American Philosophy: A Love Story

I read this to the end (heavy skimming!) solely to write about it here as a warning to keep anyone else’s eyeballs from the terribleness. John Kaag takes the structure of his own life—failing marriage, depression, not crying at his father’s death, divorce, then wooing of married colleague who then divorces and they marry—and fills this with academic bits about a variety of American philosophers like William James, Emerson, Thoreau, Charles Sanders Peirce, William Ernest Hocking (whose library Kaag camps out in for months, finally convincing the heirs that the rare books need to be preserved in a non-rodent-infested environment). On the surface, this seems like a fantastic approach—infuse the scholarship with personal details to make it more lively. In practice, Kaag is a terrible, clunky, maudlin writer whose words lose strength with every progression across the page, energy siphoning itself off to escape his tyrannical hold. Avoid.