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In Praise of Failure

Four Lessons in Humility

Costica Bradatan

ISBN 9780674970472

Publication date: 01/03/2023

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Squarely challenging a culture obsessed with success, an acclaimed philosopher argues that failure is vital to a life well lived, curing us of arrogance and self-deception and engendering humility instead.

Our obsession with success is hard to overlook. Everywhere we compete, rank, and measure. Yet this relentless drive to be the best blinds us to something vitally important: the need to be humble in the face of life’s challenges. Costica Bradatan mounts his case for failure through the stories of four historical figures who led lives of impact and meaning—and assiduously courted failure. Their struggles show that engaging with our limitations can be not just therapeutic but transformative.

In Praise of Failure explores several arenas of failure, from the social and political to the spiritual and biological. It begins by examining the defiant choices of the French mystic Simone Weil, who, in sympathy with exploited workers, took up factory jobs that her frail body could not sustain. From there we turn to Mahatma Gandhi, whose punishing quest for purity drove him to ever more extreme acts of self-abnegation. Next we meet the self-styled loser E. M. Cioran, who deliberately turned his back on social acceptability, and Yukio Mishima, who reveled in a distinctly Japanese preoccupation with the noble failure, before looking to Seneca to tease out the ingredients of a good life.

Gleefully breaching the boundaries between argument and storytelling, scholarship and spiritual quest, Bradatan concludes that while success can make us shallow, our failures can lead us to humbler, more attentive, and better lived lives. We can do without success, but we are much poorer without the gifts of failure.

Praise

  • Bradatan, a philosopher, writes with elegance and wit, his every thought and sentence slipping smoothly into the next…I was absorbed by Bradatan’s book even—or especially—when I felt uncomfortable with its implications.

    —Jennifer Szalai, New York Times

Author

  • Costica Bradatan is author of Dying for Ideas: The Dangerous Lives of the Philosophers and coeditor of The God Beat. A contributor to the New York Times, Aeon, Commonweal, the Times Literary Supplement, and the New Statesman and Religion/Philosophy Editor for the Los Angeles Review of Books, he is Professor of Humanities in the Honors College at Texas Tech University and Honorary Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of Queensland in Australia. His work has been translated into more than twenty languages.

Book Details

  • 288 pages
  • 0-7/8 x 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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