In 1895, William James, the father of American philosophy, delivered a lecture entitled "Is Life Worth Living?" It was no theoretical question for James, who had contemplated suicide during an existential crisis as a young man a quarter century earlier. Indeed, as John Kaag writes, "James's entire philosophy, from beginning to end, was geared to save a life, his life"―and that's why it just might be able to save yours, too. Sick Souls, Healthy Minds is a compelling introduction to James's life and thought that shows why the founder of pragmatism and empirical psychology―and an inspiration for Alcoholics Anonymous―can still speak so directly and profoundly to anyone struggling to make a life worth living.
Kaag tells how James's experiences as one of what he called the "sick-souled," those who think that life might be meaningless, drove him to articulate an ideal of "healthy-mindedness"―an attitude toward life that is open, active, and hopeful, but also realistic about its risks. In fact, all of James's pragmatism, resting on the idea that truth should be judged by its practical consequences for our lives, is a response to, and possible antidote for, crises of meaning that threaten to undo many of us at one time or another. Along the way, Kaag also movingly describes how his own life has been endlessly enriched by James.
Eloquent, inspiring, and filled with insight, Sick Souls, Healthy Minds may be the smartest and most important self-help book you'll ever read.
"Pithy and exacting. . . . Kaag, who by his own admission is ‘not always entirely sold on life’s value,’ writes with the fervor of on determined to hear life’s higher notes. . . . in these anxiety-inducing times, it may be worth testing the buoyancy of James’s existential life preserver."---Heller McAlpin, Wall Street Journal
"Earnest, accessible. . . . As [John] Kaag traces [William] James’s intellectual path away from determinism and depression, he both clarifies thorny academic questions and offers dashes of self-help, showing how today’s anxious souls might apply James’s principles and learn how to 'be not afraid of life'." ― New Yorker
"[William] James would have liked this book. [John] Kaag ties James’s ideas directly to the challenges and puzzles of his own life ― and his readers’ lives. . . . James’s ideas have rippled through the past century more powerfully than those of any other American thinker. Kaag’s little book reminds us why."---James T. Kloppenberg, Washington Post
One of Next Big Idea Club's Most Anticipated Nonfiction Books of Spring
Finalist for the PROSE Award in Philosophy, Association of American Publishers
"Characteristically elegant. . . . [Kaag] questioned the meaning of life. William James answered."---John Williams, New York Times Book Review