In this novel, Yalom presents two fascinating characters, each in his own way: Baruch Spinoza, and Alfred Rosenberg. One chapter is on Spinoza, the other on Rosenberg, alternating throughout the book as Yalom tells the story of their very lives. Yalom explores the mindsets of these two very different men, separated by 300 years. Using his skills as a psychiatrist, researcher and a gifted novelist, he explores the inner lives of Spinoza, the devout secular philosopher who exemplified that freedom might mean isolation, and of Rosenberg, the ideologue of the Nazi regime whose obsession with the "Jewish problem" was second only to Hitler's. Although very different, Yalom identifies some commonalities between the two. Both Spinoza and Rosenberg were lonely people, utterly committed to their principles. Both set themselves to understand Judaism, with very different conclusions and personal decisions. While Spinoza enriched both Jewish life and the liberal tradition, Rosenberg enriched the race theory and embodied it with a terrifying substance.
This is a very interesting novel. It is certainly not for everyone. But if you are interested in Spinoza, liberalism, religion, evil, the Holocaust and race theory, you may find interest in it. This novel is not your usual "flight book". It is for you to sit, reflect and ponder. Challenging and fascinating at the same time, I found the novel interesting and captivating. The more I read, the more I became immersed in it. Feel free to jump to the next chapter if the sharp movement from Spinoza to Rosenberg troubles you, and you wish to know how one story unfolds uninterrupted.