“Tending the Epicurean Garden”

I was asked by the publishers, The Humanist Press, if I would review the latest book on Epicureanism by Hiram Crespo. Hiram is the founder of the Society of Friends of Epicurus. The book is a very useful addition to the literature on Epicurus and I would like to share in full what I said in the review:

“As soon as professional philosophers put pen to paper they seem to equate long words with authority and learning. This puts off most readers, who want ideas set out in accessible English. This book mercifully avoids this pitfall.

Hiram Crespo has done a masterful job in describing the teachings of Epicurus and making them relevant to modern life. He has offered practical advice and tasks that an aspiring Epicurean can undertake, and has linked them with Buddhism and modern research on happiness and the workings of the brain. He has worked hard and has a wealth of useful information for anyone wishing to enjoy a peaceful and pleasant life.

Particularly good is the persuasive section on self-sufficiency, a subject that is not well addressed by other commentators on Epicureanism. Crespo wisely bypasses political Libertarianism, an outgrowth of Epicureanism that can descend into selfishness and lack of the very community spirit that makes this philosophy so powerful, and spells out the benefits of independence and the ability to think for yourself.

One of the legitimate concerns about the decline of organized religion is that children are not being taught morals and ethics, and thus can fall into modes of selfishness and mindless consumerism. Religions can be inconsistent and even harmful in some cases. Epicureanism, focused on the full and pleasant life and wholesome relationships with others, is the rational answer, and “Tending the Epicurean Garden” offers practical advice on how children ( not to mention adults themselves!) can be brought up to live ethical and fulfilling lives.

My only reservation is his repeated use of the word ” suavity”. This is not just a petty niggle. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “charming, sophisticated, debonair, polished, poised and smooth”. It has modern connotations of superficiality and even louchness. Crespo, however, equates suavity with “telling the truth with kindness”. Not the same thing. Epicureanism stands for more than truthfulness. It stands for empathy, consideration, thoughtfulness, politeness, genuine interest in other people, put together with charm and gentle humor. These approaches to others are what help mankind get along together. And they are essential characteristics if, like ancient Epicureans, you are going to criticize your fellow believers, as the ancient followers of Epicurus did, for their own good.

Nonetheless, “Tending the Epicurean Garden” is a breath of fresh air if, like me, you have tried to read the dull prose of some professional philosophers.

Available from Amazon.com for $15.96 and from Amazon.co.uk for 11.26 (pounds), officially on sale in September.
The Society of Epicurus is to be found at: