This richly detailed biography of a key figure in nineteenth-century philosophy pays equal attention to the life and to the work of Arthur Schopenhauer. Rüdiger Safranski places this visionary skeptic in the context of his philosophical predecessors and contemporaries Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel—and explores the sources of his profound alienation from their “secularized religion of reason.” He also provides a narrative of Schopenhauer’s personal and family life that reads like a Romantic novel: the struggle to break free from a domineering father, the attempt to come to terms with his mother’s literary and social success (she was a well-known writer and a member of Goethe’s Weimar circle), the loneliness and despair when his major philosophical work, The World as Will and Representation, was ignored by the academy. Along the way Safranski portrays the rich culture of Goethe’s Weimar, Hegel’s Berlin, and other centers of German literary and intellectual life.
When Schopenhauer first proposed his philosophy of “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” during the heady “wild years” of Romantic idealism, it found few followers. After the disillusionments and failures of 1848, his work was rediscovered by philosophers and literary figures. Writers from Nietzsche to Samuel Beckett have responded to Schopenhauer’s refusal to seek salvation through history.
The first biography of Schopenhauer to appear in English in this century, Schopenhauer and the Wild Years of Philosophy succeeds in bringing to life an intriguing figure in philosophy and the intellectual battles of his time, whose consequences still shape our world.
An impeccably documented and evenhanded biography of the brilliant, bad-tempered philosopher… Mr. Safranski’s book is delightful…with lively social histories of Danzig, Hamburg, Weimar, Dresden and Frankfurt; and lengthy, relevant excursions into the philosophies of Kant, Fichte, Hegel and the Romantics, among others.
[This book] will be the Schopenhauer biography of our time.
This biography by Rüdiger Safranski is marvelously full of detail and texture. He is completely at home in that fragmented world of German literary sub-culture.
Safranski’s intelligent, informative, and comprehensive biography is the most complete and detailed account of the pained and paradoxical life of Arthur Schopenhauer. This [is a] sensitive, incisive, and in-depth study… Safranski’s polished work is a biographer’s biography, highly recommended to anyone interested in a stark and edifying vision of human existence and the man whose passionate and paradoxical life contradicted the oriental serenity he prescribed.
Safranski’s comprehensive biography of this complex and fascinating man unfolds within a richly detailed portrayal of German literary and intellectual life in the nineteenth century. This lively blend of biography and historical narrative makes it an excellent choice for interested general readers as well as serious students of philosophy. This book is sure to become a standard work on Schopenhauer.
This biography succeeds admirably in placing Schopenhauer and his work in the varied milieux appropriate to them. The intellectual scene in Europe changed greatly during Schopenhauer’s working lifetime, and Safranski is excellent at conveying the atmosphere of the different places and periods… The considerable learning which enables Safranski to put all this together is quite unobtrusive. The style throughout is brisk and keeps the reader’s attention… It is a book the literate public will read with enjoyment.
- 404 pages
- 6 x 9 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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