Why We Fight
Why We Need Love
Why Our Decisions Don’t Matter
Edited by Sinon Van Brody
The trio of Why… books (Harper Perennial Modern Thought) are a curiosity when compared to other offerings from the philosophy section of the library or bookstore: they are collections of poems, samples of novels, paintings, and works of philosophy (I was expecting to find some pop songs in Why Our Decisions Don’t Matter; alas, it was not to be) separated by famous quotes and very brief introductions. When it comes to stimulating the mind and provoking introspective questions, there are sure to be some quotes from each book that will speak to every individual reader; however, the tiny black-and-white photos of referenced artworks probably aren’t going to have anyone scurrying down the road to self-discovery. (Maybe in search of a magnifying glass or to Google for a quick image search, but probably not discovery.)
It’s hard to capture the tone of the quotes, even within each book. Why We Fight contains an assortment spanning the disciplines of thought: a 33-page excerpt from On Aggression by Konrad Lorenz, a large chunk of Oliver Twist, and a one-shot maxim from everyone’s favorite syphilitic, Friedrich “She’ll say yes someday” Nietzche:
“Madness is something rare in individuals—but in groups, parties, peoples, ages, it is the rule.” –Beyond Good and Evil
Taken a piece at a time, the selections are little more than a morass of words, but after a dozen or so excerpts are examined as a group, it becomes apparent that editor Simon Van Booy is carefully constructing a backdrop for exactly the sort of metaphysical wanderings indicated by the title.
Aside from the general subject matter and the titles of the books themselves, Van Booy gives readers only a slight push into the realm of metaphysics in the form of a preface to the series and a short introduction. The resulting conglomerations inspire an impressive breadth of questioning with a surprisingly light touch, effectively demonstrating Van Booy’s conviction that all people possess an innate ability for philosophy, whether exercised consciously or not. As for the second half of his hypothesis—that people can experience richer, fuller lives through the exploration of philosophical questions—that’s probably up to the reader.
The first-edition Harper Perennials themselves, however, will certainly help book lovers experience richer, fuller bookshelves. The set looks and feels excellent, featuring pleasantly textured covers, complementary color schemes, and the perfect size for on-the-go reading.