Review: Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition, Grant Hardy

Rating: 4 out of 5

We know the names of Western philosophy, but for many the comparable fellows of the east are unknown. This is the problem that Mr Hardy is trying to answer in this Great Courses volume which works rather well. The scope is huge, covering India, China, and Japan over the course of approximately three millennia. This inevitably means that the coverage of any one character is limited although in most cases it suffices. The other conclusion from this is that this is very much a work of history: to understand the context in which the specific thinker operated, Mr Hardy has to tell the listener about when and in what times the same person lived.

This being my first real foray into the topic at such a broad level, it was difficult to say whether someone else could or should have been included in the list. Any such list is naturally problematic and takes some bravery to come up with. I did enjoy the mentions for the more obscure people that I know about or have read about, while I waited for other names to pop up who never did. This only means that if you set two people working at the task, there would be two different solutions, even if large parts of the answers overlapped. I do think the author reasoned well why and how he chose people and where they fit into the bigger picture.

Alongside the “great minds”, Mr Hardy also describes history and peoples’ attitudes—as well as how these attitudes fit into the grand scheme, i.e., why a Chinese doing something this way harks back to Confucian ethics, etc. This is quite helpful as it allows to better understand why something is happening beyond the mere “they are doing it not like us”. This also gives the knowledge in this a fairly practical outlook, allowing a more comprehensive understanding of the lives of other people. This was supported by the few personal experiences the author included which helped maintain an accessible tone.

That said, this is not a book (“course”) to be trod lightly twice. While educating, the keywords are probably more important than the whole and if the topic did appeal, it would be more revealing to find another author writing on the same topic—and to read them next. Yet, for a once-over, this is definitely a title one should consider.

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