Despite the fact that he was born and raised within a few blocks of Columbia University, graduated from it, and spent most of his professional life as a member of its faculty, Irwin Edman was very much a citizen of the world, and Philosopher’s Holiday (1938) is a delightful anecdotal account of some of his favorite places and people in that world. In fact, his outlook could be summed up in the words of a veterinarian in southern France who befriends him: “There is only one country–it is that of people of intelligence. Its citizens are few; they should be acquainted.”
“A professor of philosophy studies philosophy; a philosopher studies life,” Edman writes in this book, and there probably haven’t been many professional philosopher/academics who were as ready to jump feet-first into life. In one of the chapters in this book, Edman receives a fan letter from a sailor named Jewell V. Jones stationed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Respectful of an inquiring mind regardless of the social status of its holder, he corresponds with the young man and winds up taking him to his first encounter with classical music at Carnegie Hall. “Boy!, that Wagner certainly could whoop it up!” Jewell remarks after hearing the overture to Die Meistersinger. “Do you think we could get him to play it again?”
Edman is too curious to stick to a set itinerary, and the lack of a particular design to Philosopher’s Holiday shows it. There’s chapter on the role music has played in his life, another one recalling some of the teachers who most influenced him, and a third recalling a debate he had with a director of the I. G. Farben company–an ardent supporter of the Nazis–on the veranda of a hotel near the ancient Greek temples in Agrigento. He encounters the Islamic worldview in conversations with Syrian students during a stay at the American University in Beirut. And, in one of the most enjoyable chapters in the book, he recalls growing up in Manhattan–discovering the varieties of vaudeville, learning to love Childs’ Restaurant, figuring out how to avoid being mugged for his pocket change by neighborhood gangs.
Philosopher’s Holiday was something of a best-seller when it was published, so you can find dozens of copies for sale for less than five bucks. He wrote something of a sequel to it, Philosphers’ Quest (1947), which also easy to locate. You can also find his 1939 book, Candle in the Dark: A Postscript to Despair, on the Internet Archive.
Philosopher’s Holiday, by Irwin Edman
New York City: The Viking Press, 1938