*On Politics, book one*, by Alan Ryan

I picked up these two volumes on the basis of a very favorable review reproduced on The Browser, by Noel Malcolm.  Yet the books sat around the house for months.  I figured this was another overwrought survey by a famous person, valuable mainly as an introduction for those who don’t know much about the topic.  The subtitle of volume one, by the way, is A History of Political Thought Herodotus to Machiavelli. Volume two picks up from there.

Overall I have been pleasantly surprised.  When it comes to readability, interest, and integration of the intellectual narrative with actual history, I give volume one an A or A+.  Along multiple dimensions, it would count as the very best book of the year.  I do, however, have one major reservation.  Whenever Ryan writes about a deep political philosopher, such as Plato, he makes that thinker sound prosaic and thus seem second-rate and shallow.  Not terrible, just ordinary.  Reading Ryan only, you would never know what all the fuss is about.

It is thus hard to assess the book as a whole, but I will continue with volume two.  Ryan himself is a fairly deep thinker.  Allan Bloom was a less deep thinker, and yet perhaps for that reason Bloom much better captured the depth of Plato.


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