The Jewish scholar Baruch (Benedict) de Spinoza (1632-77) lived in the Netherlands at a time when science, politics, religion, and philosophy were all in ferment. One of the last great philosophical 'system builders', he eagerly entered the fray, corresponding with and influencing the top minds of his day. A philosophical scholar whose manual trade was lens grinding, and whose chief passion was extending and completing the philosophical system of Descartes, he survived some real physical dangers, mostly caused by his rather heretical and revolutionary writings. His thought continues to influence modern scientists, as diverse as Albert Einstein (who famously believed in "Spinoza's God") and Sir Harry Kroto, a current British Nobel Laureate in chemistry. Spinoza is still studied by professional philosophers and historians.
The moral philosopher Roger Scruton covers his life and works in this short but positive work. His readable style is erudite and concise, and allusive without being elusive. As ever with this type of work, the author's main problem is the tight confines of the space allowed to the subject matter in a concise introduction. Moral - don't forget to read the Spinoza too! The chapters are: Life and character; Background; God; Man; Freedom; The body politic; and Spinoza's legacy. There is a glossary, further reading, and index. Not covered is Spinoza's influence on theology and Old Testament studies as set out in his important 'Theologico-Political Treatise', especially his remarks on prophecy, and the then avant-garde chapter on the authorship of the Pentateuch and other historical books.