MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Now, imagine Plato alive and well and taking on all sorts of contemporary issues. That's where we find him in the new book "Plato at the Googleplex," from Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. Here's Rosecrans Baldwin with a review.
ROSECRANS BALDWIN, BYLINE: Do the 1 percent contribute more to society than they take from it? Is the scientific idea of human nature more accurate than the humanist one? And what's the difference, really, between a boy who likes you, and a boy who likes you on Facebook?
Today's existential dilemmas sound different than yesteryear's, but they're made of the same stuff, or so argues Rebecca Newberger Goldstein in "Plato at the Googleplex." In this book, the philosopher is literally dropped into the 21st century. Goldstein is a novelist and philosopher and the book's chapters mostly alternate between those two.
We get fictional dialogues, where Plato grapples with hot topics and talking heads and in between, Goldstein explores his writings, life, and times. Since Plato actually did write in dialogues, the first form seems apt. Goldstein transports our philosopher from ancient Greece to wherever today's intellectuals are hanging out.
For example, Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California. There Plato learns about the Internet, and gets busted for sexist language. Or the 92nd Street Y in New York City, where he debates a tiger mom on stage about how to raise good citizens. Even television, he hits the airwaves to argue with a political talk show host, demonstrating the emptiness of the so-called news.
It's a terrific concept. Unfortunately, it only works half the time. Goldstein is persuasive with Plato's voice. She even has him consult for an advice column. But the stagings quickly get stale. Not because of Plato, it's the other characters. Their dialogue and descriptions are wooden and cliche to the point that Plato comes across as contemporary and clued-in; Goldstein, however, does not.
Thankfully, the chapters in between about Plato's life and works are much better. Goldstein uses her own insights to connect the bigger philosophical questions to the muddle of our everyday lives. She writes, down through the ages, there have been many Platos, and there still are.
Her Plato, the truth-seeker with a laptop, is definitely one worth listening to, especially when his creator just lets him talk.
BLOCK: The book is "Plato at the Googleplex" by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. Our reviewer is author Rosecrans Baldwin.