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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For those interested in Spinoza, liberalism, religion, evil, the Holocaust and race theory
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,...
Published on 2 Dec 2012 by R. Cohen-almagor

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4 of 12 people found the following review helpful
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. The writing itself is cumbersome and uninspired.
Published on 20 July 2012 by John Mackessy


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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For those interested in Spinoza, liberalism, religion, evil, the Holocaust and race theory, 2 Dec 2012
This review is from: The Spinoza Problem (Hardcover)
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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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 (United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Spinoza Problem (Hardcover)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I could scarcely wait for bedtime each night to read the next chapter!, 27 April 2014
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St B (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Spinoza Problem (Paperback)
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. However, the quasi-mathematical presentation that Spinoza adopts in his 'Ethics', while making for a certain kind of clarity, does not make for readability. Yalom's approach overcomes this problem. The philosopher Stuart Hampshire has remarked that in many ways Spinoza anticipates Freud's analytic method of exploring how and why hidden emotions disturb peace of mind; and Yalom puts this insight to great use. I found the therapeutic conversations involving Rosenberg wholly convincing; and the novel conjured up Spinoza as a living figure in my mind, helping me to imagine how he would have applied his methods to himself. If you're interested in Spinoza, I thoroughly recommend the book. If you're not, but think you might be, I'd encourage you to give it a try. The only criticism I'd make is that on a few occasions the novel slips into historical explanation rather than story telling, but that is a minor blemish in such a thoughtful work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating insight into an enigmatic character., 13 Feb 2014
By 
Ann Fairweather (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Spinoza Problem (Paperback)
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 only in the way of general information about their respective life but also intimately, as regard to who they really were, in their time. Not every novel can achieve that. Of course I was more drawn to know about Spinoza, an enigmatic and difficult philosopher if any. So I was really amazed to discover a man totally ahead of his time at least by three centuries, a man who preferred excommunication and solitude rather than to renounce his ideas, a man absolutely astonishing in courage, intellect and integrity. I am absolutely delighted to have encounter this book because I feel Spinoza is a most crucial thinker, who probably made the whole human race progress just by the audacity of his thinking in the seventeen century. Rosenberg, the other subject of the novel in alternate chapters, is in a way, the sad opposite of Spinoza. A man sunk in his prejudice, obscurantist, narrow-minded, racists views, a man so tied-up by his own stupidity that he suffers from depression all his life and craves recognition like a child. It is a fascinating parallel, linked of course in the novel by the puzzle, the problem, that Spinoza represents for Rosenberg: how can a 'jew' have been so forward-thinking? A question that his limited intelligence will never allow him to find an answer to. It is an incredibly interesting book, on both sides, and one of those where you actually learn something very valuable and long-lasting in your memory. Easy to read and very evocative of either the seventeen century Amsterdam or Nazi Germany, I cannot recommend enough.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Totally brilliant, 2 April 2013
By 
Armstrong - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Spinoza Problem (Paperback)
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, genius!, 20 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Spinoza Problem (Paperback)
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.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The cost of free thought, 15 Aug 2013
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This review is from: Spinoza Problem (Paperback)
This story is an incredible enlightening journey that illustrates with deadly accuracy that 'truth is a double edged sword' Inspirational.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Yalom did it again..., 7 May 2013
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This review is from: Spinoza Problem (Paperback)
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 every line of he writes. And Spinoza Problem is no exception to that.
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4 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A novel of 'ideas', 20 July 2012
By 
John Mackessy (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Spinoza Problem: A Novel (Kindle Edition)
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. The writing itself is cumbersome and uninspired.
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars disappointing, 3 April 2013
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This review is from: The Spinoza Problem: A Novel (Kindle Edition)
Having read and loved everything else written by Irvin Yalom I'm afraid I found this latest novel rather slow and uninspiring.
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