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The Spinoza Problem

A Novel
Narrated by: Traber Burns
Length: 14 hrs and 1 min
4.5 out of 5 stars (22 ratings)

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Summary

When 16-year-old Alfred Rosenberg is called into his headmaster's office for anti-Semitic remarks he made during a school speech, he is forced, as punishment, to memorize passages about Spinoza from the autobiography of the German poet Goethe. Rosenberg is stunned to discover that Goethe, his idol, was a great admirer of the Jewish 17th-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza. Long after graduation, Rosenberg remains haunted by this "Spinoza problem": How could the German genius Goethe have been inspired by a member of a race Rosenberg considers so inferior to his own, a race he was determined to destroy?

Spinoza himself was no stranger to punishment during his lifetime. Because of his unorthodox religious views, he was excommunicated from the Amsterdam Jewish community in 1656, at the age of 24, and banished from the only world he had ever known. Though his life was short and he lived without means in great isolation, he nonetheless produced works that changed the course of history.

Over the years, Rosenberg rose through the ranks to become an outspoken Nazi ideologue, a faithful servant of Hitler, and the main author of racial policy for the Third Reich. Still, his Spinoza obsession lingered. By imagining the unexpected intersection of Spinoza's life with Rosenberg's, internationally best-selling novelist Irvin D. Yalom explores the mindsets of two men separated by 300 years. Using his skills as a psychiatrist, he explores the inner lives of Spinoza, the saintly secular philosopher, and of Rosenberg, the godless mass murderer.

©2012 Irvin D. Yalom (P)2019 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

More textbook than novel

A deep and rich book, especially if you're interested in philosophy or psychoanalysis - but do approach it as part-textbook, rather than a well rounded novel.

The author is a psychiatrist and boy, does it show. Every single conversation is stilted and unrealistic. The two main characters are built up not through action, but by long verbatim accounts of therapy sessions - either literal, or under a very thin veneer of conversation about philosophy. There are long passages of material which is irrelevant (histories of Portuguese Judaism or early psychoanalysis) whilst important characterisation is left undone - 'Oh yes, I married again' says one central character in the only hint we ever get of his home life.

That said, the book has a quiet intensity which held my attention to the end, and I learned a great deal about Spinoza.

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My favourite book

I cannot remember the last time I have enjoyed a book so much.

I am a big fan of Yallom and his work around group and existential therapy, this book whilst being based around therapy is brilliant in its own right.

A must read.

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  • Marian
  • 22-04-19

Loud, Modern, Imaginative with Catharsis

I have read several Yalom works and am unsettled by The Spinoza Problem. I am apt to listen to it again on Audible to make a better assessment. This book is more a work of psychology and imagination than a volume of specific history and raw philosophy. This makes sense as Yalom is a psychiatrist, so he uses the profession he knows to create inspired fiction with the talking cure. He projects himself into the past. He imagines deep conversations and applied philosophy with Spinoza and others. Perhaps the title is my first question: was the excommunication situation a Spinoza “problem” or a societal problem? I was uncomfortable with the loudness and impassioned performance of the book at the beginning, but I adjusted to it after a while. The needs of individuals in a group and the demands of the group to regulate its members repeat as frequent themes in society and literature. Here, the exclusivity of “Aryan” ideologies, and Judaica-related scenarios clash. Religious demands are subject to fashionable trends, even when the claim is for 5000 years of continuity. Nazi-era contrasts and the psychological issues of identity conflicts appear in an uncomfortable and judged way. I felt that Yalom achieved a personal catharsis with the project, and he clearly had a lot of pent-up tensions released in this projective drama. The result is sedentary, post-Freudian, loud, modern, and diseased, but I could enumerate the same list for modern society itself. Here is a question - - how would Spinoza feel about being “reclaimed” by those who banned him during his life? Does the idea, “Once a Jew, Always a Jew,” trump Spinoza’s experience of mutual rejection in his lifetime? It feels to me the snagging of Spinoza despite his philosophy and experiences to be more offensive than even a posthumous proxy baptism because he did not want or identify with the Bible’s legacy. Modern Judaism (generally speaking) would not ban him today, so, yes, the lesson persists: one century’s absolute dogmatism is another century’s shame.

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  • Louis novak
  • 31-05-20

Narrator needs to pronounce putsch properly.

As Spinoza had a few problems that were reproduced with Rosenberg the titular problem should be spelled out.

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  • Lutz Beckert
  • 15-02-20

Masterpiece of deep thought and story telling

This book has become a touchstone in my noisy world. A master storyteller takes on two philosophical conundra, waves a story around it, and adds his own dimension. Beautifully narrated and based on sad and true events.

Thank you! A treasure I will return to in the future.

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  • Anthony Penn
  • 04-02-20

Yalom comes through again!

Yalom does an outstanding job once again. With each book I become more and more of a fan. Pure genius!

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  • edwen gomez
  • 01-01-20

Love it,

highly recommend it, one of my favourite books of all time, it keep you interested on it with the overlapping of the story.

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  • IAN
  • 25-11-19

History

Delving into a history that I had a little knowledge of has left me pleased to have picked up this book. Very interesting how influential writing can be taken up and driven to atrocious ends.

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  • Renny McGovern
  • 23-06-19

Diving into yesterday...

Here, we have a writing of historical fiction, keeping in mind that ...”history is fiction that did happen.”...
The novel is an interesting juxtaposition of two life stories and a valuable read. One dives into studies of how mental acuity, experiences, life events, culture, health and mindset lead to decisions related to attitude and life style choices, either toxic or beneficial, destructive or enlightened with their respective results as a gift to the future.
Rosenberg, a lying hypocritical person full of self importance and not nearly as intelligent as he deemed himself to be, spewed hatred into the future with moral corruption and death into his present. Spinoza is another person altogether. He suffered much and paved the road toward enlightenment.

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  • Ozz
  • 20-05-19

Great book. Great performance. Genius.

Loved it. Masterfully written. Good view into Spinoza’s thinking and his impact. And the ending, telling us what’s fact and what’s fiction in the novel brought it all together. Great book!!