The Cave and the Light

By Arthur L. Herman

The books subtitle is “Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization." This book starts with the death of Socrates and ends in present day. The book presents the ideas of Plato and Aristotle, and then follows the wars these two schools of thought have waged on each other ever since.

I really liked the first third of the book which is an overview of ancient greek philosophy. After that as the author began moving the timeline he was talking about further away from ancient Greece I got less interested in the Plato vs Aristotle connection. However I kept trucking through the book as I really liked the general historical overview the author was supplying.

If you are looking for a good historical primer from 500 BC to now, which covers lots of the major events which lead to western civilization, the last 2/3rds of this book is perfect. The author is clearly excited about offering this history lesson, so much so that he routinely gets off track (for example he took time to try and explain Bohrs discover of energy levels for an electron). I just found the links to Aristotle and Plato quite weak.

Now that I understand the Plato vs Aristotle divide much better, Anathem by Neal Stephenson makes much more sense. I’ll probably have to give that a re-read soon.