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Theodor W. Adorno

Theodor W. Adorno

One Last Genius

Detlev Claussen

Translated by Rodney Livingstone

ISBN 9780674057135

Publication date: 10/30/2010

He was famously hostile to biography as a literary form. And yet this life of Adorno by one of his last students is far more than literary in its accomplishments, giving us our first clear look at how the man and his moment met to create “critical theory.” An intimate picture of the quintessential twentieth-century transatlantic intellectual, the book is also a window on the cultural ferment of Adorno’s day—and its ongoing importance in our own.

The biography begins at the shining moment of the German bourgeoisie, in a world dominated by liberals willing to extend citizenship to refugees fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe. Detlev Claussen follows Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno (1903–1969) from his privileged life as a beloved prodigy to his intellectual coming of age in Weimar Germany and Vienna; from his exile during the Nazi years, first to England, then to the United States, to his emergence as the Adorno we know now in the perhaps not-so-unlikely setting of Los Angeles. There in 1943 with his collaborator Max Horkheimer, Adorno developed critical theory, whose key insight—that to be entertained is to give one’s consent—helped define the intellectual landscape of the twentieth century.

In capturing the man in his complex relationships with some of the century’s finest minds—including, among others, Arnold Schoenberg, Walter Benjamin, Thomas Mann, Siegfried Kracauer, Georg Lukács, Hannah Arendt, and Bertolt Brecht—Claussen reveals how much we have yet to learn from Theodor Adorno, and how much his life can tell us about ourselves and our time.


  • By examining Adorno's life through a circle of modernist companions who ended up dispersed all over the world, Detlev Claussen raises the question of whether biography can be written at all under the broken conditions of modernity. In his descriptions of German-Jewish lives, Claussen shows the complexities of living in the shadow of Auschwitz, and undermines the crude myths and interpretations that have sometimes plagued scholarship of Adorno and his milieu.

    —Lydia Goehr, Columbia University


  • 2009, Winner of the Ungar German Translation Award


  • Detlev Claussen is a journalist and Professor Emeritus of Social Theory, Culture, and Sociology at Leibniz Universität Hannover.
  • Rodney Livingstone is Professor Emeritus in German Studies at the University of Southampton. He is well known as a translator of books by Walter Benjamin, Theodor W. Adorno, and Max Weber, among others.

Book Details

  • 464 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press