Epistles is framed as 25 letters of fatherly advice to a son who has gone out into the world, and it’s here at last, writing in first person, that one finally gets some idea of Grayling the man.
Honestly, he seems a decent chap, if a little enamoured of the wisdom of the ancients (his letters exhort his son to read, among others, Demosthenese, Epicurus and Cicero). But he has a faith in humanity, a keen sense of how virtue is to be cultivated in the self and encouraged in others – and at base, he seems to agree with Kurt Vonnegut: “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
It’s hard to come down too hard on him for this book. Writing in first person even seems to improve his prose style: Epistles is less stilted and flows more logically than any other book in the Good Book. That said, the divisions of the book into the various Epistles is a curious one: the Epistles vary wildly in length, and while most are self-contained, some of them follow on directly from their predecessors in such a way that I cannot fathom why they weren’t just continued as the same Epistle (length does not appear to be a factor).
The final epistle advises the reader to strive for wisdom, happiness and virtue and to seek to contribute to the greater good. A fine and worthy note to close with.