This is a nice little book that examines metaphysics (the philosophy of reality) by a cursory examination of six philosophers. This is not an all-encompassing book on world philosophy (no attention is paid to non-western thought) nor is it an in depth examination of any one school of thought or a particular philospher. This book is an introduction to a segment of philosophy and should be evaluated on that basis.
Thelma Lavine does a nice job of putting the various philosphers (Plato, Descartes, Hume, Hegel, Marx, Sartre) in their historic context; of concisely outlining their major contributions to the advancement of philosophic thought; and then summarizing the critics of each.
What I like about the book is the ability to read it in segments. I started with Descartes then went back to Plato skipped ahead to Sartre and then back to Hume ignoring Marx altogether (not that Marx is unimportant, but I felt that I was already pretty well versed in Marxist thought.) Thanks to this book I am now interested in a more in depth exploration of existentialism and am anxious to delve into the source materials. I feel that I now have a context to read Nausea or the Stranger and hopefully, I will get more out of them with this background.
To the layman (like myself) looking for an introduction to some (but not all) of the defining philosophic movements of Western Civilization, this book is both exciting and informative.
While the author's style may be a little dense for some people, it is well organized, cohesive and thought-provoking. Ms. Lavine doesn't shy away from presenting each philosopher's contribution in the context of their own time and location, and intersperses a small amount of relevant biographical information for all of them. This makes it much easier for someone who doesn't have much background to relate to and incorporate the ideas that are presented.
Though there are only six philosphers covered in-depth (Socrates, Descartes, Hume, Hagel, Marx and Sartre), other philosophers and their contributions are referenced here and there where it relates to the text. Lots of good names to drop ;-) Each philospher is given several chapters in each section, making it nice and easy to reference.
Although I found some parts to be out-dated (the section on Marx makes one or two mild references to Soviet Russia), tedious and/or uninspiring, they were few and far between. The best compliment I can give is that I am now very excited about learning more on the subject of philosophy in general and I have an excellent frame of reference to get started.