Autobiography/Biography, Historical

Socrates: A Man for Our Times by Paul Johnson

This biography of Socrates presents a brief introduction to the philosopher: his historical context, his life, his thought, and his death. Socrates was a man of his own times, committed to Athens and its people through military service, education, civic engagement, and (probable) work as a stone cutter. But for Paul Johnson, he was also a man of our times in light of his common sense, decency, moral values, and good humor. Indeed, his ironic tone may well have led his supporters to turn against him at the end. While this is a good read, I found Johnson’s asides a bit annoying. He went to great lengths, for instance, to demonstrate that Socrates never engaged in homosexual acts. He frequently compared Socrates to Jesus, though he always used the word “Christ” in these comparisons. He emphasized Socrates’ monotheism, in contrast to the prevailing Greek polytheism. All very interesting, I suppose, but it says more about Johnson than Socrates. I wanted to learn more about the man himself, in his own words or those of others. I think a more interesting depiction of this fascinating philosopher appears in Mary Renault’s novel “The Last of the Wine.”


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