Let me start off with my biases and prejudices. Spinoza is my favorite philosopher, but I don't really like reading biographies. So this was a mixed-b...moreLet me start off with my biases and prejudices. Spinoza is my favorite philosopher, but I don't really like reading biographies. So this was a mixed-bag experience for me. Rebecca Goldstein has done an excellent job with filling out the story around Spinoza. There is a ton of Jewish history in the book (there's a chunk of at least 20 pages where the name Spinoza isn't even mentioned) because she's really trying to put him in historical perspective. She wants to show how his philosophy was part of a reaction to the many many atrocities that happened to the Jews in the middle ages in Europe. The Spanish Inquisition, their constant torture and marginalization, their displacement, their being kicked out of one country after the next. It's a horrifying and interesting history, but I just don't think it was all that telling/relatable to Spinoza. After all her subtitle is "The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity." He was excommunicated and he preferred it that way. His philosophy was not reflective or reactionary to Judaism; it was very much its own work of reason, completely independent of religious dogmas, theories or practices. I hate to say it, but I feel like she was making a lot of connections that were either unfounded or at best stretched. I think going through the history of reason and logic in philosophy and religion would have been far more fruitful than going through the Jewish saga of middle ages Europe.
Spinoza never came to life for me in this book. And that is somewhat appropriate for someone who believed that true happiness lay in getting beyond personal identity and realizing that you are just a small piece of all things, and that our identities are identical with nature. BUT the author is 'betraying' Spinoza because she wants to give him personality--it's one of the book's clearly stated missions. Though I did enjoy reading the book, I learned a lot from it, and I was happy to have refreshers on Spinoza's elegant ideas, overall I did not really feel like this book fulfilled its intentions and at times got very lost along the way.(less)
I'm generally pretty good at dismissing all the sexist stuff you find in older books, because you know, such was the style of the time to think of wom...moreI'm generally pretty good at dismissing all the sexist stuff you find in older books, because you know, such was the style of the time to think of women as less than equal. Fine. I get that, but this book actually has a section about the inferiority of women with adages like, "Black dress, white pearls, and a silent mouth is the best outfit for a woman." Ok, in a lot of cases that's true, but you don't have to write about it! Dang. Plus he says women haven't even mastered cooking. Someone had a bad mommy in my opinion. Shit. I hate that I really loved that book when I read it, then I got to the this part at the end and now all I can remember is my rage.(less)