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Friedrich Nietzsche [Illustrated] [Hardcover]

Curtis Cate
2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 Feb 2003
Nietzsche's influence on 20th century thought and action is greater than that of any other philosopher except Hegel. No modern philosopher has been more maligned and misunderstood or more cynically exploited. The wealth and diversity of Nietzsche's essays and aphorisms are understood within the context of his restless life.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Hutchinson (6 Feb 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0091801621
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091801625
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 5.6 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,339,446 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A warmly intelligent introduction to Nietzsche" (William T. Vollmann New York Time Book Review) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

A brilliant new biography of one of the world's greatest and most controversial philosophers. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some niggles 27 Aug 2006
This biography is very readable, and is valuable precisely because (despite the other review) it gives one a feel for Nietzsche as a person, rather than just being a biographical sketch, as are most books. However, I have some concerns.

First, given that Nietzsche has been claimed for just about every political and philosophical position known to exist, from fascist to communist to sexist to feminist, I feel a more honest biographer would acknowledge this fact and, being aware of it, let us know up front what their prejudice is, which will inform their interpretation. Mr Cate portrays a Nietzsche who is a reactionary conservative who thinks it a great shame we don't all speak Latin and Greek. But is this really Nietzsche, or is it (as I suspect, based on some rather unpleasant comments in the introduction) Mr Cate? We aren't told.

Other minor points which made me wonder just how well acquainted with the philosophical and literary world Mr Cate is. It is seldom one sees Lord Byron described as Scottish. It took me some while to work out that when Mr Cate wrote of Plato's 'Dinner Party' he meant the 'Symposium'. Similarly, Hesiod's great work is 'Works and Days', not (as Mr Cate has it) 'the Days'. Bracketing Shakespeare and Racine together in one literary pigeon-hold is inept. Oh yes, and a history of philosophy which raises Hegel on high and mentions Locke and Hume only in passing is so eccentric as to beggar belief. Putting all this together, one gets the feel of an author who doesn't really know his subject.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing 26 July 2005
This book promises a great deal. It is written by a highly intelligent man who knows his subject, and who can write well. The introduction and the first couple of chapters appear to fulfil that promise. However, about mid-way through the book, if not long before, the reader comes to a realisation: this book is not much more than a glorified diary and travelog. Why? Because despite having a deep understanding of one of the most profound thinkers in humanity's history Curtis Cate manages to fill his book with the everyday details and vexations of a peripatetic philosopher's life. His relationships, his thoughts and his whereabouts are covered in detail, but in unsatisfying detail: the journeys and problems of accomodation and difficulties with a publisher receive 6 pages to the philosophy's one.
There is one thing a book about Nietzsche never be, that is boring. (He never is.) But despite having the potential to be the best biography available about Nietzsche the author fails to provide us with the gold standard he so tantalisingly dangles in front of us, at times.
Worth a look if you have an ardent interest in Nietzsche; if you are unacquainted with him don't read this book, read the man himself. A missed opportunity.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Artful 10 Jun 2012
Curtis Cate (deceased) has been sometimes compared to Henry James. Born in 1924 in Paris, into a Bostonian upper-class family, he spent much of his life in Europe. A former boarder at Winchester College, he certainly lived by its motto: "Manners maketh man". His love for the language of Shakespeare was no doubt strengthened by his education in Magdalen College Oxford.
Cate writes with a touch of nostalgia for by-gone era, and for his protagonist. In this biography, he knows what to put in and what to leave out, and he has a feel for language -- ever so important when writing about Nietzsche. As an outsider to the suffocating exclusivity of academia, he is free to be honest (e.g. in his treatment of Lou Salomé). He is also meticulous in his handling of data and therefore compares favourably with Hayman.
Little surprise that Julian Young in his recent biography of Nietzsche (2010) has helped himself generously to the paragraphs of Cate's book, not even bothering with quotation marks.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Cate's Nietzsche 30 April 2003
By A Customer
Nietzsche, who despised the mediocre and pedestrian, would have loathed this book. Cate provides a wordy but thin description of the events of Nietzsche's life without having or providing any insight into his exceptional character. He summarises Nietzsche's writings, demonstrating its continuing relevance by references to such events as the death of Princess Diana, but without anywhere indicating why Nietzsche is such a major figure in contemporary thought. In attempting to write a popular biography Cate has produced something bland and unilluminating. There are better books about Nietzsche and better biographies.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
59 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best biographies of Nietzsche in English 10 April 2005
By Roy E. Perry - Published on
Occasionally a book is published that daunts the reviewer's attempts to do justice to its subject--in this case, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)--and to the book's content. Curtis Cate's new biography is such a work.

