The Spinoza Problem by Irvin D. Yalom
A Novel

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Synopsis

When sixteen-year-old Alfred Rosenberg is called into his headmaster’s office for anti-Semitic remarks he made during a school speech, he is forced, as punishment, to memorize passages about Spinoza from the autobiography of the German poet Goethe. Rosenberg is stunned to discover that Goethe, his idol, was a great admirer of the Jewish seventeenth-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza. Long after graduation, Rosenberg remains haunted by this “Spinoza problem”: how could the German genius Goethe have been inspired by a member of a race Rosenberg considers so inferior to his own, a race he was determined to destroy?

Spinoza himself was no stranger to punishment during his lifetime. Because of his unorthodox religious views, he was excommunicated from the Amsterdam Jewish community in 1656, at the age of twenty-four, and banished from the only world he had ever known. Though his life was short and he lived without means in great isolation, he nonetheless produced works that changed the course of history. Over the years, Rosenberg rose through the ranks to become an outspoken Nazi ideologue, a faithful servant of Hitler, and the main author of racial policy for the Third Reich. Still, his Spinoza obsession lingered. By imagining the unexpected intersection of Spinoza’s life with Rosenberg’s, internationally bestselling novelist Irvin D. Yalom explores the mindsets of two men separated by 300 years. Using his skills as a psychiatrist, he explores the inner lives of Spinoza, the saintly secular philosopher, and of Rosenberg, the godless mass murderer.
 

About Irvin D. Yalom

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Irvin D. Yalom was born in Washington, D.C. on June 13, 1931, of parents who immigrated from Russia shortly after World War I. Yalom entered into medical school intent on studying the field of psychiatry. His first writings were scientific contributions to professional journals. His first book, "The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy" was widely used as a text for training therapists. It has been translated into twelve languages and spawned four editions. "Existential Psychotherapy" followed, which was a textbook for a course that did not exist at the time, and then "Inpatient Group Psychotherapy," a guide to leading groups in the inpatient psychiatric ward. In an effort to teach aspects of Existential Therapy, Yalom turned to a literary conveyance and wrote a book of therapy tales called "Love's Executioner", two teaching novels, "When Nietzsche Wept" and "Lying on the Couch" and, "Momma and the Meaning of Life," a collection of true and fictionalized tales of therapy. These books went on t o be best sellers, and "When Nietzsche Wept" won the Commonwealth Gold Medal for best fiction of 1993. They have been widely translated,each into about fifteen to twenty languages, and have had considerable distribution abroad.
 
Published March 6, 2012 by Basic Books. 338 pages
Genres: History, Religion & Spirituality, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Literature & Fiction, Law & Philosophy. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Spinoza Problem

Kirkus Reviews

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As much intellectual exploration as novel, Yalom's latest (The Schopenhauer Cure, 2005, etc.) fictional foray into philosophy connects Baruch Spinoza and an agent of the Holocaust.

Feb 21 2012 | Read Full Review of The Spinoza Problem: A Novel

Kirkus Reviews

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Spinoza is widely regarded as a saintly figure whose work changed history and helped to usher in the Enlightenment, while Rosenberg is universally despised as a malignant figure whose life catalyzed many of the cataclysmic events of the Nazi regime.

Mar 05 2012 | Read Full Review of The Spinoza Problem: A Novel

San Francisco Chronicle

Fans of Yalom's previous books and those interested in learning more about Spinoza will likely enjoy "The Spinoza Problem," but readers seeking character development and narrative tension would do well to look elsewhere.

Mar 18 2012 | Read Full Review of The Spinoza Problem: A Novel

City Book Review

This is the “Spinoza Problem.” In alternating the admirable Spinoza, who sought excommunication so he could work on philosophy in secular solitary peace, living a monastic life of reason, and write books, and the immoral and repellent Rosenberg, who provided the “philosophical” rationale for the...

Mar 07 2012 | Read Full Review of The Spinoza Problem: A Novel

Bookmarks Magazine

Long after graduation, Rosenberg remains haunted by this “Spinoza problem”: how could the German genius Goethe have been inspired by a member of a race Rosenberg considers so inferior to his own, a race he was determined to destroy?Spinoza himself was no stranger to punishment during his...

Feb 26 2012 | Read Full Review of The Spinoza Problem: A Novel

New Zealand Listener

Where authors often bookend historical works with notes on sources or choices made between fact and invention, French novelist Laurent Binet in HHhH (Harvill Secker, $34.99) foregrounds those choices in the midst of the story, to tremendous effect.

Jun 09 2012 | Read Full Review of The Spinoza Problem: A Novel

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