Monday, August 22, 2016

Review: An Elephant for Aristotle

An Elephant for Aristotle An Elephant for Aristotle by L. Sprague de Camp
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Any one who has an interest in ancient civilizations and/or philosophy will like this book. You start with Alexanders' army in India, travel through the ancient near east and end up in Ancient Greece. Along the way, the descriptions of the different landscapes and cultures are worth the read alone--but the real value is that the interactions and discussions between the characters makes real the particularities of the cultural differences and at the same time the universality of the human condition.

Aristotle's role comes, understandably, late in the book. I didn't care that much for de Camp's portrayal of him. He seemed too snotty and elitist, but then maybe that is a more accurate presentation than my imagined over-idealized Aristotle. Mainly, I thought de Camp made too much of philosophers, Aristotle included, being out of touch with real life. Second, he made too much of Aristotle's pro-slavery arguments. No doubt these are accurate, but it just came up too often. This is, however, likely due to the theme of the universality of human nature and the interaction of the Greeks, Persians, and Indians.

As in any such work of this kind, there were anachronisms and too much license taken here and there but that said, de Camp does a good job of staying faithful to the ways of the ancient Near East--at least as far as I could tell.

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