A cute, readable introduction to some of the great philosophers and the lessons they can teach us.
Philosophy has traditionally been regarded as the purview of socially-awkward academics, pompous Greeks and consumptive, snow-bound Germans. But in recent times, it has seen a resurgence in the popular imagination, particularly through the work of writers such as Alain de Botton and his School of Life.
Teacher and philosopher Marie Robert has jumped on this band-wagon with her delightful little book. In each chapter she takes a story from modern life: a disappointing date; the death of a beloved dog; friends who spend all their time on their phones; even shopping at IKEA. From these narratives she draws out a life lesson from one of the great philosophers. Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Plato and of course the eponymous Kant, are all present, along with slightly lesser-known thinkers such as Levinas and Spinoza. Get help from Bergson with your start-up, or from Aristotle with your hangover!
As well as a lesson from their writings, Robert gives brief biographical information, and a recommended text. It is very similar to de Botton’s The Consolations of Philosophy but much simpler. You can read the entire book in a couple of hours.
It is always good to be reminded of some of the great thinkers, although it is disappointing that Robert does not have one female in the selection. For a Frenchwoman to leave de Beauvoir out of the mix seems almost unpatriotic!
Despite this oversight, When You Kant Figure it Out… is an enjoyable read, and inspiring enough to lead one back to reading some of the original texts.
Beautifully translated by Meg Richardson, and with witty illustrations by Paige Vickers, this small-format hardback would make a perfect secret-Santa gift, or a great addition to your summer-holiday reading list.
Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Distributed by: Penguin Books Australia
Released: November 2019