A Little History of Philosophy Nigel Warburton

Little Histories
Publication date:
15 Oct 2012
Yale University Press
272 pages: 216 x 140mm
40 b-w illus.

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Philosophy begins with questions about the nature of reality and how we should live. These were the concerns of Socrates, who spent his days in the ancient Athenian marketplace asking awkward questions, disconcerting the people he met by showing them how little they genuinely understood. This engaging book introduces the great thinkers in Western philosophy and explores their most compelling ideas about the world and how best to live in it.

In forty brief chapters, Nigel Warburton guides us on a chronological tour of the major ideas in the history of philosophy. He provides interesting and often quirky stories of the lives and deaths of thought-provoking philosophers from Socrates, who chose to die by hemlock poisoning rather than live on without the freedom to think for himself, to Peter Singer, who asks the disquieting philosophical and ethical questions that haunt our own times.

Warburton not only makes philosophy accessible, he offers inspiration to think, argue, reason, and ask in the tradition of Socrates. A Little History of Philosophy presents the grand sweep of humanity's search for philosophical understanding and invites all to join in the discussion.

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Nigel Warburton (born 1962) is a freelance philosopher, writer and podcaster. He is best known as a populariser of philosophy, being author of a number of books of this genre, but he has also written academic works in esthetics and applied ethics.

He regularly teaches courses on philosophy and art at Tate Modern and writes a monthly column 'Everyday Philosophy' for Prospect magazine. He runs a popular philosophy weblog Virtual Philosopher and with David Edmonds regularly podcasts interviews with top philosophers on a range of subjects at Philosophy Bites.

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"This book is a little classic."—Merryn Williams, Oxford Times

"A charming read."—Christian Century

"This brisk primer is, for the neophyte, a good place to start immersing oneself in the history of Western thought."—Publishers Weekly

"This book is a little classic, invaluable for the man or woman in the street who would like to know more about philosophy. . . . [It] suggests that philosophy is 'not harsh and crabbed, as dull fools suppose,' but a thoroughly enjoyable way to stretch your mind."—Merryn Williams, Oxford Times

"A primer in human existence: philosophy has rarely seemed so lucid, so important, so worth doing and so easy to enter into. It's refreshing to see the subject presented in terms of the history of ideas rather than of timeless concepts. A wonderful introduction for anyone who's ever felt curious about almost anything."—Sarah Bakewell, author of How To Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer

"A lively and eye-catching book, written in an easy style which should have splendid appeal for a young audience."—Peter Cave, author of Can a Robot be Human?: 33 Perplexing Philosophy Puzzles

". . . a tour of the major ideas and thinkers in the history of philosophy, nicely presented in 40 brief chapters."—The Bookseller

"Warburton packs a heck of a lot in to what is something of a Goldilocks volume: neither too much nor too little, the exegesis neither too thing or too thick and lumpy, his Little History can be consumed as a nourishing treat in its own right or provide the perfect fuel to kick-start anyone’s journey into philosophy."—Julian Baggini, The Observer

"The book has a certain quality that comes from accepting a challenge under severe conditions, then taking it on without making a big deal of the whole thing. And the word for that quality is grace."—Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed

Read Nigel Warburton's post on how E.H. Gombrich inspired A Little History of Philosophy on the Yale Press Log

"With this sweeping and enjoyable work the author affirms that deliberating on reality and questioning how our lives are best lived is still worth the trouble."—PopMatters

"The magic of Nigel Warburton’s book is its disarming accessibility. It closely follows the template of A Little History Of The World – Ernst Gombrich’s 1935 introductory text for children, recently translated by Yale – and Warburton is the ideal shout for a writer to match Gombrich’s terse charm and easy authority. Anyone who’s enjoyed Warburton’s brilliant podcast series, Philosophy Bites, where he and fellow demystifier David Edmonds half-nelson academics into spelling out their their theories, will know he has a special gift for defusing complexity."—Chris Brown, Time Out

"If you are looking for a book about philosophy, Nigel Warburton’s A Little History of Philosophy is the place to begin. . . . Accessible, funny and informative."—Sacramento News and Review

"Nigel Warburton takes the reader on a journey through the history of Western philosophy, in a highly accessible way. . . . Illuminating, informative and most of all enjoyable."—Mary Lussiana, Country & Town House (Books of the Year)

"This fascinating book makes a seemingly impenetrable subject accessible. . . . From the execution of Socrates to today’s animal rights movement, he examines some of the most compelling ideas put forward by some of the brilliant minds of humanity has known."—Gavin Engelbrecht, Northern Echo (Christmas Books)

"Survey the entire history of (western) philosophy through short intellectual biographies of 40 philosophers from Socrates to Peter Singer, in as broadly approachable a style as EH Gombrich’s A Little History of the World. A tall order; that Warburton (of the excellent podcast Philosophy Bites) has succeeded so well is a triumph."—Steven Poole, The Guardian

"This is a thought-provoking and engaging introduction to philosophy, sweeping through over 2000 years of Western philosophical ideas. . . . The core ideas are clearly described with engaging anecdotal elaborations, both visual and written, which reveal to the reader the real people behind the concepts."—Good Book Guide

"Forty short chapters offer an informative, clear guide to forty major Western philosophers. Warburton’s casual, conversational style belies the erudition that has gone into his book."—Katie Owen, Sunday Telegraph