The Book of Dead Philosophers, By Simon Critchley

Reviewed,Anita Sethi
Sunday 11 October 2009 00:00

"He who would teach men to die would teach them to live", wrote Montaigne, quoted in "That to Philosophize is to Learn How to Die", the epigraph to Critchley's informative, entertaining if at times bewildering book. He believes that we live in terror of annihilation, and that such fear is folly, and an evasion of the real business of living.

Critchley moves elegantly through a wide berth of philosophy. There is Socratic wisdom: that the philosopher looks death in the face and has the strength to say that it is nothing ("True philosophers make dying their profession"). There is also wisdom from Seneca, Spinoza, Schopenhauer and a host of others. And Critchley tries to link the manner of their demise to their central ideas. He evokes Seneca's botched suicide; Aristotle poisoning himself; Heraclitus suffocating on cow dung.

If this all sounds a bit grim, fear not, for there is much humour (and not only gallows humour) to light the way. There are moments when one might feel like killing oneself by munching on all the pages of this book, but thankfully the optimistic drive towards life saves the day – and the reader.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in