I just finished reading “The Book Of Dead Philosophers” by Simon Critchley. The book came to me by way of recommendation from a friend. I finally picked it up about a year later (I sometimes have a list of books I intend to read that takes a while to get through) and was excited to read it. After reading Critchley’s introduction, I was enamored with the book and couldn’t wait to get through it.
The book focuses on the deaths of 190 philosophers, from the ancients to the modern. The theme is to show how philosophy affects one’s life; how one dies in (or out) of accordance with the beliefs that have dominated his or her life. Although I’ve taken a couple of philosophy courses and have read a bit of philosophy on my own, many of the names in the text were foreign or I had only a vague recognition of.
Many of the reviews I read focus on the author’s sense of humor when discussing these philosopher’s deaths. Although at times I chuckled a bit, I wasn’t as impressed with that as I thought I would have been reading the reviews. This might be partly do to my lack of understanding of some of the schools of thought, or perhaps the author and I just have a differing sense of humor.
The book spurred a great deal of thought about death for me, as I imagine is the intention (how do you read a book about death and not think of it). I have been ruminating about suicide in particular, as many of the ancients took their lives in that way, to die in accordance with their beliefs. I even wrote a very short story and an article about suicide, that may or may not make it to publication (either on here or Psychology Today). I do hope to edit the article to make it suitable for publication on Psychology Today.
So, with the facts in mind that it made me think of death (which is good in philosophical terms), kept me reading on, and lead to some creative writing, I must recommend it, no? I guess to that I do say no. Although I found it interesting, and with all of the above reasons in mind, the book fell short of my expectations. This may partly be do to the high expectations I had (some of which came from an introduction I believe everyone should read). But I believe it is mostly due to my finding many of the philosophers unfamiliar, and thereby not being at all interested. This, combined with the fact I may not have been as familiar as needed with the different tenets of the different schools, I didn’t have interest in a good percentage of the book. I was however, intrigued by the stances and deaths of many of the philosophers I was familiar with. Again, this seems to reflect my lack of knowledge leading to disinterest in more of the book than I hoped.
In conclusion, it is an interesting book if you like philosophy, and are interested in how many of its great thinkers lived and died. If you are expecting more of an overview or education on different schools, this isn’t the book. I came away feeling I gained some interesting facts about a few people I’ve admired and the book made me meditate on death a good amount. If this is something you are looking for, by all means pick it up.