Zeno and the Tortoise - Nicholas Fearn
Zeno and the TortoiseI really enjoyed reading this book and if the topic of philosophy and thinking is of interest but seems somewhat impenetrable, this could be a book you’d enjoy.

The book is divided into 25 brief chapters each covering a major philosopher and their ideas. I was initially attracted by the intriguing title and the accessible format of the book. Each chapter is limited to around half a dozen pages which immediately creates confidence that even if you felt you were drowning, the far bank is close at hand. Add to this Nicholas Fearn’s style and approach and you have an entertaining and engaging read and actually learn something of philosophy.

The danger with any book on this topic is that philosophy can feel somewhat distant and crusty. To counter this within each chapter the relevance of each idea and the desire to read on is established by setting the idea in a modern situation. For example the chapter on Plato’s thinking relates this to the anti-trust law suit brought against Microsoft for including an internet browser within Windows and the thinking of Protagoras is related to the efforts of Sting to help the Kayapo Indians of the Amazon. Each chapter provides background to the philosopher’s life and those ideas and other thinkers that influenced and sometimes competed with them.

The book provides a roughly chronological view of some of the key thinkers who have made a significant contribution to the development of understanding and links their work to the social, technical and other changes that have accompanied the advances, It includes one or two interesting modern names that I hadn’t thought of as philosophers which further helps break down the barriers between philosophy as a subject and its application in our everyday lives. For example Alan Turing the computing pioneer who played a key role in breaking the German Enigma codes is included for his thinking on consciousness.

If philosophy is one of those topics that you would like to know a little more about but never quite get around to this could be what you need. It an educational and fun read and I suspect that can’t be said for many books on the topic.

Incidentally the book title is taken from the paradox described by Zeno of a race between Achilles and a tortoise. The tortoise is given a 10 yard head start and in the time taken by Achilles to cover these ten yards the tortoise advances a further yard. Achilles advances this further yard and in the time it takes the tortoise advances three inches. Achilles now covers this three inches but in this time the tortoise advances a further inch. As Achilles advances this one inch the tortoise again moves some albeit small distance forwards. Zeno’s parable argues that no matter how fast Achilles runs he can never overtake the tortoise as he must first draw level with it. An interesting thought.

Steve Unwin November 12 2003.