powered by Crowdcast
April 7, 2020

John Kaag

Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes JOHN KAAG—author of American Philosophy: A Love Story and Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are—for a discussion of his latest book, Sick Souls, Healthy Minds: How William James Can Save Your Life. He will be joined in conversation by Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer MEGAN MARSHALL.


In 1895, William James, the father of American philosophy, delivered a lecture entitled "Is Life Worth Living?" It was no theoretical question for James, who had contemplated suicide during an existential crisis as a young man a quarter century earlier. Indeed, as John Kaag writes, "James's entire philosophy, from beginning to end, was geared to save a life, his life"—and that's why it just might be able to save yours, too. Sick Souls, Healthy Minds is a compelling introduction to James's life and thought that shows why the founder of pragmatism and empirical psychology—and an inspiration for Alcoholics Anonymous—can still speak so directly and profoundly to anyone struggling to make a life worth living.

Kaag tells how James's experiences as one of what he called the "sick-souled," those who think that life might be meaningless, drove him to articulate an ideal of "healthy-mindedness"—an attitude toward life that is open, active, and hopeful, but also realistic about its risks. In fact, all of James's pragmatism, resting on the idea that truth should be judged by its practical consequences for our lives, is a response to, and possible antidote for, crises of meaning that threaten to undo many of us at one time or another. Along the way, Kaag also movingly describes how his own life has been endlessly enriched by James.

Eloquent, inspiring, and filled with insight, Sick Souls, Healthy Minds may be the smartest and most important self-help book you'll ever read.

About Author(s)

John Kaag is the author of American Philosophy: A Love Story, which was named a New York Times Editors' Choice and an NPR Best Book of the year, and Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are, which was also an NPR Best Book of the year. His writing has appeared in the New York TimesHarper's Magazine, and many other publications. He is a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, and lives in Carlisle, Massachusetts. 

Megan Marshall is the author of Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for BreakfastThe Peabody Sisters, and Margaret Fuller: A New American Life, which received the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Biography. She is the Charles Wesley Emerson College Professor at Emerson College.