Plato’s Podcasts: the Ancients’ Guide to Modern Living
© 2009 Mark Vernon
I encountered this book a few weeks ago while enjoying a virtual photo-tour of ancient Athens hosted by an Greek philosophy enthusiast. The title immediately drew my attention, and had I spotted this in a library, the cover would have caught my eye regardless. Mark Vernon’s approach is similar to Alain de Botton’s The Consolations of Philosophy in that Vernon devotes each chapter to introduce a single philosopher’s approach toward various subjects. The titles are straightforward, examples being “Epicures on why less is more” and “Socrates on being towards death”. Vernon’s chapters are more numerous and less detailed than de Botton’s, concerned only with a particular facet of a philosopher’s life or works. Some philosophies, most notably for me Stoicism, appear multiple times.This helps counter the risk of misrepresentation. Vernon also limits himself to the classical world, not going beyond Hypatia.
Vernon’s central idea is that the problems of the contemporary world are not dissimilar at their roots from the problems faced by the ancients: people still ask the same questions and are vulnerable to the same outside influences. The themes in this book are universally human: the search for meaning, living amid violent times, free will, love and marriage, understanding laughter and sorrow. He believes that the approaches taken by the classical world’s many varied personalities who not only taught, but practiced philosophy to live life more fully are still valid, and he draws some connections between ancient and modern approaches — between Epicures, the Stoics, and the Slow Movement, for instance. He also references similarities between the Greek philosophers and Buddhists, as well as between the philosophers themselves. Vernon is an informal author, sometimes joking with the reader, but seems to take the philosophical approach to life seriously. Although his faceted approach runs the risk of misrepresenting a school of though to the lay reader, he introduced me to an abundance of previously unheard names with interesting ideas to ponder. I enjoyed reading this through the weekend, and can easily recommend it to those interested in the philosophical life.
- The Consolations of Philosophy, Alain de Botton