"This little book is not meant as some sort of super-condensed textbook, encyclopedia, or dictionary," Kolakowski insists in his introduction, and in truth it is not, and hurrah for that, for had it been any thing of that sort I never would have picked it up. Rather, it is twenty-three brief (10-11 pages), jewel-like essays on the most influential arguments of twenty-three major western philosophers, in chronological order, each essay ending with the questions the philosopher's arguments raise.
As one reads, it does feel like one is getting a highly compressed history of western philosophy, Greek metaphysics morphing into theological hair-splitting morphing into epistemological conundra, but one is delighted, fascinated, compelled all the way -- and no textbook, encyclopedia, or dictionary could quite compete.
I don't know what Kolakowski sounds like in Polish, but through the translation by Agnieszka Kolakowska (a relative, perhaps?) he sounds unfailingly humane, helpful, and fair, carrying his enormous learning lightly, with a dry kind of charm. This is the sort of book I fall in love with.
With what crushing dismay I learned that the publishers omitted seven essays that were part of the Polish edition of the book. Why, why, why? The book would hardly have been too long at 300 pages, and I find myself aching to know what Kolakowski said about (e.g.) Heidegger, especially since the Heidgegger essay would have presumably stood as the book's last.