AutoBioPhilosophy: an intimate story of what it means to be human (4th Estate, 2018) is a frank and original autobiography that explores the fundamental question of what it means to be human.
Robert’s life story involves a love triangle, office politics, police raids, illegal drugs, the academic elite and a near-death experience. The book sees him grappling with the tragic fate of his father, going through a double divorce and encountering a living divinity. We witness him confronting his demons but also looking out for angels.
A former Oxford don, Robert uses these deeply personal experiences to generate philosophical insights designed to resonate with everybody. What are the recurring patterns, unconscious motives and social forces that govern our behaviour? Drawing on both direct experience and writers from Shakespeare to Freud, Robert offers new ways into human psychology.
As we are led into Robert’s private world, we gain an understanding of what it means to be human that is relevant to all.
Derrida and Autobiography
Based on his doctoral thesis at Oxford, Derrida and Autobiography is Robert’s first book. Published in 1995, the book does three things:
Provides an overview of theories of autobiography
Introduces Derrida’s own unique take on what autobiography might mean
Situates Derrida’s work within a wider intellectual context featuring Hegel, Heidegger and Freud in particular
The book in turn is broken down into three sections. ‘Auto’ examines theories of the self in relation to the other, explaining how alterity comes before identity. ‘Bio’ shows how life and death are so intimately linked that they cannot be conceived of as opposites. ‘Graphy’ investigates Derrida’s notion of the ‘autobiography of the writing’ whereby language reserves the possibility of reproducing itself by paradoxically cancelling itself out.
‘A book of generosity and rigour. An immense success.’ Jacques Derrida
On Modern Poetry: From Theory to Total Criticism
Robert’s most recent academic book is divided into two parts. The first is theoretical; the second consists of close textual analysis.
The theoretical part of the book explores themes such as poetic voice, the use of rhetoric in poems and how objects such as urns and boxes are deployed in poetry. Poets under discussion include Plath, Stevens, Bonnefoy and Dylan Thomas.
The second part of the book offers readings of Tennyson, Symons, Hopkins, Larkin and Prynne, as well as a meditation on the word ‘darkling’ and how it came to be arguably the most poetic word in the English language.
The underlying message of the book is that the best way of approaching modern poetry is not to follow the precepts of any particular dogma, but to include all possible information that might throw light on the poem – textual, historical, biographical, etc. Hence the book’s subtitle ‘From Theory to Total Criticism’.
‘Smith’s writing moves with an ease and elegance that can belie the, sometimes breath-taking, flair, reach and focus of his readings.’ Dr. Clare Connors, University of East Anglia
Breakfast with Socrates: The Philosophy of Everyday Life
Published to wide acclaim in 2009, and translated into over twenty languages, Breakfast with Socrates is one of two popular philosophy titles by Robert Rowland Smith.
The book is structured by the moments in our day: waking up, getting ready, going to work, through to going out in the evening and falling asleep. Each activity is considered through the eyes of a key thinker: what would Marx have to say about being at work? how would Walter Benjamin explain the phenomenon of shopping? and how might Socrates himself get us to think about sex?
The book serves as both a general introduction to philosophy and a set of specific essays on everyday life.
‘A filling mental meal that will leave you deliciously satisfied’, Wired
Driving With Plato: The Meaning of Life's Milestones
Driving with Plato is the sequel to Breakfast with Socrates. It too brings philosophy together with human reality, introducing big ideas from a wide range of thinkers as well as offering original material of its own.
The book looks at human life from cradle to grave, stopping at key milestones in order to reflect. The milestones begin with being born and end with dying. In between, Robert takes a philosophical look at going to school, losing your virginity, getting a first job, having children, and so on. What would Dante have to say about a midlife crisis? How would Einstein analyse the process of learning to ride a bike? Who better than Tolstoy and his Anna Karenina to help us understand what it means to fall in love?
‘Fascinating and deeply intelligent’ Marcus Berkmann, Daily Mail
The Reality Test
Why do business strategies so often fail to deliver on their ambitions? Like economic forecasts, business strategies assume that the world will behave in entirely rational ways. Unfortunately, reality gets in the way.
Robert’s bestselling book The Reality Test is based on twenty years’ experience working with organisations in a wide variety of sectors from banking to fashion, construction to the church. Rather than proposing business-school models, Robert tells the stories of what actually goes on inside such organisations and how their best-laid plans have come undone.
In order to avoid such strategic pitfalls, Robert recommends answering a set of fundamental questions, questions around which the book is based, such as:
How much money is enough?
Will your business go to heaven?
Would you go down with your ship?
The Reality Test is made up of 48 such questions along with mini case studies providing examples of how to worry less about creating the perfect strategy and more about dealing with the messiness of reality.
‘Cuts through turgid corporate “leadership speak” to get to the heart of the matter – it should be required reading for any aspiring leader.’ Lord Victor Adebowale
Death-drive: Freudian Hauntings in Literature and Art
In 1919 Sigmund Freud published a paper entitled ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’, the first to introduce his notion of a ‘death-drive’. Robert’s book takes Freud’s paper as its starting point.
The book’s Introduction serves to elucidate Freud’s thinking on the death-drive as well as to understand its place in the psychoanalytic tradition that Freud effectively inaugurated. Thus we see the contrasting approaches to death taken by Klein, Marcuse and Lacan among others.
The following seven chapters focus on particular themes such as the relationship between suicide and masochism; the fact that death is strictly speaking unthinkable because it destroys our capacity for thought as well as for life; the resulting fact that death has a somewhat fictional quality and that, inversely, fiction has an important relationship with death.
Throughout, Death-Drive brings Freud into dialogue with other thinkers including Pascal, Heidegger, Durkheim, Derrida, Shakespeare and Samuel Beckett.
‘Rarely has death been discussed with such vitality.’ Maud Ellmann, Donald and Marilyn Keough Professor of Irish Studies, University of Notre Dame