Samuel Loncar at the LARB:
Edmundson’s project is a religious (or spiritual) attempt to discover alternatives to the everyday world of late-modern capitalism. No dogma is involved, save the premise of the book itself: namely, that ideals matter profoundly, and we can discover and use them through reading great literature. This is, one might say, the religion of ideals, a holding space between pure secularity and traditional religion. Its sole purpose is to say that somethingmatters more than our petty concerns with self-advancement, and through openness to that something we might encounter ways of life worth living.
Edmundson’s argument suffers when summarized, because its real power comes through the close analysis of a series of books and figures that embody the ideals he traces. Beginning with Homer and the warrior ideal, he moves through the ideal of compassion embodied in Jesus, Confucius, and the Buddha, toward the predecessor of our soulless age, William Shakespeare, while also dealing with poetry and eros. His penultimate chapter covers the archenemy of ideals, of religion and the transcendent, Sigmund Freud.