John Kaag hits the sweet spot between intellectual history and personal memoir in this transcendently wonderful love song to philosophy and its ability 'to help individuals work through the trials of experience' ... With [Carol Hay's] appearance, American Philosophy, subtitled 'a love story,' becomes a charming, enormously satisfying tale of twofold love — both intellectual and emotional ... With its lucid, winning blend of autobiography, biography, and serious philosophical reflection, American Philosophy provides a magnificently accessible introduction to fundamental ideas about freedom and what makes life significant. It's an exhilarating read.
The pleasure of this unusual work and the bulk of its pages, belong to short biographical accounts and reflections on the philosophers, poets, novelists and even bygone political figures whose volumes Kaag finds on the Hocking library shelves ... Kaag’s accounts are accurate, engaging and scrupulous. They show profound learning. They’re also genuinely entertaining, recapturing lost details of thinkers’ personal lives without sensationalism ... American Philosophy succeeds, not as a textbook or survey, but a spirited lover’s quarrel with the individualism and solipsism in our national thought.
Though he laments the loss of philosophy’s 'personal character,' he remains a modern philosopher. He’s detached and hyper-analytical, lost in the world of the res cogitans, of pure thinking. At times throughout the book, Kaag sounds a little robotic. But love inspired him to try to change, and that’s admirable. He wants to be a part of the world, and the ideas that emerge from it begin to mean more to him and, as his readers, to us.