Genuine Reality: A Life of William James

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9780151930982: Genuine Reality: A Life of William James

This first full biography of William James in nearly a generation brings us the man alive in all his complexity. Intellectual rebel, romantic pragmatist, aristocratic pluralist, James was both a towering figure of the nineteenth century and a springboard into the twentieth century. Constitutionally opposed to the rigidity and stability of the nineteenth century, James guided his generation toward the ambivalence, unpredictability, and indeterminacy of the times that followed. His explorations of pluralism and pragmatism for modern psychology and recognized the possibility of multiple perspectives long before Cubism. "The word 'or'" he once wrote, "names a genuine reality." Profiting from a rich range of sources, among them 1,500 letters written between James and his wife, Alice, acclaimed biographer Linda Simon creates an intimate portrait of this multifaceted and contradictory man. Exploring James in the context of this irrepressible family, his diverse and often quirky friends, and the cultural and political forces to which he so energetically responded, Simon weaves the many threads of William James's life into a genuine, and vibrant, reality.

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Review:

He was born before the Civil War, but Linda Simon's lively biography Genuine Reality depicts William James (1842-1910) as a decidedly contemporary thinker. A pioneering psychologist and unorthodox philosopher, he rejected rigid systems in favor of a flexible, relativist approach that stressed the fluid nature of identity and physical reality. His students at Harvard (Gertrude Stein, for one) found this immensely liberating, as did James himself. One of the book's many virtues is Simon's sensitive analysis of how his ideas rescued him from years of spiritual confusion and the smothering embrace of a neurotic family.

About the Author:

LINDA SIMON is a professor of English at Skidmore College. She is the author of four biographies, including Genuine Reality:A Life of Henry James and The Biography of Alice B.Toklas. She lives in Saratoga Springs, NewYork.

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