American Philosophy by John Kaag

You may enjoy this compelling hybrid of memoir, narrative and philosophy.

Previously the author of academic works (Thinking Through the Imagination: Aesthetics in Human Cognition, 2014, and others), John Kaag ( here teaches philosophy through narrative. It concerns the discovery of 10,000 books in a neglected building on the rural New Hampshire estate of William Ernest Hocking, a deceased Harvard philosophy professor. The first time Kaag entered the estate, he saw the collection by trespassing. Later, he received permission from Hocking’s daughters. The author’s discovery came at a juncture of severe personal depression as a postdoctoral scholar at Harvard. His problematic father had died, his youthful marriage was unraveling, and he was obsessed with the question ‘Is life worth living?’ presented most vividly by William James, the father of American psychology and philosophy.

By throwing himself into saving the Hocking collection, Kaag found something meaningful to do. He grapples with the death of his sometimes-hated father, files for divorce, and falls in love with a female academic colleague who had also divorced. That colleague, Carol Hay, joined Kaag on the New Hampshire estate to help save the rare books. They married in 2011 and later became parents. Some of the books sold at auctions, and others were donated to libraries and archives with climate controls to aid preservation. Throughout the book, the author deftly intertwines the narrative threads in a story perfect for book lovers.

Kaag’s lively prose, acute self-examination, unfolding romance, and instructive history of philosophy make for an absorbing book, if that’s your kind of thing.

Enquire at your local library or consult  for further bibliographic detail.

272 pages in Farrar, Straus and Giroux

First published 2016

ISBN 978-0374154486

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Professor John Kaag

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