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3.3 out of 5 stars
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3.3 out of 5 stars
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on 18 December 2000
This book, one of a series of 'Very Short Introductions' presents Nietzsche from a broadly chronological viewpoint, mainly covering his work, but also extending into his life. It is written by someone with an obviously extensive knowledge of his subject, and an authoritative, gratifyingly honest approach. Possibly more importantly, Tanner seems to have a very good 'feel' for Nietzsche's intentions, something crucially important to studies of the idiosyncratic, often challenging approach of this particular philosopher. Speaking as an undergraduate student embarking on a dissertation study of Nietzsche, I found this book to be an extremely good introduction to the depth of the man's work, and would heartily recommend it to anyone with any interest in modern philosophy.
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on 17 April 2016
Unfortunately, I found this book to be the very opposite of the claims on its back cover: it is not an introduction, it is not highly readable and it is not a stimulating way into a new subject. Instead it is a rather pompous, academic overview of Nietzsche's works, that is full of lengthy, tortuous sentences, filled with abstractions and laced with the obscurities of a philosopher's vocabulary and unnecessary acronyms. The author appears to know his subject well; but, rather than writing to enlighten the novice, his aim instead appears to be to swagger and posture in order to demonstrate his prowess in the subject, Michael Tanner comes across as having been ensconced in his ivory tower far too long to sensitively write a book on Nietzsche that eases the general reader gently into the latter's life and thoughts. Those interested in Nietzsche would be better advised to simply take the plunge and read his published works, rather than first enduring this excruciating book.
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on 22 April 2008
Michael Tanner presents Nietzsche in an engaging, accessible way for the complete beginner (which is no mean feat!) The book is more of a primer than an introduction and really supplemented by reading the works presented simultaneously or shortly after to get a real feel for him but Tanner presents Nietzsche and his work in such a way that you'll want to read him anyway. On the other hand if you just want a better idea of what Nietzsche was on about, this book will provide you with an explanation of Nietzsche's main theories. Sometimes it does get a little dense and difficult to read but less so than some other so called introductions to philosophers and philosophic ideas. A great introduction into one of the most influential modern thinkers.
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on 24 April 2011
So you've read a bit of Nietzsche and you want to learn more. This is understandable. You know that Nietzsche - along with Freud, Marx, Darwin and a few others - is one of greatest thought-leaders out there. You've dabbled with other philosophers, but Plato is boring (to quote Nietzsche) and Kant is impenetrable. By contrast, Nietzsche sizzles. He writes in bite-sized chunks. His ideas are radical, creative, reality-shifting. He uses irony and thought-experiments to advance his arguments rather than drawn-out dialectic. You get hooked.

Then you reach a block. You experience a growing itch to fit the pieces together. You crave some simple definitions for the more technical words - decadence, resentment, herd - that recur throughout Nietzsche's writings. You sense different interpretations of central Nietzscheian concepts - is the Superman an intellectual-artist (Goethe) or a general-emperor (Julius Caesar) - and want the tools to choose between them.

Question: Where to now? Answer: a book like this.

Michael Tanner's 'Nietzsche: A Very Short Introduction' has much to recommend it. As a type of book, these very short introductions serve as helpful bridges between levels of knowledge. I've read several now and the standard is generally high. Moreover, at a little over a hundred pages, this book is particularly short (perhaps hard to justify at £7.99 new). The chapters are arranged chronologically, so you get a sense of the development of Nietzsche's thinking over time. Tanner not only explains but interacts with Nietzsche, offering frequent personal evaluations and bringing in outside authors for illumination. He helps you get the lay of the land in the sky-scraping world of Nietzsche scholarship. There are helpful, short sections on references, further reading and translations.

Why only two stars?

Tanner writes as a literary smart-ass. He likes his big words (or locutional largesse as he might put it) and by that I don't mean those technical words that are necessary in a book about ideas. His style of writing is often whimsical; it can read like the casual ruminations of an institutionalised academic while riding a train. Tangents abound. He seems overly keen to offer his own opinions on Nietzsche without first properly explaining them to his audience. Often these opinions are interesting, possibly even accurate. But we bought this book because we wanted to learn about Fredrick Nietzsche, not Michael Tanner (whoever the heck he is).

With only a little more proportion, discipline and reader-empathy, this book could have been helpful. So close! Did Tanner scribble it in one sitting? Was it a case of writing-by-Dictaphone? Where was the editor hiding? But these and other questions cannot be answered. So instead let's stick to ones that can.

What to read instead?

