(How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God)
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2014
I’ve always regarded the word atheist as a quagmire. What does it mean, really? People mean so many different things in using it. Even after reading Watson’s book, I’m still puzzled. So let’s more away from that term and look at the meat of the book.
Watson traces the history of thought following Friedrich Nietzche’s 1882 pronouncement, “God is dead.” The big questions about the meaning of life and how to live it are quested after by artists, writers, poets, philosophers, and scientists. The 626 page tome follows hundreds of individuals and their pursuit to answer the stickiest of questions in a post-modern world where salvation doesn’t exist.
This is a book for everyone because it is about our collective history. Unless you have a PhD in philosophy, you won’t know all the people Watson brings up in his survey, but names like James Joyce, Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein and countless others, will ground you in the familiar. Some chapters are absolutely fascinating. Did you know that some people thought poetry would supplant God? Or that many intellectuals looked forward to WWI as a way to purge the modern age? Other chapters are a slog to get through. But persist.
Watson takes us on a journey to understand where we’ve been and perhaps where we’ve going. In the end, we see the search for meaning seems to be universal and that many have answered the call by looking to transcend this life while others (the subject of Watson’s book) look for meaning in this world in diverse and rich ways.