Cate chronicles Nietzsche's life and works in "quantitative detail," from his birth in Ro(e)cken, Germany, on Oct. 15, 1844, until his mental collapse in Turin, Italy, in Jan. 1889, and his death in Weimar on Aug. 25, 1900. One marvels at how minutely Cate narrates the year-by-year, month-by-month, and week-by-week events in Nietzsche's life.

Cate describes Nietzsche's many friendships, from his early school years at Pforta, Wilhelm Pinder and Gustav Krug, and later with Paul Deussen, Carl von Gersdorff, Erwin Rohde, Franz Overbeck, Dr. Paul Ree, Malwida von Meysenbug, Heinrich Romundt, Albert Brenner, Heinrich Koselitz (Nietzsche's loyal disciple, whose musical pseudonym was "Peter Gast"), and, above all, his relationships with a beautiful and extremely intelligent 21-year-old Russian woman, Lou Salome, and with the Richard Wagner and Wagner's wife, Cosima.

Over a period of three years, Nietzsche made 23 visits to Tribschen, the home of Richard and Cosima Wagner near Lucerne, Switzerland. And over the period of seven years, Nietzsche wrote close to eighty letters to Cosima, the daughter of Franz LIszt.

Cate points out that Nietzsche's books are a sustained attack on metaphysical and religious beliefs. Nietzsche argued, writes Cate, that "the attention focused on otherworld fantasies had kept human beings from dealing in an honest, healthy way with the everyday realities that are of the most immediate concern to their well-being. . . . [His] whole philosophy was aimed at achieving a 'higher and nobler' degree of culture."

In a letter to his busybody sister Elisabeth, who so often, during his life and especially after his death, meddled in his affairs, Nietzsche wrote: "Do we in our research seek repose, peace, happiness? No, solely the Truth, even if it be exceedingly deterring and ugly. . . . Here men's ways diverge. If you wish to aspire to peace of soul and happiness, then believe; if you wish to be the disciple of the Truth, then search."

Against philosophical and religious "seriousness," Nietzsche wrote, "I would believe only in a god who knew how to dance. Come, [with our laughter] let us kill the spirit of gravity."

Cate shows that Nietzsche's philosophy was profoundly personal, rising as it did out of deep existential struggles: "Of all that is written I like only that which one has written with one's blood. Write in blood and you will find that blood is spirit. A book that has no fire in it deserves to be burned."

Nietzsche argued that, because of the inexorable advances of science, which, he believed, showed the world to be ungottlich, unmoralisch, and unmenschlich ("non-divine," "non-moral," and "non-human"), Europe was now plunged into a grave spiritual crisis, the crisis of nihilism.

In the opening pages of his posthumously published work, The Will to Power, Nietzsche wrote: "Nihilism stands at the door. When comes this uncanniest of all guests? . . . What does nihilism mean? That the highest values devalue themselves. The aim is lacking; 'why?' finds no answer." It is a will to nothingness, in which a hopeless despair adjudicates everything to be valueless and worthless, without goal, meaning, or purpose.

Nietzsche's central philosophical project was to "live through nihilism" to its bitter end and, hopefully, with the creation of new values, emerge on the other side. That he failed in this project seems evident, but never has a philosopher struggled so valiantly and courageously in wrestling with the demon of nihilism, of staring for a long time into the abyss.

Cate writes, "Nietzsche conceived of his mission as a thinker to be that of the herald of a new 'dawn' in philosophical thinking, the prophet of a new, more honest, less visionary morality, purged and purified of a vast accretion of moral, political, social, and metaphysical prejudices and misconceptions, which had reduced the vast majority of his contemporaries to a collective condition of sheep-like stupidity."

Georg Brandes, a Danish professor and one of Nietzsche's early admirers (he delivered a series of lectures on Nietzsche's philosophy at the University of Copenhagen) described the German philosopher's basic stance as being "aristocratic radicalism." Nietzsche responded with appreciation and hearty approval, saying that Brandes' _expression "aristocratic radicalism" was the "cleverest word" he had ever read about himself.

Indeed, Nietzsche's elitism exalted everything that was noble, distinguished, and excelling, and derogated all forms of mediocrity, mendacity, and anti-intellectualism, including anti-Semitism (Nietzsche was an anti-anti-Semite) and the saber-rattling stupidity of a jingoistic German nationalism.

At the very heart of Nietzsche's philosophy, writes Cate, is "resistentialism." This means that "it is not what assists Man that strengthens and ennobles him, but, quite the contrary, what resists his slothful inclinations and prejudices." His philosophy calls us grow up and become men in our thinking, rather than remaining dependent children, to reject the comfort, safety, security, and certainty of the herd and become an "free spirit" who dares to travel our own paths. "This is my way," wrote Nietzsche; "where is yours? The way doesn't exist."

