Ithaca, NY, USA: Royal Fireworks (2021)

Sharon Kaye
John Carroll University
John Dewey was the greatest American philosopher of the twentieth century, and this novel traces a fictionalized version of his intellectual development. Although the plot is invented, the concepts and ideas that the story explores are the ones that Dewey was primarily concerned with, and the novel brings together the thinkers who most influenced him. John Dewey was raised by a strict, puritanical mother who believed that he was his deceased brother reincarnated. The first John Dewey inexplicably threw himself into a fire and died. Now John is burdened with his mother's declaration that he was brought back to do something special with his life; he just doesn't know what that is. When he discovers an opportunity to meet William James, the foremost philosopher of the nineteenth century, he jumps at the chance. He wants to ask James about his mother's theory of his life, and he ultimately finds himself at a philosophers' camp of sorts, having meaningful conversations with not just James but also Josiah Royce, Felix Adler, Henry Bergh, Charles Saunders Peirce, and Victoria Woodhull. Along the way, Dewey examines the philosophy of Pragmatism, as well as ideas about democracy and its impact on issues of social justice, including those concerning the rights of women, the poor, people of color, and even animals, but also, most notably for Dewey, of children. Dewey's ideas about what education should be were radically different from those that were accepted at the time, and he revolutionized the American educational system. But that was all to come. This story examines the forces that set Dewey's course for the future—his awakening to the concepts and beliefs that would propel him to eminence later in his life. And in this story, Dewey gets to feel the first stirrings of love and to solve a murder mystery. The novel offers a fascinating look at the theories and beliefs of several important intellectual figures at the turn of the twentieth century while engaging readers in a compelling tale of curiosity and discovery.
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