Book Reviews - Winter 2019

The Guru of Athens

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Can age-old philosophy lead the way to happiness?

By Caroline Alexander | December 3, 2018
Aristotle was a perceptive and compassionate observer of human nature, and his advice regarding the cultivation of virtue still inspires. (Wikimedia Commons)

Who knew that Melania Trump’s “Be Best” campaign was Aristotelian? As Edith Hall, a distinguished classicist at King’s College London, explains, “becoming the Best Possible You” is a core tenet of Aristotle’s “Project Happiness,” the pursuit of which is the subject of her new book, Aristotle’s Way. Intended as a practical guide to living well, as opposed to an academic treatise, the book belongs more in the genre of self-help manuals with titles like The Power of Habit and The Road Back to You, than, say, “The Meaning of Prohairesis in Aristotle’s Ethics.”

Aristotle himself was born in 384 B.C., in the small city-state of Stageira, set in the wooded, mountainous peninsula overlooking the Aegean in northern Greece. His father was personal physician to the king of Macedon, and his mother came from a property-owning family in the city of Chalkis. Both parents died when Aristotle was 13. His married sister’s family took him in, and a few years later, sent him to study at Plato’s Academy in Athens. It seems likely that had his father lived, Aristotle would have followed him into medicine, so this chance circumstance may have directed the course of Western intellectual history.

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