A key motif of Cate's biography is his chronicling of Nietzsche's illnesses. All of his adult life, Nietzsche was plagued by debilitating migraines that often kept him bedridden for days, by acute negative reactions to metereological changes, causing him to wear dark glasses and become a wanderer throughout Germany, Switzerland, France, and Italy in search of a climate conducive to his health. He suffered frequently from stomach upsets, nausea, fits of vomiting, and acute nervous seizures.

Cate's numerous accounts of Nietzsche's struggle with ill health, scattered repeatedly across hundreds of pages, are impressive in their details, impressing on the us the long, hard struggle Nietzsche to lead the semblance of a normal life. And, although Cates only hints at the idea, one wonders if Nietzsche's "yea-saying," affirmative philosophy and his embrace of "amor fati" (love of fate) was not a defense mechanism against the perennial threat of a spirit-crushing pessimism into which he could have fallen because of his prolonged suffering.

After five weeks of giving diligent attention to Cate's masterful biography, I conclude that it will take its place alongside Walter Kaufmann's Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist as one of the best--indeed, in some respects, the best--biographies of Nietzsche available in the English language. This is a distinguished volume. I recommend it most highly.

Roy E. Perry of Nolensville, Tennessee, may be reached at

(Note: Curt Paul Janz's excellent three-volume German biography of Nietzsche has not yet been translated into English.)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Curtis Cate is the author of acclaimed biographies of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, George Sand, and Andre Malraux as well as several other books of non-fiction. He holds degrees from Harvard (History), Ecole des Langues Orientales (Russian), and Oxford (Politics and Economics). He was the European Editor for The Atlantic Monthly for eight years (1958-1965) and has written articles for the New York Times Book Review, the New York Times Magazine and the New Republic. He resides in France.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Is It You Want From a Biography 2 May 2007
By Bucherwurm - Published on
This book is criticized because it has too much biography, and not enough of Nietzsche's philosophy. And then...vice versa, too much philosophy. I have always been interested in Nietzsche the man, and this book provides the reader with a good rounded view of him. Fortunately there is an extensive amount of correspondence available to provide the biographer with the essential information necessary to construct an informative picture of both Nietzsche and those who figured prominently in his life.

No, Nietzsche did not live an "exciting" life, but that's never a criterion I use in choosing to read a biography. If it's thrills you want may I suggest reading the memoirs of, perhaps, a Navy Seal. When I finished this biography I felt I knew "Fritz". I became appreciative of the extreme difficulties he faced with perpetual ill health. I found the details of his friendship with the anti-Semitic composer Richard Wagner to be quite fascinating. And yes he did travel about a lot, and maybe, at times, his mobile meanderings aren't much more interesting than reading a railroad timetable. Yet these are facts of his life.

Whenever Nietzsche publishes a book Mr. Cate spends five or more pages discussing the philosophy contained in the book. For a book that is not touted as an "intellectual" biography I found this to be a good balance in acquainting the reader with Nietzsche's thoughts. This smattering of philosophical interpretation helps in understanding how the Nazis distorted his views, and made him a national hero (Hitler visited Nietzsche's sister Elisabeth several times). It also provides some understanding of his falling out with Richard Wagner. I am not an academic, although I have read a trifling amount of philosophy. In my opinion the philosophical sections were presented in a lucid manner, and should pose no challenge to the reader. I am assuming, of course, that anyone picking up a biography of Nietzsche has at least some interest in philosophy. The author does drop some heavy weight words on us occasionally, and these were in the biographical material. I don't think I've ever encountered the word "propadeutic" before, and this word occurs twice in the text.

I enjoyed this book very much, and am grateful for the insight into Nietzsche's life. One reviewer suggests that you read books of his thoughts instead of this biography. Well, I already have those, but they don't tell me much about the man who produced them. While Friedrich Nietzsche didn't live an exciting life he still was an extraordinary man. This biography got that message across to me.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of Friedrich Nietzsche by Curtis Cate 5 May 2009
By Mark R. Greer - Published on
This book is extremely well researched and well written. The reader will come away with a rich understanding of Nietzsche's life and philosophy. Curtis Cate really did his homework on this one.

About three-quarters to four-fifths of the content of the book is biographical. The remaining one-fifth to one-fourth, interspersed throughout the biography, is an examination of the primary themes of Nietzsche's philosophy.

Again, I want to reiterate that the book is quite readable. The target audience appears to be people who are college educated, but not specialists in Nietzsche's philosophy.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars God Is Dead 23 April 2010
By Frank Bunyard - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a work of great significance. One cannot understand modern and postmodern Western culture without understanding Nietzsche, and this book provides a solid foundation for such an understanding.

