Wonderlust: Ruminations on Liberal Education by Michael Davis.
This is the instructive and even edifying saga of a typically atypical American boy: born mid-20th century to Communist parents, almost in a log cabin almost in Troy; growing up catching frogs, playing baseball, and reading Jack London and Charles Dickens; conceiving an aspiration to be either a president or a physicist—either one, because they both "somehow dealt with everything." Then his life plans were derailed by three students of Leo Strauss: Allan Bloom at Cornell who attracted him to wonder; Richard Kennington from Penn State who showed him wonder in action; and Seth Benardete, who engaged him in 22 years of wonderful conversation, which in its own unexpected and astonishing way somehow dealt with everything.
True, it's not strictly speaking a saga. It's a collection of seventeen lectures, presentations, or memorials, from the past 30 years, during which Michael Davis, while teaching philosophy at Sarah Lawrence College, has on various pretexts and occasions been invited, obliged, or inspired to hold forth outside the classroom. His formal topics range from Aeschylus and Plato to Leo Strauss and Saul Bellow, with Shakespeare, Rousseau, Nietzsche, and the like (is that possible!) in between. These are, as advertised, ruminations—not discourses or treatises or chapters—and Davis invites the reader to consider the character and virtues of the genre. The shortest is a few pages, the longest (on Strauss) about 25 pages. Each rumination does have liberal education in the neighborhood and wonderlust, or the love of awakening to the love of wisdom, in the front yard. And books, or rather great works, usually of the written word, are everywhere-cherished by the painstakingly close study of them, because they have the greatest things to teach us.
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This article appeared in the Summer 2007 issue of the Claremont Review of Books