Plato at the Googleplex, by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein *77 (Pantheon)
The author: Goldstein is a novelist and philosopher who has been the recipient of a MacArthur “genius” award, recognized as the Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association, and elected to the Academy of Arts and Sciences. She also is the author of six novels, two studies, and a number of short stories and essays.
The book: What would happen if Plato were to reappear in the 21st century as an author on a nation-wide book tour? What would he say about crowd-sourcing at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.? About child-rearing during a panel conversation with a “tiger mom” and a Freudian psychoanalyst? Or about personal identity and free will while getting a brain scan in the cognitive neuroscience lab of a prestigious university? Plato explores these topics with people he meets on the book tour in modern-day Platonic dialogues that Publishers’ Weekly called “entertaining and accessible.” Goldstein weaves passages from Plato’s actual writings into the conversations and provides an exploration of Plato’s ideas.
Opening lines: “A book devoted to a particular thinker often presumes that thinker got everything right. I don’t think this is true of Plato. Plato got about as much wrong as we would expect from a philosopher who lived 2,400 years ago. Were this not the case, then philosophy, advancing our knowledge not at all, would be useless. I don’t think it’s useless, so I’m quite happy to acknowledge how mistaken or confused Plato can often strike us.”
Review: NPR’s Marcelo Gleiser praised Goldstein’s “inventiveness and intellectual courage” in his review of her latest effort. Colin McGinn of The Wall Street Journal called Plato at the Googleplex “felicitously written, impressively researched, insightful, important, entertaining, independent-minded, and glowing with intelligence.” Publishers’ Weekly concluded that “this is both an enjoyable and a serious way to (re)learn Plato’s ideas.”