Since launching in April 2012 we’ve published reviews of over 900 books from across the social sciences. Here are the top five most read Philosophy reviews from 2013, covering Marx, medicine, and Hitler’s philosophers. Thank you to all of our generous reviewers for their time and enthusiasm.

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Antifragile: How to Live in a World We Don’t Understand by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

fuller2In The Black SwanNassim Nicholas Taleb wrote on the highly improbable and unpredictable events that underlie almost everything about our world. In Antifragile, Taleb aims to stand uncer­tainty on its head, making it desirable, even necessary. Steve Fuller comments on the applicability of Taleb’s work to academia and discusses just how ‘fragile’ the academic way of being has become.

Antifragile is the most inspiring work that I have read in a long time. It provides a comprehensive rational basis for the Nietzschean maxim, ‘What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger’, which is the essence of the ‘antifragile’ world-view. Taleb generalises the lesson that he first taught concerning ‘black swans’, namely, those highly improbable events that when they happen end up producing a step change in the course of history. Taleb’s deep insight involved a radical dismissal of those who claim in retrospect that they nearly predicted such events and think they ‘learn’ by improving their capacity to predict ‘similar events’ in the future. Such people, who constitute an unhealthy proportion of pundits in the financial sector (but also a large part of the social science community), are captive to a hindsight illusion that leads them to confuse explanation with prediction. The lesson they should learn is that prediction of extreme events is always a mug’s game. Rather, what matters is coming out stronger regardless of how one’s future predictions turn out. Read the full review…

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Karl Marx on Technology and Alienation by Amy E. Wendling

For Marx, technology exemplifies the interaction between human beings and nature. Marx’s description of this interaction is in transition throughout his works. An older, humanist and vitalist paradigm sets the human being against nature as a qualitatively different type of force. A newer, thermodynamic paradigm sets the human being and nature in continuity. Amy E. Wendling offers a conceptual history of alienation as it developed in modern thought and in Marx’s own work. Reviewer Richard Cotter is impressed by the author’s style which he finds acts as a steady hand through this fairly complex theoretical territory.

There are a ‘thousand Marxisms’ said the late Marxist scholar Daniel Bensaid referring to the numerous and diverse interpretations this oeuvre has seen (and suffered) throughout its history. However, far from being a weakness, Bensaid insisted this was a practical strength. Marx’s thought is sustained and revivified by evolving interpretations even if inevitably this comes with a fair dose of disagreement. Then again, disagreement tends to keep ideas alive rather than destroy them. It can be more illuminating to ask why a certain body of thought relays so reliably from one generation to the next: mightn’t this mean that something important has been said that bears repeating? Although it is far from decreed that only ‘good’ ideas will survive through time (whatever these would be), there is surely a significant reason why the secondary literature on Marx is the ‘biggest secondary literature on any subject in the world’Read the full review…

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Hitler’s Philosophers by Yvonne Sherratt

Hitler had a dream to rule the world, not only with the gun but also with his mind. He saw himself as a ‘philosopher-leader’, and astonishingly gained the support of many intellectuals of his time. In this book, Yvonne Sherratt explores Hitler’s relationship with philosophers through investigation of international archives. Ignas Kalpokas finds that the book is relevant as a historical account of a troubled period, but the core message of the book seems to be underdeveloped.

In Hitler’s Philosophers, Yvonne Sherratt traces the lives and ideas of some of the most important thinkers of twentieth-century Germany who found themselves in the midst of Hitler’s reign of terror. These parallel lives and the radically different choices the thinkers made provide illustrations of the moral dilemmas and tragedies that any conscious citizen faces when confronted with an inhumane regime. With no compromise in sight, only two choices were available: collaboration or the threat of death. More broadly, however, the author questions the status of philosophy as a discipline and the very relationship between philosophy and philosophers, first and foremost the relation between ideas and the personal choices of their authors and the responsibility of those reading and teaching philosophy. Read the full review…

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Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Rousseau edited by Mark Philip and Z.A. Pelczynski

This volume presents lucid and insightful lectures on three great figures from the history of political thought, by John Plamenatz (1912-1975), a leading political philosopher of his time. He aimed to explore a range of themes in the political thought of Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Rousseau, at substantially greater length and depth than in his famous work of 1961, Man and Society. The lectures exemplify Plamenatz’s view that repeated engagement with the texts of canonical thinkers can substantially enrich and expand our capacity for political reflection, finds Mark Fisher, who also commends the editors for addressing important developments that have occurred in the study of these thinkers since the time of the lectures’ writing.

It would have been an interesting moment in the history of political theory; potentially, it could have been even more. It was 1974, Cambridge. The methodological revolution, soon to be called ‘The Cambridge School’, is in full swing. Quentin Skinner has by now published his most famous methodological writings, including the magisterial ‘Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas‘. John Dunn’s The Political Thought of John Locke is already being prepared for a second printing, and J.G.A. Pocock’s Machiavellian Moment will be in print the following year. But, for all this momentum, it promised to be a challenging year for the students on Cambridge’s campus. Pocock was long gone pursuing a career overseas, and Skinner was to spend the year at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Studies working on Foundations. In his absence, someone else would have to lecture on early modern political thought, and it was, of all people, John Plamenatz who received the invitation. Read the full review…

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The Philosophical Foundations of Modern Medicine by Keekok Lee

Keekok Lee explores the philosophical foundation of modern medicine, a link often ignored if not denied in the literature. Lee argues that this relationship explains why modern medicine possesses the characteristics it does. Nathan Emmerich finds the work to somewhat confused and more of a study of the philosophical foundations of biomedical science.

Contemporary philosophy of medicine is a diverse and sometimes fractured subject. It ranges across phenomenological explorations of the patient, illness, and medical practice, and philosophies of human biology in both continental and analytic traditions. It can be informed by historical, social and cultural factors or it can be entirely ahistorical, asocial and acultural. Read the full review….

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