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I Am Dynamite!: A Life of Nietzsche (2018)

by Sue Prideaux

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2028101,631 (4)6
NEW YORK TIMES Editors' Choice * THE TIMES BIOGRAPHY OF THE YEAR * WINNER OF THE HAWTHORNDEN PRIZE A groundbreaking new biography of philosophy's greatest iconoclast Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the most enigmatic figures in philosophy, and his concepts--the Übermensch, the will to power, slave morality--have fundamentally reshaped our understanding of the human condition. But what do most people really know of Nietzsche--beyond the mustache, the scowl, and the lingering association with nihilism and fascism? Where do we place a thinker who was equally beloved by Albert Camus, Ayn Rand, Martin Buber, and Adolf Hitler? Nietzsche wrote that all philosophy is autobiographical, and in this vividly compelling, myth-shattering biography, Sue Prideaux brings readers into the world of this brilliant, eccentric, and deeply troubled man, illuminating the events and people that shaped his life and work. From his placid, devoutly Christian upbringing--overshadowed by the mysterious death of his father--through his teaching career, lonely philosophizing on high mountains, and heart-breaking descent into madness, Prideaux documents Nietzsche's intellectual and emotional life with a novelist's insight and sensitivity.   She also produces unforgettable portraits of the people who were most important to him, including Richard and Cosima Wagner, Lou Salomé, the femme fatale who broke his heart; and his sister Elizabeth, a rabid German nationalist and anti-Semite who manipulated his texts and turned the Nietzsche archive into a destination for Nazi ideologues. I Am Dynamite! is the essential biography for anyone seeking to understand history's most misunderstood philosopher.… (more)
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» See also 6 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
The feeling that I'm mostly left with on finishing this biography is pity for its subject, as between the death of his father at a young age, the chronic bad health, and the ever-threatening abyss of insanity, Nietzsche might as well have been walking around with a cosmic "kick me" sign stuck to his back. One might say that since conventional happiness was a low-probability reality for the man, causing trouble was the next best option.

Still, the high points were quite high, particularly when the man was most closely associated with Wagner. This is at least until that relationship went off the rails, when Wagner became a virtual god to the Pan-Germanic and anti-Jewish crowd that Nietzsche loathed. That these people came to esteem Nietzsche is another cosmic bad joke that the man could see coming.

Inevitably, this story is also stalked by the figure of Nietzsche's sister Elizabeth, and yes, she is quite the piece of work. One almost admires the woman for her implacable will and drive, even if she espoused a bad cause.

As for whether this makes me want to read more of Nietzsche's philosophy, the answer is probably not. At the end of the day his basically anti-science attitude is alien to me, though probably the start of a critique of scientism. ( )
  Shrike58 | Nov 2, 2020 |
Horrible title, fabulous cover, very enjoyable book. Prideaux writes well, she has a great eye for the important details and for knowing what can be left out, and a flare for narrative. Her destruction of Elisabeth Nietzsche is glorious; her writing on Friedrich is obviously even-handed, since I thought this was a solid, much-needed hatchet job, but Prideaux herself seems to think she was showing the enduring appeal and importance of his ideas. The utter absurdity of much of Nietzsche's thinking comes through clearly, as does the tremendous importance of his critical work. 'How to philosophize with a hammer'? Don't imagine that, having bludgeoned everything to bits, you can then pick up a paintbrush and create the future. ( )
  stillatim | Oct 23, 2020 |
Sue Prideaux presents an fascinating biography on one of the most controversial philosophers of the 19th Century. Rather than focusing heavily on Nietzsche's philosophy she concentrates on his life and and friends, particularly composer Robert Wagner. She also ties Nietzsche's mental breakdown to his father's mental illness rather than syphilis. Nietzsche sister, Elizabeth, is also given an important role in the formation of his fallacious public image. It was her actions that lead to his identity as an anti-Semite and forerunner the Nazis. She also had control of his papers and copyrights after his death.

Nietzsche's philosophy, when presented, plays into his life events and creates a connection between the person and the philosophy. Thus Spoke Zarathustra was mailed to the publisher the same day that Wagner's death was reported. Nietzsche saw this as the death of his "father" and the birth of his son. His personal experience with war seems to directly contradict the public's commonly believed definition of the Übermensch. Reality contradicts the common perception of the philosopher.

Prideaux shows Nietzsche as a complex man in his thoughts but in many ways very human. Although his friends tended to be rich, he lived much more simply. Prideaux writes a balanced biography of one of the most maligned and misunderstood modern philosophers and corrects some serious wrongs that have no basis in fact. A very well done and cited biography that presents a true picture of the man. ( )
1 vote evil_cyclist | Mar 16, 2020 |
While I've been a fan of Nietzsche for decades, it wasn't until recently encountering other authors he inspired that I ever bothered to read a biography (aside from Ecce Homo).

