NEW YORK TIMES Editors' Choice * THE TIMES BIOGRAPHY OF THE YEAR * WINNER OF THE HAWTHORNDEN PRIZE A groundbreaking new biography of philosophy's greatest iconoclast Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the most enigmatic figures in philosophy, and his concepts--the Übermensch, the will to power, slave morality--have fundamentally reshaped our understanding of the human condition. But what do most people really know of Nietzsche--beyond the mustache, the scowl, and the lingering association with nihilism and fascism? Where do we place a thinker who was equally beloved by Albert Camus, Ayn Rand, Martin Buber, and Adolf Hitler? Nietzsche wrote that all philosophy is autobiographical, and in this vividly compelling, myth-shattering biography, Sue Prideaux brings readers into the world of this brilliant, eccentric, and deeply troubled man, illuminating the events and people that shaped his life and work. From his placid, devoutly Christian upbringing--overshadowed by the mysterious death of his father--through his teaching career, lonely philosophizing on high mountains, and heart-breaking descent into madness, Prideaux documents Nietzsche's intellectual and emotional life with a novelist's insight and sensitivity. She also produces unforgettable portraits of the people who were most important to him, including Richard and Cosima Wagner, Lou Salomé, the femme fatale who broke his heart; and his sister Elizabeth, a rabid German nationalist and anti-Semite who manipulated his texts and turned the Nietzsche archive into a destination for Nazi ideologues. I Am Dynamite! is the essential biography for anyone seeking to understand history's most misunderstood philosopher.
The author presents a most scholarly and well written book on this man. It certainly wasn't easy or entertaining a read but deep in interpretation and presentation of this enigmatic yet oddly powerful man.
Nietzsche has been misrepresented sometimes grotesquely through the years, particularly by the Nazi's who took him as one of their standard bearers. The author convincingly dynamites this concept and lays the distortion rightly so at the feet of his meddling and mendacious sister.
The book can be plodding at times as his mostly dreary existence makes for likewise reading. Yet we also gain interesting takes on his tangled relationships with primarily the Wagner's and Lou Salome. This human interaction is in stark contrast to his often solitary wandering nature.
Nietzsche's philosophy is of course touched on but not in great depth as there are so many works devoted to such. This is after all a biography tuned to the twists and turns of his mostly tortured life.
It gives us a fairly complete historical and cultural look into partly what moved the man and his thought, his relations, and his tragic ending.
It is once again shown that like many such geniuses, if he could be termed that, little recognition is shown during active lifetime.
Those final years being a shell of a man in an empty mind and body, he is then elevated to genius status by those who flocked to interpret him and run with the concepts and ideas to their own ends.
Still, the high points were quite high, particularly when the man was most closely associated with Wagner. This is at least until that relationship went off the rails, when Wagner became a virtual god to the Pan-Germanic and anti-Jewish crowd that Nietzsche loathed. That these people came to esteem Nietzsche is another cosmic bad joke that the man could see coming.
Inevitably, this story is also stalked by the figure of Nietzsche's sister Elizabeth, and yes, she is quite the piece of work. One almost admires the woman for her implacable will and drive, even if she espoused a bad cause.
As for whether this makes me want to read more of Nietzsche's philosophy, the answer is probably not. At the end of the day his basically anti-science attitude is alien to me, though probably the start of a critique of scientism.