Book Review: A Guide For The Perplexed

A Guide For The Perplexed, by E.F. Schumacher

It took me months to get this book from the library.  I requested this book originally three months ago, and the book was lost within the library system for most of that time.  Then when the book was found and finally sent to me, it took three weeks to get transferred to me.  I think that some people were reading it along the way and didn’t want to pass it along to me.  Of course, I only felt this way after having read the book as a whole.  Upon beginning the book, I didn’t feel as fondly about it, and had I judged the book by its first chapter my review would have been considerably less friendly.  As I am familiar with the author’s work Small Is Beautiful [1], where my opinion of it was mixed to positive, I can say that this is a book I appreciate a lot more, even if the distance between my worldview and the author’s is by no means absent.  This book manages to have a message I can understand and in many ways support, although I would not phrase it the same way nor would my own thinking be as heavily influenced by Buddhism as the author’s thinking.

For a small book of less than 150 pages, this book has very ambitious aims.  The author begins with a discussion of philosophical maps (1), making some critical comments about philosophers who aren’t very good at making them and about the supposed waste of time spent by writers like Newton in religious matters.  At this point I was pretty upset with the author.  However, he soon began to win me over by clarifying his message, talking about the need to examine the vertical direction of being (2), look at progressions in moral development within people as well as among various aspects of creation (3).  The author spends two chapters (4,5) talking about what amounts to an adequate view of philosophy for people to have a firm understanding and grasp of reality.  He then spends four chapters (6,7,8,9) talking about various relating to fields of knowledge, dividing them into a 2 x 2 matrix that looks at our internal understanding of ourselves, then our internal understanding of others (a very difficult task), and then our external understanding of ourselves as we appear in others’ eyes, a task often ignored, and then the external understanding of the external world, which is the subject of ordinary contemporary science.  The author then looks at two types of problems (10) and then leaves the reader with a firm understanding in the author’s own strong belief in the importance of spirituality and religion, even if those views are not necessarily conventional.

There is a great deal about this book that is unconventional in a good way.  The author has a lot of good things to say about mysticism and the need to understand the spiritual dimension in existence and not merely the physical and chemical aspects of creation.  That is not to say that everything about this book is to my tastes.  For one, it appears as if the author is occasionally sloppy with his rhetoric.  When a writer makes it appear as if he believes one thing when he really believes another, he needs to do a better job at editing.  For another, even when you understand his perspective, he still appears to be trying to reach for God through human reasoning and human understanding, and the limits of these are pretty severe.  This book is sufficient to demonstrate clearly that there is no excuse for thinking and aware human beings to be ignorant of the existence of God as a perfect and higher being free from our limitations of circumstances, but a knowledge of God on an intellectual sense does not mean that one has a relationship with God that will lead to salvation.  It is better than the alternative, though.

[1] 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.
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2 Responses to Book Review: A Guide For The Perplexed

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

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