The biography is fluently written, and although Cate carries a heavy load of exposition his clarity of style makes it easily accessible to the "ordinary" reader. It is 576 pages long. Actually this is a blessing, as Cate is a pleasure, even a delight, to read. You will want to spend some time with this outstanding book; to return to each sitting with a keen sense of interest and anticipation.

Before my reading I was casually familiar with Nietzsche's philosophy, which is at core the proclamation that "God is Dead" and nihilism is becoming (has now become) the real substance of Western culture. The great cathedrals of the West are "museums" and the flock of the faithful are just "going through the motions." If you read this biography you will confront the life and mind of the greatest narrator and critic of Western culture from the French Revolution to the present time.

The daily details, thoughts and actions; the immediate concerns as well as the ultimate concerns of Friedrich Nietzsche's entire life are recorded by Curtis Cate with utmost accuracy. If Cate cannot find verifiable text it is not written here. From other less meticulous sources one may find wild rumors about Nietzsche, many malicious and many salacious. None of this rubbish is even mentioned by Cate.

Early on, Nietzsche emerges as a very human and likeable person. He loves nature, walks, and is very studious. He has a goodly number of friends who share his interests in Philology, Philosophy, and classical music. As he progresses through school it becomes clear that his mind is more than just brilliant, but exceptionally brilliant. His memory and intellect are way above average. Nietzcshe may be very human, but he also very much a genius.

Throughout the work Cate does a comparative exposition between the ideas of Nietzsche and those of Kant, Spinoza, Hegel, Judaism, Christianity, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, Leibniz, Marx, Schopenhauer, Darwin, Democritus, Epicurus, Plato and Socrates and the list could go on. Cate shows how Nietzsche's concepts became formulated and differentiated as his great mind encountered the intellectual heritage of the West.

In 1868 at the age of 24, "Fritz" was appointed to the Chair of Classical Philology at Basel (the youngest individual to have held this position). But he was forced to resign in 1879 due to health problems (poor eyesight, headaches, seizures) that plagued him the rest of his life. For the next ten years he was an independent philosopher, living on a small pension and traveling throughout Europe and especially the European Alps, which he loved. In addition to his critique of religion, Nietzsche probed and exposed the individual and social illusions of our age. His aphoristic style and his insights were brilliant and stunning, and are still relevant for 21st Century readers.

Cate gives comprehensive coverage of the Nietzsche-Wagner friendship and falling out. This portion of the book is finely drawn, and of special interest to those interested in Wagner; unfortunately it is too complex to cover in this review. The same is true of Nietzsche's encounter with the intellectual femme fatale of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, Lou Salome.

In 1889 Fredrich Nietzsche went insane, living out his remaining years in the care of his mother and sister until his death from a heart attack in 1900. The vivid description of his last days is shocking and saddening. His devious sister collaborated with Hitler in misinterpreting some of his ideas so that they could be incorporated into Fascist ideology.

Upon finishing the book one is overcome with a sense of tragic awe and bewilderment.

List of Nietzsche's works which are elucidated by Cate:

The Birth of Tragedy (1872)
On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense (1873)
The Untimely Meditations (1876)
Human, All Too Human (1878; additions in 1879, 1880)
The Dawn (1881)
The Gay Science (1882)
Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-1885)
Beyond Good and Evil (1886)
On the Genealogy of Morality (1887)
The Case of Wagner (1888)
Twilight of the Idols (1888)
The Antichrist (1888)
Ecce Homo (1888)
Nietzsche contra Wagner (1888)
The Will to Power (unpublished manuscripts edited and put together by his sister)
5.0 out of 5 stars Artful 10 Jun 2012
By Jack Wonder - Published on
Curtis Cate (deceased) has been sometimes compared to Henry James. Born in 1924 in Paris, into a Bostonian upper-class family, he spent much of his life in Europe. A former boarder at Winchester College, he lived by its motto: "Manners maketh man". His love for the language of Shakespeare was no doubt strengthened by his education in Magdalen College Oxford.
Cate writes with a touch of nostalgia for by-gone era, and for his protagonist. In this biography, he knows what to put in and what to leave out, and he has a feel for language -- ever so important when writing about Nietzsche. As an outsider to the suffocating exclusivity of academia, he is free to be honest (e.g. in his treatment of Lou Salomé). He is also meticulous in his handling of data and therefore compares favourably with Hayman.
Little surprise that Julian Young in his recent biography of Nietzsche (2010) has helped himself generously to the paragraphs of Cate's book, not even bothering with quotation marks.
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