How to Live

In her Preface to this collection, Catharine Savage Brosman tells the reader that these essays are of three kinds: recollections of her own life and family, commentaries on literature, and examinations of the current state of American culture.  Taken together, her essays, Brosman says, are “an exercise in seeing the world, even feeling it, and in assessing and appreciating experience . . . and the power of literature to render it.”  They also provide an answer to questions asked by the ancient Greeks: What is the final end of human life?  What is the good life?  How does one attain to such a life, then live it?

Brosman’s approach to these subjects is Aristotelian.  Eudaimonia—human happiness or flourishing—depends on the disciplined exercise of moral virtue along with the attainment of excellence (arête) in three ways: by shaping one’s own moral character; by developing the uniquely human faculty of reason and mastering skills; and by interacting well with others not only in friendships but also, by implication, through action in and commentary on events in the public world.  Some good luck in working toward this end is also helpful.  In both her life and her works, Brosman has come far on her journey toward eudaimonia and, having done so, can show others how to live.

At the beginning of that journey, as a child, Brosman...

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