No modern philosopher has been more maligned and misunderstood or more cynically exploited than Friedrich Nietzsche.Physically handicapped by weak eyesight, violent headaches and bouts of nausea, this paradoxical thinker fashioned a philosophy, which made short shrift of self-pity and the ostentatious display of compassion. The son of a Lutheran clergyman, whom he adored, he became a fearless agnostic who proclaimed, in Thus Spake Zarathustra that “God is dead!” Of modest bourgeois origins, he detested middle-class conformity, and turned to an uncompromising cult of “aristocratic radicalism.” Nietzsche was the first major philosopher to place psychology, rather than mathematics, logic, physics, or history, at the very center of his thinking. The wealth and diversity of Nietzsche’s aphorisms and brief essays?close to 2,700?make him the most seminal and provocative thinker of modern times. Many of his aphorisms, highly personal statements of his likes and dislikes, are puzzling. They become truly comprehensible only within the context of his restless life, revealed in this enthralling biography.
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*Starred Review* Among the things Nietzsche smashed during a career doing philosophy with a hammer were his own prospects for a coherent life. The brilliant shards of that life invite scrutiny in this marvelously accessible biography. Cate recounts Nietzsche's story in a taut narrative, linking each epoch to shrewd commentaries on the works it incubated and highlighting the deep fissures that run through the philosopher's life and legacy. Such fissures yawn wide in the very personality of a thinker who scorns the comforts of orthodoxy in favor of never-ending warfare against dogmatism. In the epigrams and paradoxes with which Nietzsche wages his war, Cate acknowledges tensions, even antitheses. Thus, Nietzsche scathingly denounces Christianity yet admires passionate Christians such as Pascal and Dostoevsky. And even as he bewails the way the world has been "Jewified," Nietzsche pours contempt on anti-Semites. But beyond the contradictions, Cate discerns a literary intent (shattering complacency) and a philosophical doctrine (linking good to evil, truth to untruth). But neither literary artifice nor philosophic doctrine shields Nietzsche from the pain of real-life contradictions. The anti-nihilist who praises the godless life as a joyful dance finds his personal choreography taking him to the brink of suicide and then over the edge into insanity. The worst contradiction comes posthumously, when errant disciples (including his own sister) transform the foe of saber-rattling patriotism into a Nazi icon A compelling portrait of a much-maligned figure. Bill Ott
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