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Young William James Thinking

Hardback
, 392 pages

16 b&w photos

ISBN:
9781421423654
January 2018
Subject:
History
$54.95

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Young William James Thinking

During a period of vocational indecision and deep depression, young William James embarked on a circuitous journey, trying out natural history field work, completing medical school, and studying ancient cultures before teaching physiological psychology on his way to becoming a philosopher. A century after his death, Young William James Thinking examines the private thoughts James detailed in his personal correspondence, archival notes, and his first publications to create a compelling portrait of his growth as both man and thinker.

By going to the sources, Paul J. Croce’s cultural biography challenges the conventional contrast commentators have drawn between James’s youthful troubles and his mature achievements. Inverting James’s reputation for inconsistency, Croce shows how he integrated his interests and his struggles into sophisticated thought. His ambivalence became the motivating core of his philosophizing, the heart of his enduring legacy. Readers can follow James in science classes and in personal "speculations," studying medicine and exploring both mainstream and sectarian practices, in museums reflecting on the fate of humanity since ancient times, in love and with heart broken, and in periodic crises of confidence that sometimes even spurred thoughts of suicide.

A case study in coming of age, this book follows the famous American philosopher's vocational work and avocational interests, his education and his frustrations—young James between childhood and fame. Anecdotes placed in the contexts of his choices shed new light on the core commitments within his enormous contributions to psychology, philosophy, and religious studies. James’s hard-won insights, starting with his mediation of science and religion, led to his appreciation of body and mind in relation. Ultimately, Young William James Thinking reveals how James provided a humane vision well suited to our pluralist age.

Paul J. Croce is a professor of history and American studies at Stetson University and a former president of the William James Society. He is the author of Science and Religion in the Era of William James: Eclipse of Certainty, 1820–1880.

"A terrific and significant book, and one that everyone interested in William James, whether professionally or personally, will have to read. Croce has maintained a wonderfully open, Jamesian set of mind and has bundled together many different strands into a remarkable analytic and cross-cultural examination of the early years of William James’ life and thought, culminating in an eloquent and persuasive yoking of science and religion in vivid, attractive, perfectly Jamesian ways. Croce shows how James’s work is still, for many of us, full of live options and real choices. Easily the most comprehensive discussion of the young William James we have, the book rises to splendid heights with impressive explanatory power."

"This book sets out to solve the deepest and most enduring problem in studies of Williams James: through a developmental biography, Croce has put back together a multi-dimensional thinker who has been taken apart in the multiple, self-contained literatures produced by scholars in every one of the now-distinct disciplines in which James did path-breaking work. Croce’s innovative book brings into focus the multiple efforts James made to combine science and religion, psychology and philosophy, religion and art. From my perspective, this synthetic portrait of James is without peer in the vast James literature. Readers familiar with James will understand just how little we knew about his early life, and how much better we understand him as a result of Croce’s careful scholarship. Readers encountering James for the first time will also marvel as they watch the unfolding of a career that was to be astonishingly rich and rewarding from a young adulthood almost uninterruptedly painful, filled with indecision, vacillation, and doubt."

"An essential book, enlightening, compelling, and persuasive. Young William James Thinking does an extraordinary job of melding James's suffering into a much larger context of development, expanding and deepening our insight into aspects of his early life by drawing on a rich series of quotations from letters and archival sources. Every sentence conveys Croce's refined sensitivity and understanding of James's life and work. Very, very few have the spot-on ‘feel’ for James that Croce has. I expect this volume to become a standard reference in the James literature."

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