Book Review: The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction (Unabridged)

The book reviewed here is ‘The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction (Unabridged)’ by Terry Eagleton and narrated by Jan Snyder. Firstly the narrator’s voice has a rich timbre and he speaks slowly, clearly and is able to maintain the listener’s interest throughout. Eagleton’s choice of subject, the meaning of life, is a big subject and one which has impacted on certain forms of psychotherapy. While I might have missed this, my experience of listening to the audiobook several times was that it was difficult for me to understand the overall structure of the book. Broadly speaking Eagleton tackles the definitions of meaning and of life in order to better frame the question of the meaning of life. He introduces the reader to notable philosophers who have commented on the topics he is discussing such as Camus, Sartre, Wittgenstein and Russell. Having no training in philosophy and only a little background knowledge, I found that certain points were covered too quickly and assumed a certain knowledge of the reader as in the meaning of postmodernism. My experiences of the book differed markedly throughout. In some parts there were references to meaning in popular culture and I thought that some of the points had been much discussed in this forum. In other parts Eagleton argues cogently about meaning. What I found quite powerful was not the rational arguments but rather the experiences that they evoked. This caused me to speculate that philosophy doesn’t necessarily have to be about rational arguments as much as about using the stream of consciousness to identify valid truths in a way which can be reproduced by others. At the same time, I suspect that this suggestion has probably been discussed before  and who knows – even debunked. That is the difficulty of reading about a familiar subject which is being explored using an unfamiliar discipline but is balanced by the new insights that can be brought to bear on an understanding of that subject. Another suggestion by Eagleton is that our lives are imbued with meaning whether we agree or disagree with meaning itself. We are thus born into a world of meaning constructed by others.

There was one part which I disagreed with and that is his brief discussion of happiness and disability. I disagre with his assertion that disability must impact on happiness. Here the answer is to go on and speak to people with disabilities and find out what their experiences of happiness or satisfaction is. Various people have already done this and found that the relationship between disability and satisfaction with life is a complex one that is dependent on many factors (e.g. (van Campen and Cardol, 2009)). There are numerous examples of people with significant disabilities living fulfilling lives and indeed challenging prejudices in society has been important in this regards. This also shows the importance of evidence in challenging prejudices and the risks associated with reasoning dissociated from empiricism (at least as stated in this case). While Eagleton doesn’t draw any firm conclusions about meaning he does move towards the values of agape and happiness as reasonable values of choice and here I thought that this fitted with positive psychology (see reviews here and here).

In conclusion, Eagleton tackles a difficult question from multiple perspectives giving insights from philosophy and although there were a few points on which I had disagreements with Eagleton as above, I found this a useful starting point for further reading.


Terry Eagleton. The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction (Unabridged). Narrated by Jan Snyder. Audible Inc. 2009.

van Campen C and Cardol M. When work and satisfaction with life do not go hand in hand: health barriers and personal resources in the participation of people with chronic physical disabilities. Soc Sci Med. 69(1). 56-60. 2009.


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The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.


    • Hi. The RSS feed should be on the top right hand corner of the screen, identified as Odiogo feed. If you have any trouble with that let me know. Regards Justin


    • Thanks for the comments. Let me know which points and I can try to clarify them. Regards Justin


  1. Pretty right article. I just came across your web site and wanted to express that I have really enjoyed reading your opinions. AnyhowI’ll be coming back and I hope you post over again soon.


    • Dear Philipp,

      Many thanks for your comments. I checked out your review with the help of Google translate and found it to be a very helpful review for those who have not yet read the book

      Best wishes



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