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Spinoza Problem [Paperback]

Irvin D. Yalom
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
Price: 9.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

14 Mar 2013
In The Spinoza Problem, Irvin Yalom spins fact and fiction into an unforgettable psycho-philosophical novel. A psychiatrist with a deep interest in philosophical issues, Yalom jointly tells the story of the seventeenth-century thinker Baruch Spinoza, his philosophy and subsequent excommunication from the Jewish community, and his apparent influence on the Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg, whose einsatzgruppe was dispatched during the Second World War to investigate a mysterious "Spinoza Problem." Seamlessly alternating between Golden Age Amsterdam and Nazi Germany, Yalom investigates the inner lives of these two enigmatic men in a tale of influence and anxiety, the origins of good and evil, and the philosophy of freedom and the tyranny of terror.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Trade Paper Edition edition (14 Mar 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465061850
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465061853
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 14 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 45,163 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dr Irvin Yalom is Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Stanford University. He has won two major awards from the American Psychiatric Association. He continues to run his clinical practice and lectures widely.

Product Description


"The Spinoza Problem is engrossing, enlightening, disturbing and ultimately deeply satisfying." (abraham Verghese, author of cutting for Stone)"

About the Author

Irvin D. Yalom, M.D., is an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Stanford University and a psychiatrist in private practice in San Francisco and Palo Alto. He is the author of many books, including "Love's Executioner," "Theory and Practice in Group Psychotherapy," and "When Nietzsche Wept." He lives with his wife in Palo Alto, California.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A strange, but interesting pairing... 16 Jun 2012
By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWER
Dr Irvin Yalom, a retired professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, has written many books in his long career. Most are non-fiction books about psychiatry, but a few are novels which blend history and psychiatry. His new book, "The Spinoza Problem" is an historical novel using two very real figures. I don't think too many writers would think of combining Baruch Spinoza and Nazi Alfred Rosenberg, but the intertwined story of the two men - separated by time and belief - is told in compelling style by Dr Yalom.

In a way, both Rosenberg and Spinoza could be described as "philosophers". Certainly Baruch Spinoza, famous free-thinker and rationalist who was expelled from the Dutch Jewish community for his thoughts, wrote his ideas in relatively clear fashion. Not so Estonian-born Alfred Rosenberg, whose rigid anti-semitic writings were regarded as "turgid" and "dense" even by his fellow Nazis, all who shared the same ideas. As Yalom imagines in his book, a young Alfred Rosenberg, spouting anti-semitic ideas as a high-school student in Revel (now Tallinn), was tasked by his horrified teacher and headmaster with investigating the writing of Baruch Spinoza. Rosenberg, while admiring Goethe, was to write about how Spinoza - a Jew - had influenced Rosenberg's idol, Goethe. Yalom writes alternating chapters about Spinoza and Rosenberg - born nearly 250 years apart - and follows both men from childhood to death. He invents some characters but basically uses who and what history tells about each man.

"The Spinoza Problem" is not a particularly easy read. I think the reader has to have a great interest in one or both of the main characters to remain interested in the story. But Irvin Yalom is a very good writer and leaves the reader with many questions of how two historical figures - one good and the other bad - can be connected.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
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.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Totally brilliant 2 April 2013
Personally, I couldn't put it down. Intelligently written and so much easier to read than Spinoza in the original. The juxtaposition of imagining Spinoza in Amsterdam in the mid-17th century, with Rosenberg in Germany in the 1920s and 30s was cleverly done, especially with the "mirroring" of their sharing their psychic life with another. A masterful marriage of the philosophical with the personal and the political. Interesting too that Israel is still conflicted over their views of Spinoza.

I would recommend it to anyone seriously interested in either Spinoza or fascism.
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By St B
The Cambridge literary critic, F R Leavis, in 'The Great Tradition', once rather loftily dismissed H G Wells for the mere discussion of ideas, contrasting this with the concrete presentment of life's moral problems that one finds with novelists such as George Eliot, Joseph Conrad and Henry James. Irvin Yalom, in 'The Spinoza Problem', has stunningly overcome this dichotomy by focusing on the adequacy or inadequacy of ideas as itself a moral problem. On the one hand we have Spinoza's disciplined quest for true understanding of the world and for the management of the passions. He was, with his critique of superstition and love of clear reasoning, the morning star of the Enlightenment. On the other hand is the Nazi idealogue Rosenberg, with his muddled, opaque, emotional and emotive picture of how the Jewish people had subverted the noble spirit of the Aryan race. In between is 'the Spinoza problem', namely, Rosenberg's puzzlement as to why great Germans such as Goethe had admired the Jew Spinoza so much. Yalom's novel is a tale of contrasts. Spinoza succeeds in pursuing his 'intellectual love of God or Nature' in the face of excommunication and persecution, correcting his own misunderstandings along the way with the help of friends, but always growing in understanding and self-determination. Rosenberg, on the other hand, will ultimately not engage seriously with the signs of Spinoza's greatness, and refuses to let himself be delivered, through psychotherapy, from infantile dependence on Hitler's approbation. This leads inexorably to the gallows at Nuremberg.

Bertrand Russell described Spinoza as the noblest and most lovable of the great philosophers. I have long thought this myself.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating insight into an enigmatic character.
Before reading this wonderful novel, I knew next to nothing about either Spinoza or Rosenberg, and after finishing it , I felt I really had learned a lot about both characters, not... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Ann Fairweather
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, genius!
This is possibly one of the most fascinating books I've read! Yalom is a genius in connecting these characters in a way that keeeps the reader longing for more.
Published 8 months ago by Forbes
5.0 out of 5 stars The cost of free thought
This story is an incredible enlightening journey that illustrates with deadly accuracy that 'truth is a double edged sword' Inspirational.
Published 11 months ago by Ian Sweiger
1.0 out of 5 stars The Spinoza Problem: A Novel
I found it excellent and very informative and well written even if some of it was a little over my head
Published 13 months ago by maureen
5.0 out of 5 stars Yalom did it again...
Since I started reading his books; every time I read one of his fictional books, I am amazed by the web of events and his knowledge and experience in physcology envelops me in... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Faize
3.0 out of 5 stars disappointing
Having read and loved everything else written by Irvin Yalom I'm afraid I found this latest novel rather slow and uninspiring.
Published 15 months ago by Jo Thomas
2.0 out of 5 stars Not very intelligent
The book is somewhat uninteresting, poorly written, as if in a hurry, and ends up by being unchallenging intelectually speaking. Nor really worth reading. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Prof. Joao Eduardo Gata
1.0 out of 5 stars A novel of 'ideas'
Very poor indeed. More a frame on which to hang banal philosophising than a novel. The protagonists and their inner lives remain two-dimensional throughout. Read more
Published 24 months ago by John Mackessy
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