Book Review: Philosopher’s Holiday

Philosopher’s Holiday, by Irwin Edman

A week and a half ago, I saved this book from being tossed into the fireplace by agreeing to add it to my collection without ever having heard of it before.  I knew nothing of its author, having never heard of him or any of his other works.  To be sure, the title itself seemed a bit odd, since it was not clear at all what a philosopher’s holiday would be.  Upon reading this book, it quickly became evident that it was the sort of book I was actually somewhat familiar, in that it was an anecdote-based memoir in which the author somewhat doubted the state of his memory [1] and at the same time was writing about the glorious life of the mind, and the brotherhood that people have with like-minded people across the boundaries of race, class, and ethnicity [2].  And though this book was published in 1938, in reading this book I clearly see a kindred spirit, someone who ponders over questions of first and ultimate importance, and who is sensitive to those around him.  Here is a book I came across by chance, and yet although separated by generations, the author of this book is someone I would likely have considered to be a friend, for all of our differences.

The book itself consists of 270 pages of reflections from the author’s life that showed the influence of philosophy and background in various different aspects.  This is not an autobiography in the sense of being a coherent narrative but is a collection of puzzle pieces to be put together by the reader, precisely the sort of memoir a philosophical person would be expected to write.  The vignettes are organized into 20 chapters, on such subject matter as:  the French doctor-cum-philosopher Monsieur Platon, organizations founded on intellectual interests, a philosophical sailor, various philosophical moments while traveling in Europe and the Middle East and dealing with pining lovers, lost English poets, and college students wrestling with the loss of traditional values around the world, music, an unpleasant run-in with a Nazi, nostalgic memories of old New York, sane Englishmen, the joys of being a philosopher sans portfolio, and kind thoughts towards a housemaid who enjoys serving well.  This is a book full of enjoyment of the simple life of music and books, of good conversations with good friends over good food, and of the joy in meeting like-minded people wherever they can be found, in the knowledge that friendships among intellectual equals is something to be treasured no matter how varied the backgrounds or situations in life of the people involved.

This is a very good book, and certainly an extremely surprising one.  That is not to say that it is perfect–the author is certainly quite irreligious in mindset, and of the smug intellectual leftist type that would be insufferable around election time.  Even so, the author’s sensitivity to social justice cannot be faulted, as it is a sensitivity I share, and the author is remarkably ecumenical in his own tastes–he appears to be a genuinely friendly person towards those philosophical people he happens to meet often randomly and by chance.  He shares in the joys of his students (including the erudite Jacques Barzun) and also ponders what it is about philosophy that is worth studying for the ordinary person.  This book is also prophetic in a way, in that several of the chapters of the book point to the immediate geopolitical problems of World War II and the Cold War (this, in 1938, was at least a little bit prescient) and also to the anti-intellectual rise of populism in our contemporary age, and even to the rise of political activism in the 1960’s and beyond.  The author would not have been happy to see the last few decades of Western Civilization, but looking at this book, he would likely not have been surprised either.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Book Review: Philosopher’s Holiday

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Welcome To College | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: A Little Book For New Philosophers | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: A Student’s Guide To Political Philosophy | Edge Induced Cohesion

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