Cover Image: A Terribly Serious Adventure

A Terribly Serious Adventure

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

"A Terribly Serious Adventure: Philosophy and War at Oxford, 1900-1960" by Nikhil Krishnan is an engaging and enlightening exploration of a fascinating era in both academia and global history. This book offers a thought-provoking perspective on the intersection of philosophy and war during a tumultuous period, and it deserves recognition for its extensive research and captivating narrative.

One of the standout qualities of this book is Krishnan's meticulous attention to detail. The author's thorough research is evident in the wealth of historical facts, documents, and primary sources included throughout the text. This scholarly approach not only lends credibility to the narrative but also provides readers with a deeper understanding of the context and significance of the events discussed.

Moreover, Krishnan's ability to intertwine personal anecdotes and stories of prominent figures at Oxford adds a human element to the historical analysis. This approach brings the narrative to life, making it more relatable and engaging for readers. It provides a deeper understanding of the individuals involved and their contributions to the philosophical discourse during times of war.

Another commendable aspect of "A Terribly Serious Adventure" is its broader societal implications. The book goes beyond the boundaries of academia to explore the profound influence of war on philosophical thought and vice versa. Krishnan skillfully connects philosophical ideas to their real-world applications and consequences, prompting readers to reflect on the complexities of war, ethics, and intellectual pursuits.

Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity to read a temporary digital ARC and provide my honest opinions.

Was this review helpful?

A great book that offers extensive biographical detail of key thinkers at Oxford and their role in shaping the philosophies of the early to mid 20th Century. Interesting interplay between the ideas percolating in the Ivory Tower and the general political experimentation of the times that would have such devastating consequences on the world.

Was this review helpful?

Having just read "Metaphysical Animals" about six months ago, I wanted to try this out as well. It did include the four women who were the focus of that earlier book, but added more context about the philosophers working at and around Oxford in the 20th century. Krishnan has an entertaining and witty writing style that made the book accessible.

Having said that - I have never had the brain for philosophy, and this book just confirmed it for me all the more. I only had a vague idea of what most of these thinkers were talking about. The earlier book simplified things (maybe too much? I'm not sure) so that I understood the different directions the women philosophers were going as compared to some of the most orthodox Oxford figures like A. J. Ayer. As near as I can tell, the conflict was between people whose main thesis was that if you cannot empirically verify a statement then it has no meaning, and people who believed there was more important business to attend to, especially when it came to ethics. This mattered more and more as Hitler rose and fell and his true evils were known.

As I was reading this, it seemed to me more than ever that I am not missing much of anything by not getting or paying attention to philosophy. Few people are ever going to think about the kinds of things philosophers spend whole careers thinking about. For someone like me, the best book I ever read about philosophy was a novel called Sophie's World, that really did blow my mind. Abstruse picking apart of the details of how someone thinks is never going to influence 99 percent of the world's people, most of whom really are wooly thinkers. We can figure out for ourselves that Hitler was evil without arguing about whether there is such a thing as evil or whether we could independently verify that with scientific measurements. The staggering amount of brain power that was expended on counting angels dancing on pin heads is rather shocking. Philosophers are mostly, in the end, talking to themselves and not to the rest of us.

The last chapter and the epilogue were the most interesting for me, they followed some of the main characters to the ends of their careers, and showed how "Oxford philosophy" changed in the 1960s and later. Krishnan is an interesting person to undertake a study like this, having come from India to invade the white people's bastion of Oxbridge and thus being both insider and outsider.

As an aside, I'd never heard of Susan Stebbing before but it sounds like she called BS on some of these discussions from the very beginning. She's someone I want to look more into.

If you're interested in 20th century philosophy you will find this book very interesting. I now know that I am not, despite this being a very engaging book.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read an advance copy of this book.

Was this review helpful?