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The Spinoza Problem: A Novel Paperback – 26 Feb 2013

4.0 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (26 Feb. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465061850
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465061853
  • Product Dimensions: 14.6 x 2.5 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 41,205 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

Sir Anthony Hopkins, actor
This is the most intriguing novel I ve read in many a year. Irvin Yalom has created a taut, deeply informative page turner. I enthusiastically recommend "The Spinoza Problem."
Jay Parini, author of "The Last Station" and "The Passages of H.M."
Spinoza had no real life outside his reading and writing: he lived in his brilliant mind. So how do you write about a philosophera writer beloved of Goethe, Schopenhauer, and so many other thinkerswho spent most of his time in thought? And how do you regard Spinozaa Jew whose work helped to usher in the Enlightenmentif, indeed, you re a Nazi? Irvin Yalom is just the writer to take on such a problem, and he solves it, with his own novelistic brilliance, in this vibrant book. In my view, Yalom is one of the most eclectic, wide-ranging, and dazzling writers of our time.
Martin E. P. Seligman, author of "Flourish"
Irvin Yalom is the most significant writer of psychological fiction in the world today. I didn t think he could top "When Nietzsche Wept" or "The Schopenhauer Cure," but he has. "The Spinoza Problem" is a masterpiece.
Dilip V. Jeste, M.D., Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry & Neurosciences, University of California, San Diego
Irvin Yalom s "The Spinoza Problem" is an amazing novel that combines fact and fiction in a spell-binding manner. Little is known about the psyche of either Baruch Spinoza or Alfred Rosenberg, yet using his extraordinary ability to peer into the minds of his patients, Dr. Yalom has produced a rare gem in existing literature.Only an incomparably gifted author could write such a fascinating and thought-provoking novel. A real page-turner.
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of "Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity"
The great-souled psychiatrist has written a novel about the great-souled philosopher. Ambitious, erudite, and engaging, "The Spinoza Problem" s interweaving tale forces a reader to confront the fundamental question: can reason exert its force for good?
Abraham Verghese, author of "Cutting for Stone"
Irvin Yalom does a masterful job in bringing to life Spinoza and his philosophy and connecting it to the apocalyptic history of Nazi Germany and the persona of Alfred Rosenberg. It s the sort of temporal alchemy and alchemy of science and fiction that Yalom does so well."The Spinoza Problem" isengrossing, enlightening, disturbing and ultimately deeply satisfying.
Lou Marinoff, Professor of Philosophy, City College of New York, and President, American Philosophical Practitioners Association
"The Spinoza Problem"is aringing endorsement foranauthentically philosophical life, wherein a toweringly heroic philosopher is persecuted in two eras: one governed by medieval superstition; the other, bytotalitarian racism. The novel is a masterpiece, depicting the ultimate triumphof clear and compassionate reason over religious dogma and political pathology alike. I think it s Yalom s greatest yet.
Alan F. Schatzberg, M.D., Kenneth T. Norris, Jr. Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, and Past-President, American Psychiatric Association
In "The Spinoza Problem," Irvin Yalom has given us a suspenseful and meaningful novel spanning nearly three centuries and depicting how philosophy and wisdom can spur evil counter-responses that can continue for centuries. This book is another tour de force from a leading psychiatrist psychotherapist who has truly created a genre of fiction and whose novels engross and enlighten us as we anticipate turning the next page. "The Spinoza Problem "is another not to be missed work from one of the great contributors to the scientific and fictional literature of psychotherapy.
"Kirkus Reviews," starred review
Imaginative and erudite
"The Washington Post"
[A]s an accessible introduction to Spinoza s complex philosophy, Yalom s method has much to recommend it. Like a good teacher, he presents only a few ideas at a time and moves carefully from one to the next with frequent recapitulation.The conversations he creates give a lovely sense of the philosopher s character and provide a lucid explanation of the man s major ideas about nature, free will, and reason.
"Tucson Citizen"
In this highly intriguing novel, Irvin D. Yalombuilds a plot around the obsession that the infamously anti-Semitic Rosenberg had with Spinoza, a Jew. Yalom seamlessly parallels the intellectual and personal lives of these two very different men in this engaging, erudite tale. Yalom s ability to make complex ideas and theories accessible is what makes his novels so popular. "The Spinoza Problem" gives readers a penetrating look at the perils inherent in seeking wisdom, and the dangers incumbent on anyone brave or foolish enough to attempt a philosophical life.
"San Francisco Book Review"
Powerful.
"Jewish Book World"
Beautifully written, remarkably ambitious, filled with vivid descriptions of place, and bursting with brilliant insights, "The Spinoza Problem" carefully develops its personalities and issues so that they come alive in a highly original and absorbing way.
"San Jose Mercury News"
What links renowned 17th-century Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza with the Nazi party ideologue whose master race theory led to Hitler s final solution? That question is brilliantly explored in the new novel "The Spinoza Problem."... As in his earlier novel "When Nietzsche Wept, " Yalom again dramatizes a great thinker s ideas.
"Jewish Journal"
Yalom s latest novel, "The Spinoza Problem," is yet another example of how a psychiatrist s stock in trade the secrets spoken only in the therapist s office can be spun into gold by a gifted storyteller.... "The Spinoza Problem" consists of two compelling narratives.... The two tales amount to a mystery novel, although it is a mystery of a very cerebral kind.
"City Book Review"
Yalom delivers a powerful philosophical and psychological novel.
"Shelf Awareness"
[Yalom] is the perfect author to bring together Spinoza and Rosenberg in a novel.... ["The Spinoza Problem" is a] highly intriguing exploration of the connections between a Jewish philosopher and a Nazi ideologue.
"Philosophical Practice"
Yalom has artfully pulled off a feat that could easily backfire in the hands of a less-gifted novelist.... Dramatically pleasing, and wonderfully crafted.... [Yalom] seeks to plumb the depths of the human mind and its myriad workings.
"Baltimore Jewish Times"
Yalom...does a skillful job of weaving together the stories of these two men.... The novel is gripping and informative, a brilliant work of psychological fiction. "

