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The Metaphysical Club

A Story of Ideas in America

Louis Menand

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The Metaphysical Club is the winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for History.
A riveting, original book about the creation of modern American thought.

The Metaphysical Club was an informal group that met in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1872, to talk about ideas. Its members included Oliver Well Holmes, Jr., future associate justice of the United States Supreme Court; William James, the father of modern American psychology; and Charles Sanders Peirce, logician, scientist, and the founder of semiotics. The Club was probably in existence for about nine months. No records were kept. The one thing we know that came out of it was an idea -- an idea about ideas. This book is the story of that idea.

Holmes, James, and Peirce all believed that ideas are not things "out there" waiting to be discovered but are tools people invent -- like knives and forks and microchips -- to make their way in the world. They thought that ideas are produced not by individuals, but by groups of individuals -- that ideas are social. They do not develop according to some inner logic of their own but are entirely depent -- like germs -- on their human carriers and environment. And they thought that the survival of any idea deps not on its immutability but on its adaptability.

The Metaphysical Club is written in the spirit of this idea about ideas. It is not a history of philosophy but an absorbing narrative about personalities and social history, a story about America. It begins with the Civil War and s in 1919 with Justice Holmes's dissenting opinion in the case of U.S. v. Abrams-the basis for the constitutional law of free speech. The first four sections of the book focus on Holmes, James, Peirce, and their intellectual heir, John Dewey. The last section discusses some of the fundamental twentieth-century ideas they are associated with. This is a book about a way of thinking that changed American life."

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The Metaphysical Club
PART ONEONEThe Politics Of Slavery1OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES, JR., was an officer in the Union Army. He stood six feet three inches tall and had a soldierly bearing. In later life, he loved to use military metaphors in his speeches and his conversation; he didn't mind being referred to good-naturedly as Captain Holmes; and he wore his enormous military mustaches until his death, in 1935, at the age of ninety-three. The war was the central experience of his life, and he kept its memory alive. Every year he drank a glass of wine in observance of the anniversary of the battle
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REVIEWS

Praise for The Metaphysical Club

"The Metaphysical Club is dramatic and persuasive ... something very like a history of the American mind at work."
--Alan Ryan, The New York Review of Books
"The Metaphysical Club is dramatic and persuasive ... something very like a history of the American mind at work."
--Alan Ryan, The New York Review of Books

Reviews from Goodreads

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Louis Menand

  • Louis Menand is a professor of English at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and a staff writer at The New Yorker, and has been a contributing editor of The New York Review of Books since 1994. He is the author of Discovering Modernism: T. S. Eliot and His Context and the editor of The Future of Academic Freedom and Pragmatism: A Reader.
  • Louis Menand
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Available Formats and Book Details

The Metaphysical Club

A Story of Ideas in America

Louis Menand

Pulitzer Prize Winner, L.A. Times Book Prize - Finalist

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FROM THE PUBLISHER

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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