Cover: Self and Soul: A Defense of Ideals, from Harvard University PressCover: Self and Soul in PAPERBACK

Self and Soul

A Defense of Ideals

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Product Details


$19.50 • £15.95 • €17.50

ISBN 9780674984004

Publication Date: 07/02/2018


304 pages


An impassioned critique of Western society, a relentless assault on contemporary complacency, shallowness, competitiveness, and self-regard… Throughout Self and Soul, Edmundson writes with a Thoreau-like incisiveness and fervor… [A] powerful, heartfelt book.—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

[Edmundson’s] bold and ambitious new book is partly a demonstration of what a ‘real education’ in the humanities, inspired by the goal of ‘human transformation’ and devoted to taking writers seriously, might look like… [It] quietly sets out to challenge many educational pieties, most of the assumptions of recent literary studies—and his own chosen lifestyle.—Mathew Reisz, Times Higher Education

Edmundson’s essays are smart and to the point, and there are some very good turns, as when he lists all the positive things that come from a life devoted to contemplating the ideal… Edmundson delivers a welcome championing of humanistic ways of thinking and living.Kirkus Reviews

There are few writers whom I turn to more eagerly than Mark Edmundson, one of our most perceptive voices on the subjects of teaching, learning, the humanities, and the conduct of a meaningful life. Edmundson believes, against the tide of the culture, that there is something more to existence than getting and spending (i.e., living half-awake for as long as possible), and in Self and Soul he shows us what that something might be. He is an idealist in an age of cynicism, a thinker in an age of surfaces. You won’t regret a minute that you spend in his company.—William Deresiewicz, author of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life

Self and Soul is a series of secular hymns to the soul-saving idealists who shaped Western literature and spiritual philosophy—from Homer to Shakespeare and Blake, Jesus to Emerson and Freud. Let Mark Edmundson be your guide to these wise ones, and whether you thought you knew them well, or have scarcely made their acquaintance, you will be revivified through his telling of a quest for salvation in classic texts that enshrine a trinity of ideals now under threat: courage, compassion, and contemplation.—Megan Marshall, author of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life

Mark Edmundson’s Self and Soul: A Defense of Ideals is in every way a wonderful and highly original book.—J. Hillis Miller, author of Communities in Fiction

With this book Edmundson takes his place as one of the really remarkable contemporary cultural critics. The book, which is written with Edmundson’s incredible lucidity and incisiveness, is really about its title: about what ideals mean and how they work. Ideals that inspire rather than humiliate; that intrigue rather than persecute.—Adam Phillips, author of On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored

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