Plutarch is one of history’s most influential authors: his insights were foundational to thinkers ranging from William Shakespeare to Alexander Hamilton, Nietzsche to Montesquieu. Yet, today his writings have fallen out of favor, in part because the genre he pioneered, biography, has fallen out of favor within academia, though it retains popularity among the general public. West Point political scientist Hugh Liebert delves into Plutarch’s thought, revealing that Plutarch had profound philosophical insights despite his reputation as a historian. Along the way, he illustrates areas where Plutarch’s thought might seem foreign to us versus those where his insights are evergreen, and makes the case for the continued importance of the biographical genre.

Hugh Liebert is Professor of Political Science in the Department of Social Sciences at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. There, he serves as Director of the West Point Graduate Scholarship Program and Co-Director of the American Foundations minor. He is the author or editor of seven books, including Plutarch’s Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2016), recipient of the Delba Winthrop Award for Excellence in Political Science, and Gibbon’s Christianity (Penn State University Press, 2022). He is currently at 2023-24 Visiting Fellow here at the James Madison Program.

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Annika Nordquist is the Communications Coordinator of Princeton University’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions and host of the Program’s podcast, Madison’s Notes.

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  1. WilliamWarford Coolidge

    Loved this! Thanks for asking the question we all want to know: How did Plutarch do that? We’ve become so accustomed to have almost all the information in the world available to us as we sit in our living rooms with our laptops, it’s truly mind-boggling to think of research in his time. I am 66, so relied on the library for research in my college days, and even so, I often marvel at what 20th century historians accomplished in the pre-Internet era. As for “Lives”, I am working through it in chunks, one or two pairings at a time over the last few years. Hugh is right, though. We should read them all.

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