• The Metaphysical Club

  • A Story of Ideas in America
  • By: Louis Menand
  • Narrated by: Paul Heitsch
  • Length: 17 hrs and 26 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (105 ratings)

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The Metaphysical Club

By: Louis Menand
Narrated by: Paul Heitsch
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Publisher's Summary

The Metaphysical Club was an informal group that met in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1872, to talk about ideas. Its members included Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., future associate justice of the United States Supreme Court; William James, the father of modern American psychology; and Charles Sanders Peirce, logician, scientist, and the founder of semiotics. The Club was probably in existence for about nine months. No records were kept. The one thing we know that came out of it was an idea - an idea about ideas. This book is the story of that idea. 

Holmes, James, and Peirce all believed that ideas are not things "out there" waiting to be discovered but are tools people invent - like knives and forks and microchips - to make their way in the world. They thought that ideas are produced not by individuals, but by groups of individuals - that ideas are social. They do not develop according to some inner logic of their own but are entirely dependent - like germs - on their human carriers and environment. And they thought that the survival of any idea depends not on its immutability but on its adaptability. The Metaphysical Club is written in the spirit of this idea about ideas. It is not a history of philosophy but an absorbing narrative about personalities and social history, a story about America.

©2001 Louis Menand (P)2019 HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books

What listeners say about The Metaphysical Club

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Hands down the best non fiction book I've read

History, philosophy, psychology, sociology. This book has such depth and scope that it demands rereading. Its the one book I would recommend to anyone and everyone.

8 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Mispronunciation

How could a major production allow W. E. B DuBois’s last name to be mispronounced? It’s a travesty and a major disservice to the author.

3 people found this helpful

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Narrator needs to do his homework

Excellent overall and the performance is marred only by the narrator’s failure to learn the correct pronunciation of individual names. In addition to an incorrect French pronunciation of W. E. B. Du Bois, Charles S. Pierce should be pronounced as “purse.” It's understandable that anglophones typically are awful when reading sections written in a language other than English, but there’s no excuse for not using the proper pronunciation when referring to the central characters in a text.

1 person found this helpful

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Insight and stimulation, if not complete comprehension

At one point in “The Metaphysical Club,” Menand observes that even such luminaries as Ralph Waldo Emerson would read books for any insight and stimulation they might offer, and abandon efforts at complete comprehension. That is the way I had to read this book. It has far too much happening for me to fully comprehend, but I found it delightful to listen to. The ideas are stimulating, the characters are inspiring, and the writing is luminous.

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so significant that it overcomes its flaws

this book is paired with Menand's The Free world, and in some ways is less well written. for example, I don't think we need the extraordinary amount of space given to an explanation of statistical calculation. There are times when I believe that other lines of explanation could be shortened - but none of this should keep potential readers from a work that is so good at explaining the past seen through philosophy, legal reasoning, and the personal experience of the major characters in the book. so it deserves five stars, despite its flaws.