Lou Marinoff, Professor of Philosophy, City College of New York, and President, American Philosophical Practitioners Association
"The Spinoza Problem is a ringing endorsement for an authentically philosophical life, wherein a toweringly heroic philosopher is persecuted in two eras: one governed by medieval superstition; the other, by totalitarian racism. The novel is a masterpiece, depicting the ultimate triumph of clear and compassionate reason over religious dogma and political pathology alike. I think it's Yalom's greatest yet."
Alan F. Schatzberg, M.D., Kenneth T. Norris, Jr. Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, and Past-President, American Psychiatric Association
"In The Spinoza Problem, Irvin Yalom has given us a suspenseful and meaningful novel spanning nearly three centuries and depicting how philosophy and wisdom can spur evil counter-responses that can continue for centuries. This book is another tour de force from a leading psychiatrist psychotherapist who has truly created a genre of fiction and whose novels engross and enlighten us as we anticipate turning the next page. The Spinoza Problem is another not to be missed work from one of the great contributors to the scientific and fictional literature of psychotherapy."
Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Imaginative and erudite"

Sir Anthony Hopkins, actor
"This is the most intriguing novel I've read in many a year. Irvin Yalom has created a taut, deeply informative page turner. I enthusiastically recommend The Spinoza Problem."
Jay Parini, author of The Last Station and The Passages of H.M.
"Spinoza had no 'real life' outside his reading and writing: he lived in his brilliant mind. So how do you write about a philosopher--a writer beloved of Goethe, Schopenhauer, and so many other thinkers--who spent most of his time in thought? And how do you regard Spinoza--a Jew whose work helped to usher in the Enlightenment--if, indeed, you're a Nazi? Irvin Yalom is just the writer to take on such a problem, and he solves it, with his own novelistic brilliance, in this vibrant book. In my view, Yalom is one of the most eclectic, wide-ranging, and dazzling writers of our time."
Martin E. P. Seligman, author of Flourish
"Irvin Yalom is the most significant writer of psychological fiction in the world today. I didn't think he could top When Nietzsche Wept or The Schopenhauer Cure, but he has. The Spinoza Problem is a masterpiece."

Jewish Book World
"Beautifully written, remarkably ambitious, filled with vivid descriptions of place, and bursting with brilliant insights, The Spinoza Problem carefully develops its personalities and issues so that they come alive in a highly original and absorbing way."
San Jose Mercury News
"What links renowned 17th-century Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza with the Nazi party ideologue whose 'master race' theory led to Hitler's 'final solution? That question is brilliantly explored in the new novel The Spinoza Problem.... As in his earlier novel When Nietzsche Wept, Yalom again dramatizes a great thinker's ideas."
Jewish Journal
"Yalom's latest novel, The Spinoza Problem, is yet another example of how a psychiatrist's stock in trade -- the secrets spoken only in the therapist's office -- can be spun into gold by a gifted storyteller.... The Spinoza Problem consists of two compelling narratives.... The two tales amount to a mystery novel, although it is a mystery of a very cerebral kind."
City Book Review
"Yalom delivers a powerful philosophical and psychological novel."

The Washington Post
"[A]s an accessible introduction to Spinoza's complex philosophy, Yalom's method has much to recommend it. Like a good teacher, he presents only a few ideas at a time and moves carefully from one to the next with frequent recapitulation....The conversations he creates give a lovely sense of the philosopher's character and provide a lucid explanation of the man's major ideas about nature, free will, and reason."
Tucson Citizen
"In this highly intriguing novel, Irvin D. Yalom...builds a plot around the obsession that the infamously anti-Semitic Rosenberg had with Spinoza, a Jew. Yalom seamlessly parallels the intellectual and personal lives of these two very different men in this engaging, erudite tale. Yalom's ability to make complex ideas and theories accessible is what makes his novels so popular. The Spinoza Problem gives readers a penetrating look at the perils inherent in seeking wisdom, and the dangers incumbent on anyone brave or foolish enough to attempt a philosophical life."
San Francisco Book Review
"Powerful."

Dilip V. Jeste, M.D., Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry & Neurosciences, University of California, San Diego
"Irvin Yalom's The Spinoza Problem is an amazing novel that combines fact and fiction in a spell-binding manner. Little is known about the psyche of either Baruch Spinoza or Alfred Rosenberg, yet using his extraordinary ability to peer into the minds of his patients, Dr. Yalom has produced a rare gem in existing literature. Only an incomparably gifted author could write such a fascinating and thought-provoking novel. A real page-turner."
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of -Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity
"The great-souled psychiatrist has written a novel about the great-souled philosopher. Ambitious, erudite, and engaging, The Spinoza Problem's interweaving tale forces a reader to confront the fundamental question: can reason exert its force for good?"
Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone
"Irvin Yalom does a masterful job in bringing to life Spinoza and his philosophy and connecting it to the apocalyptic history of Nazi Germany and the persona of Alfred Rosenberg. It's the sort of temporal alchemy and alchemy of science and fiction that Yalom does so well. The Spinoza Problem is engrossing, enlightening, disturbing and ultimately deeply satisfying."

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"The Spinoza Problem is engrossing, enlightening, disturbing and ultimately deeply satisfying."-Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. An interesting piece that skillfully weaves Spinoza and a time of great darkness together in the near past.
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Great book! Bought a few for my friends to read!
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A compelling read written with an analysts insight of the therapeutic relationship
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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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Format: 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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Format: 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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Format: 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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