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Spinoza A Life Paperback – 14 Jun 2001

4.6 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 430 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (14 Jun. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521002931
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521002936
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.2 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 419,578 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


'Few philosophers have elicited so much controversy as Spinoza. His life has been obscured by legends on account of the polemics surrounding his philosophical tenets and the relative paucity of established facts. Steven Nadler's elegant new biography is an important step forward; it carefully assesses all the information available, takes into account the most recent scholarly work, and integrates the biographical material, Spinoza's philosophy and the historical background into a fascinating story.' Piet Steenbakkers, University of Utrecht

'Nadler's biography is superb, the best I know … He puts the extraordinary man with surprisingly naturalistic ideas against the historical background and in discussion with contemporaries as well as with the reader.' Wim Klever, University of Rotterdam

'A rich and illuminating biography of one of philosophy's most intriguing thinkers. Nadler deftly weaves together the details of Spinoza's life and thought, tracing his passage from the Sephardic community of his youth to the works of his maturity. The result is an exceptional book - eminently readable and based on the best recent scholarship.' Donald Rutherford, Emory University

'Nadler paints the historical milieu in vivid colours, while ferreting out the tiniest details of a philosopher's day.' The Guardian

'Whether we wish to learn about the Sephardic community in Amsterdam in the seventeenth century, or discover the background to Spinoza's thought, this is the book to read.' Expository Times

'… splendidly researched … eminently readable and accessible even to those who have never read anything of philosophy, this book offers both an excellent summation of Spinoza's ideas and an equally fine description of life in the Jewish and Christian communities of seventeenth-century Amsterdam and other parts of the Netherlands in a Golden Age that was also a period of political religious, and social strife.' The Jerusalem Post

'… the picture Nadler paints of the intellectual life of seventeenth-century Amsterdam (and in particular of its Jewish community) is vivid, and his outlines of Spinoza's works are helpful and clear.' Practical Philosophy

'Periodically one embarks upon the reading of a book for a particular reason only to discover that the treasures awaiting discovery in the book far exceed expectations. Such is the reading to Steven Nadler's biography of Burach Spinoza. … perceptive insights into the life of Spinoza. … a remarkable foray into the middle-seventeenth-century life of Amsterdam … as the reader peruses its pages, he is almost able to feel the pressures that Spinoza felt and to see the life of the Dutch countryside and even to inhale its scents. For someone looking for a vivid picture of post-Reformation Europe as well as a fabulous biography of a lonely thinker whose influence is now increasing in our own era, I commend without reservation Steven Nadler's Spinoza: A Life.' Paige Patterson, Faith and Mission

'This is the first full-length biography of Spinoza to appear in English, and as such it must be welcomed. It contains admirably lucid analyses of Spinoza's writings and thought, so one could hardly wish for a better introduction.' Heythrop Journal

Book Description

This was the first complete biography of Spinoza in any language and is based on detailed archival research. The book has been written for any member of the general reading public with a serious interest in philosophy, Jewish history, seventeenth-century European history, and the culture of the Dutch Golden Age.

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Format: Paperback
This exemplary study of an early Enlightenment figure is a superb analytical narrative. Nadler's account of Baruch Spinoza will stand for some time as the best introduction of a man of his own times and far beyond. Spinoza's philosophy has been sadly overlooked by scholars. Nadler's diminutive title is almost an injustice to the scope of his efforts. Yet, it perfectly summarises what Nadler does - recounts a life without overwhelming us with lengthy analysis or idle speculation. He places Spinoza firmly in the social, political and philosophical realms marking the Enlightenment's beginnings. With clear presentation skills, Nadler takes us through the life and times of a man whose thinking was far in advance of his contemporaries. That Spinoza was reviled and condemned by church and state, yet avoided the martyrdom typical of Bruno, Galileo and others, attests to his perception and behavioural qualities.
Spinoza was the descendent of one of the multitude of Jews driven from the Iberian Peninsula in the reign of the Catholic Monarchs credited with reconquering Spain from the Moors. Harassed by the Inquisition, many found refuge in the Calvinist Netherlands. Nadler shows how tolerance and dogma fought continuously in the Dutch Republic, reaching every facet of society. Politics and religion were deeply intertwined. Even a reclusive like Spinoza wasn't immune to the swaying fortunes of party politics. While the Dutch struggled for an independent existence surrounded by enemy states, Spinoza formulated his ideas on Nature and the role of the divine. He began these studies at an early age. Expressing them led to the most vehement statement of excommunication issued by the Amsterdam rabbinical leadership.
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Format: Paperback
Baruch (Benedict)Spinoza (1632-1677) is one of the most influential philosophers in history. As a young man, he was excommunicated by the elders of the Jewish community in Amsterdam and subsequently came to be regarded by some as a "secular saint" and by others as an infamous atheist. Although there are many legends and myths about Spinoza's life, Nadler's book is the first extended biography in English. In fact, outside of brief accounts written shortly after Spinoza's death, this book is probably the first extended treatment of Spinoza's life in any language.

Given the scarcity of biographical information, Nadler does an excellent job in placing Spinoza's life in historical context. He discusses in detail how the Jewish community in Amsterdam became established, precariously, by immigrants from the Inquistion in Spain and Portugal. He describes the efforts the Jewish community made to win acceptance in Amsterdam, the place of Spinoza's family in the Jewish community, and the rabbis and leaders of the community. Some of this material is well-known, other parts of it are less so. It is all valuable to getting to understand Spinoza.

There is a great deal of discussion of the history of the Dutch republic in Spinoza's time. Nadler's discussion includes both internal affairs (the tension between those who wanted a powerful monarch and those who wanted republican institutions) and the complex foreign wars and shifting alliances of the Netherlands during Spinoza's time. I never could make sense of this material before, but Nadler has discussed it well and in sufficient detail to provide a good backround in understanding Spinoza's political ideas.

Nadler's book is not itself a philosophical study.
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Despite the paucity of source material, Steven Nadler's biography captures the essence of one of western philosophy's brightest minds, as well as the age and place in which he lived. With almost nothing surviving to document his early life, the first third of the book on Spinoza's formative years is largely a history of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions, and the Jewish immigrant community of Amsterdam to which Spinoza's family fled. I hadn't expected to read so much about these topics, but Nadler's presentation proved engaging, as it did throughout the book, including accessible summaries of Spinoza's thought and his major works. This is no intellectual history, so ideas are presented in their most general outline, but for someone new to Spinoza this might be just what you need to decide whether you'd like to explore further. This is the first book I've read about Spinoza. It was a good place to start.

What stays with me from Nadler's work is an image of the philosopher, a young man - he died still in his 40's - content with life and his place in it. He ate enough to survive, wore enough to stay warm, and kept only a few boxes of books and the lens grinding equipment with which he earned enough money to support his low-impact life. He never married and never traveled outside the Netherlands. He was offered prestigious academic positions, but turned them down. When confronted with the disputatious, he tried to find some way to avoid confrontation. He lived a quiet, interior life of reflection. If he was hungry for anything, it was ideas, what he called the search for truth. In all other ways, he seemed at ease in the world. And why not?
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