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The Biography of a Philosopher.

Harris, Leonard and Molesworth, Charles. Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2008.


In Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher, authors Leonard Harris and Charles Molesworth collaborate to produce a long-awaited book that bears eight years' worth of meticulous research. Most literary scholars know Locke as the "midwife" of the Harlem Renaissance who led a host of authors and artists such as Claude McKay, Langston Hughes and Aaron Douglas in creating a new image for the Negro. Many others are equally familiar with Locke's reputation as a race leader, a role he assumed after the death of Booker T. Washington. Similarly, there are countless scholars who study Locke for his contributions to the fields of race, culture, and value theory. A lot is known about his scholarly achievements but his personal life has mostly remained a mystery. In this book, Harris and Molesworth carefully reconstruct the lesser known life of the enigmatic African American philosopher. This excellent biography tells, among other things, of Locke's childhood in Philadelphia, his education at Harvard, Oxford and the University of Berlin, his forty-year career at Howard University, and his social interactions with many influential figures. Drawing from a great variety of primary sources that range from letters, photographs and unpublished writings, this biography manages to seamlessly incorporate much of Locke's philosophy into the narrative. A colorful cast of personalities spanning from the renowned African American painter Henry Ossawa Tanner to the American philosopher William James; from diverse characters such as playwright George Bernard Shaw to international connections with intellectuals such as the German sociologist and philosopher George Simmel fill the pages of this book with pieces of information kept private until this publication.

Perhaps the book's best section is the chapter on "Locke's Legacy" where the authors detail the continuing scholarship of Locke's ideas in the areas of adult education, race theory, cultural criticism and esthetics. Very few studies of Locke have given such indepth history and insight as does this book. The biography's principle strength is its authors' success in engaging readers to not only understand the background of Locke's ideas, but to also examine these ideas in the light of new multicultural experiences.

Reviewed by Mindy Tan, Purdue University

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Author:Tan, Mindy
Publication:Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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