Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Becoming William James, by Howard M. Feinstein

I've been reading this book for a biography website which is in the middle of a re-launch. Although undoubtedly I will be posting a link to that once it's up and going, I don't want to duplicate the review here. Since the guidelines for the website explicitly rule out talk of its personal impact, though, I think it's fair to mention a few things of a more personal nature here.

I was initially interested in this book because of my connection to William James through two UCSC professors, Page Smith and Paul Lee. Early on in my college days, I purchased or was given several of the William James Society's pamphlets or chapbooks, one of which was James's speech, "The Moral Equivalent of War". Long before Chris Hedges wrote his book, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, this pamphlet was circulating around Santa Cruz, and influencing people to find their own equivalent peaceful action that would hold the intensity and bonding and high purpose that being comrades in arms brought soldiers in wartime.

The William James Society still exists in Santa Cruz today, and you can find what it's focusing on these days HERE.

Although I can't put up my own review just yet, I did really like this review from Notes on the Cultured Life, which gives a good summing up of the family dynamics that this book is tracing. In any case, Becoming William James is a compelling read, and has a lot to say about Americans and their work identity, particularly when they are struggling to find out exactly what that work is.

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