As an undergraduate I found 'Nietzsche' by J. P. Stern fairly useful - slightly more meat, less sequence than Tanner. If you want to go basic try 'Nietzsche For Beginners' by Marc Sautet (illustrated by Patrick Boussignac). I'm a fan of this series. Although some Nietzsche hard-cores will crucify me for suggesting it, I still find Wikipedia hard to beat for a first-port-of call. However if I had to suggest one book, it would be 'Nietzsche: The Key Concepts' by Peter R. Sedgwick. Ah, the joy of definitions, demarcations, descriptions. Sometimes, less is more. No doubt Fred would agree.
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on 1 January 2009
This short introduction to Nietzsche concentrates on the period in which Nietzsche published, with mainly a chronological look at his works. Tanner does this well giving the reader a good idea of Nietzsche's work and how it changed over time. Tanner's writing is compelling, managing to transfer some of his enthusiasm for Nietzsche to the reader, which makes the read more enjoyable and ties in with the way Nietzsche wrote himself.

Although Tanner does link in changes in Nietzsche's relationships to e.g. Wagner as his philosophy progressed, and did well linking in the outside influences on his work, I was slightly disappointed with the lack of biography in the book. There is very little mentioned of Nietzsche before the Birth of Tragedy and after his decent into madness in 1889. Although what one could write on the matter is probably not much, it would have been nice to have slightly more of a background to the man behind the philosophy.

Tanner's guide at the end of the book to further reading and translations is useful; saying which translations into English are usable and which to avoid, also commenting well on a number of publications about Nietzsche which may interest the reader if they wish to know more on the subject.
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on 3 December 2007
Sometimes we approach books like this because we want a 'taster' but have no intention of going any further with the subject. May I suggest that this book is not likely to fit the bill here or excuse us from reading Nietzsche? The reason being that Nietzsche is a philosopher who is particularly difficult to systematise and, as such, there don't appear to be any convenient shortcuts which will allow us to bypass tackling his work directly.

Having said this, for anyone who has read any Nietzsche, this is a superb book. Michael Tanner has organised things following a roughly chronological order and clearly has an outstanding feel for his subject.

Having read most of Nietzsche's published work and numerous other books about Nietzsche, this is a book which I consider to be a 'must read' for any enthusiast. It would surprise me if anyone read this book and found that their appreciation of Nietzsche wasn't enhanced in the process.
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on 23 November 2012
Having read many of the short introduction series, I was disappointed with this one. The Guardian plaudit on the back praising it as 'highly readable' is very misleading. It isn't. Not unless you're a well read scholar of classics with an incredibly strong grasp of English.

I think Tanner was the wrong person to author this introduction. Parts of it read more like a thesis than an accessible introduction. Much of the terminology was completely unnecessary and smacked more of showing off rather than providing an accessible short introduction, as was surely the publisher's objective.

Granted Nietzsche isn't readily accessible, and anyone would have their work cut out collating his works into something lucid and coherent. However, the whiff of intellectual snobbery was pungent throughout this book. Which is just rude given its target audience. Singer's treatment of Hegel in this series hit exactly the right tone so it is possible for commentators to decipher philosophers with obscure concepts. Yet in this instance, it's like our guide just couldn't be bothered.

Tanner obviously knows what he's talking about. No doubt. However, unless you've an MA in Philosophy (and even then you'll struggle) then maybe give this one a miss. There's better commentators who are more respectful to their audiences and who don't incessantly feel the urge to demonstrate how many big words they know.
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on 9 October 2010
I didn't expect to have his works explained in 3/4 short sentences but often the syntax was as complicated as Nietzsche's. If nothing else a list of his most significant insights & where they are to be found & an idiot's guide to the main works (perhaps as appendices)would be a great help to lay readers like me.
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on 15 October 2008
I expected to read a book which would explain the basics of Nietzsche clearly, without having to go out and research further. Instead, I found myself frantically searching technical terms and obscure references in Wikipedia (which, by the way, explained Nietzsche in far simpler language).

There are parts which start off clear, but descend into confusion. Without explaining what 'Apolline and Dionysiac' actually means - the author goes on to discuss Nietzsche's views on... them. He stumbles into terms such as 'metaphysics' without explaining what that means to the reader.

Phrases such as "...the Greek epic is an Apolline art form, and its proudest manifestation is of course the Iliad, a work that delights us with its lucidity and its hard edges," just seem to patronise and assume that we should have a knowledge of Greek literature.

Would your average layman be able to read this without consulting other sources? Not at all - as part of a reading list for those wanting to get into philosophy, philology or Greek literature, it's a great book I'm sure. But for those who have simply heard his name and want to know a bit more, it's a little too frustrating.

On this subject it seems: Wikipedia is free, far clearer, and also provides links to the more obscure bits.
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on 2 May 2009
I got this book from university library and the book is truly horrible as an introduction to the works of Nietzsche. The author ruined this publication by using too many technical terms without even explaining what they are so most of the time you are reading about things that do not make sense. To myself, reading a maths book is simpler and clearer than this book! I do not recommend this book to anyone especially if you are new to the topic. am sure there will be great books out there to summarise Nietzsche's works better and clearer.
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