of nature on a wide variety of sources, including his own observations. In addition to humans, a whole host of animals came under his purview and led him to classify different species, thus anticipating Carl Linnaeus in the 17th century. Leroi shows how Aristotle pondered the common features of all living creatures, as well as their divergence, and attempted to account for their functional differences. According to the author, Aristotle’s line of thinking led him to attempt to understand the operation of “five interlocked biological systems”—the nutritional system, thermo-regulation, perception and cognition, and inheritance—and indirectly influenced Darwin's discovery of the theory of natural selection. He dismisses critics who fault Aristotle for being unscientific because he did not conduct experiments using controls. Many of his assumptions proved to be wrong, but this is to be expected in a new field. Leroi compares Aristotle's effort to assemble a huge volume of data to the practices of current scientists in the “age of Big Data.”

A wide-ranging, delightful tour de force.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2014

ISBN: 978-0670026746

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

THE ROAD TO CHARACTER

New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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THE WEIGHT OF GLORY

The name of C.S. Lewis will no doubt attract many readers to this volume, for he has won a splendid reputation by his brilliant writing. These sermons, however, are so abstruse, so involved and so dull that few of those who pick up the volume will finish it. There is none of the satire of the Screw Tape Letters, none of the practicality of some of his later radio addresses, none of the directness of some of his earlier theological books.

Pub Date: June 15, 1949

ISBN: 0060653205

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1949

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