A brilliant portrait of the Greek philosopher who personified philosophy.
Socrates was undeniably one of the greatest thinkers of all time, yet he wrote nothing. Throughout his life, and indeed until his very last moment alive, Socrates fully embodied his philosophy in thought and deed. It is through the story of his life that we can fully grasp his powerful actions and ideas.
In his highly acclaimed style, historian Paul Johnson masterfully disentangles centuries of scarce sources to offer a riveting account of a homely but charismatic middle-class man living in Athens in the fifth century b.c., and how what this man thought still shapes the way we decide how to act, and how we fathom the notion of body and soul. Johnson provides a compelling picture of the city and people Socrates reciprocally delighted in, as well as many enlightening and intimate analyses of specific aspects of his personality. Enchantingly portraying "the sheer power of Socrates's mind, and its unique combination of steel, subtlety, and frivolity," Paul Johnson captures the vast and intriguing life of a man who did nothing less than supply the basic apparatus of the human mind.
In this brisk account of Socrates' life, ideas, and era, written to be useful for contemporary readers, Johnson (Churchill) chronicles the rise and fall of Athens under Pericles and his successors, establishing both the context of Socrates' influence and his motivations. "He saw that science, or the investigation of the external world, was for him, at least, unprofitable. But the investigation of the internal world of man was something he could do and wanted to do," writes Johnson. Because Socrates himself did not record his thoughts, Johnson does well to summarize the writings of the philosopher's admirers, acolytes, and rivals. The summary of the Socratic dialogue of Laches provides an admirably concise view of the philosopher's methods and rhetorical tactics in exploring courage, moral purity, and mortality. Likewise, Johnson is able to deftly explain how Socrates' dedication to Athenian ideals helped seal his fate as Athens spiraled into political and military decline and he was tried and convicted of "corrupting the young" of the city-state. In the end, when he drank hemlock under a death sentence, it was "his determination to uphold the dignity and sovereignty of Athenian law by submitting to it" that accounted for the end of a remarkable life whose influence remains central to the foundations of Western thought.