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Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

Book cover for Socrates
Book cover for Socrates

Named a Best Teen & YA Nonfiction title of 2022 by Kirkus Reviews

A lively and accessible introduction to the quintessential philosopher, and the West’s first enemy of the state.

Socrates: A Life Worth Living traces the life and ideas of one of Western Civilization’s founding philosophers, whose influence is still felt more than two thousand years later. Socrates is famous for how he died, executed by the Athenian government for corrupting the youth of Athens, but his most important contribution was to challenge the people around him to test their ideas and beliefs in conversation with each other, in the belief that in this way we could become a society that knows the difference between truth and falsehood, and find what makes a life worthwhile. He did not claim to have definitive answers, but he knew that knowledge was the key to finding them, and he invited everyone he met to join him in his quest. 
The Socratic Method is the first, and still the best, method for distinguishing truth from falsehood. In Socrates: A Life Worth Living, award-winning author Devra Lehmann gives us the first biography for young readers of the thinker who has seen no equal.

Book cover for Socrates
Book cover for Socrates

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A thorough study of the brilliant, timeless, entertainingly abrasive thinker. As in her outstanding “Spinoza: The Outcast Thinker” (2014), Lehmann doesn’t present an encyclopedic analysis of Socrates’ life and thought, focusing instead on themes and ideas that will (or should, anyway) provoke immediate responses from today’s readers. Here, then, she steers (more or less) clear of esoteric philosophical topics to describe her subject’s lifelong quest for clarity on ethical issues, on how to conduct a meaningful life, and on the nature of true virtue. In retracing the course of his life, she also explores his adversarial relationship with the polis of Athens as soldier, public figure, and ultimately political victim. Along with describing his trains of reason in clear, simple language, she brings him to life as a “modest but arrogant, ugly but alluring, sensuous but ascetic, mocking but earnest” force of nature who considered himself not a teacher but a sort of intellectual midwife, asking thorny questions to confound the supposedly wise but leaving it to others (us, for instance) to work out answers. This account is based on judicious use of source material and massive research and further livened throughout by frequent photos or diagrams of major Athenian buildings, sexually suggestive images on artifacts, and even an illustration of a hemlock plant. Women do get rare but occasional mentions. A vivid, perceptive portrait aimed at spurring readers to take up the quest.

“What a welcome book! Socrates — relentless in the pursuit of truth, champion of the Socratic method, fearless prisoner of conscience — went willingly to his death upon the verdict of an Athenian jury. Why? He lived almost 2,500 years ago, and yet the questions he raised and the controversies he generated are disputed as heatedly now as they were then. Lehmann weaves into Socrates’s story the details of daily life and politics, historical context, and scenes from the comic stage that bring passages from Plato’s dialogues to life. The resulting animation of philosophy is as imaginative as it is realistic.”

Devra Lehmann

DEVRA LEHMANN is the author of Socrates: A Life Worth Living and Spinoza: The Outcast Thinker, which won the 2014 National Jewish Book Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature. In her 35 years in the classroom, she has taught preschoolers to sound out monosyllables, high schoolers to read Shakespeare, and adults to parse Talmudic passages. She is now at work on a young adult biography of Augustine of Hippo.