This may have been one of my biggest mistakes concerning Nietzsche. Sue Prideaux does an excellent job of relating the biographical events, notes, letters, and other details to the formation of Nietzsche's dynamite philosophy. The biographical information enhanced my understanding of his philosophy and even shed light on a new, heterodox, perspective of my own. While I do not read biographies often, I found the way that the author weaves these details together highly engaging and worth staying up late to continue reading.

There are however a few times where this is broken up. Mostly small early and middle sections lecturing against the misconceptions that are largely due to Nietzsche's sister. While necessary to any biography of the man, which may be the reader's first experience of the subject, the tone broke harshly enough to disrupt the otherwise smooth flow. My only other criticism is that the philosophy is treated rather quickly and without much explanation. If I did not have the background that I do with Nietzsche, there is a good chance that I would have been lost at the significance, or found it necessary to supplement parts with a more philosophical source as I read. To reiterate, this may be a reader's first experience of the subject matter.

Aside from these critiques I found the biographical research thorough, the subject respected, and the writing energetic. I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Nietzsche, after they read some Nietzsche. ( )
3 vote Ophiphos | Dec 12, 2019 |
Great title, great cover, and a pretty good stab at a contemporary life of Nietzsche. To me, the book's main accomplishment is its detailed account of Nietzsche's last, insane years; she minutely describes what we know of his symptoms, of how and where he was kept, and, especially, the individuals who campaigned to put his works forward worldwide, topics which previous biographers have mostly taken a pass on. The author does indulge in some light revisionism; she's not convinced that Nietzsche had syphilis, and although she does introduce some (rather picky, to me) evidence of weaknesses in the diagnosis, the fact that the world's greatest authority on syphilis accepted the diagnosis would seem countervailing, and, like most revisionists, she doesn't do a great or thorough job of setting out the case for the diagnosis. Even odder is her contention that Nietzsche was an admirer of the Christ; this is to me difficult to contort out of Nietzsche's corpus; most of the passages she cites I would classify under either 'backhanded compliments' or 'he was better than the horrible church he inspired'. Annoyingly, she extends her courteous approach to Christianity to capitalizIng the divine 'he', which, as my high school English teacher pointed out in her remarks on my term paper on Nietzsche, is discordant with his philosophy. And get ready for many, many tangents; at times I felt that I was reading a biography of almost anybody else besides Nietzsche; however, it must be said that perhaps the least relevant chapters, on his sister's anti-Semitic colony in Paraguay, are some of the more interesting in the book. However, readable and informative, I'd still say that strengths outweigh weaknesses here by some distance. ( )
1 vote Big_Bang_Gorilla | Jun 24, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
She is strong on Nietzsche’s life, but much less so on his ideas. In fact, apart from Nietzsche’s ideas, his life is of relatively little import. She does little to explain what makes Nietzsche an enduring philosopher who continues to exercise great influence.
 
Prideaux relies on the mapmaker’s method of triangulation, using time not place as the fixed point and drawing her subject into focus by examining the events in his life, his personal writing and his published work. “This falls into the biographical fallacy, I know,” she has said in interviews, “but my justification is a passage from ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ where Nietzsche says that every great philosophy is a form of involuntary and unperceived memoir. In other words, all philosophy is, to an extent, autobiography. One illuminates the other.”
 

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NEW YORK TIMES Editors' Choice * THE TIMES BIOGRAPHY OF THE YEAR * WINNER OF THE HAWTHORNDEN PRIZE A groundbreaking new biography of philosophy's greatest iconoclast Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the most enigmatic figures in philosophy, and his concepts--the Übermensch, the will to power, slave morality--have fundamentally reshaped our understanding of the human condition. But what do most people really know of Nietzsche--beyond the mustache, the scowl, and the lingering association with nihilism and fascism? Where do we place a thinker who was equally beloved by Albert Camus, Ayn Rand, Martin Buber, and Adolf Hitler? Nietzsche wrote that all philosophy is autobiographical, and in this vividly compelling, myth-shattering biography, Sue Prideaux brings readers into the world of this brilliant, eccentric, and deeply troubled man, illuminating the events and people that shaped his life and work. From his placid, devoutly Christian upbringing--overshadowed by the mysterious death of his father--through his teaching career, lonely philosophizing on high mountains, and heart-breaking descent into madness, Prideaux documents Nietzsche's intellectual and emotional life with a novelist's insight and sensitivity.   She also produces unforgettable portraits of the people who were most important to him, including Richard and Cosima Wagner, Lou Salomé, the femme fatale who broke his heart; and his sister Elizabeth, a rabid German nationalist and anti-Semite who manipulated his texts and turned the Nietzsche archive into a destination for Nazi ideologues. I Am Dynamite! is the essential biography for anyone seeking to understand history's most misunderstood philosopher.

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