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A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  315 Ratings  ·  39 Reviews

When it appeared in 1670, Baruch Spinoza's "Theological-Political Treatise" was denounced as the most dangerous book ever published--"godless," "full of abominations," "a book forged in hell . . . by the devil himself." Religious and secular authorities saw it as a threat to faith, social and political harmony, and everyday morality, and its author was almost universally r
Hardcover, 279 pages
Published October 9th 2011 by Princeton University Press (first published 2011)
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Joe Stack This book is not an analysis of Spinoza's philosophy or writings, so it's not necessary for Nadler to be more critical of Spinoza. Nadler describes…moreThis book is not an analysis of Spinoza's philosophy or writings, so it's not necessary for Nadler to be more critical of Spinoza. Nadler describes the Dutch intellectual, religious, and political environment, what Spinoza wrote, and why that got him into trouble. Nadler, or anyone who studies philosophy, could be more critical of Spinoza (that is an element of philosophical debates, isn't it?), not just of his writings but what he could or should have done to stay out of trouble, but that Is out of place for this book. I think it would weaken this book.(less)

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Adam Floridia
Oct 25, 2012 rated it it was ok
One time for Christmas, I used my credit card points to get Erin jewelry for Christmas. Full of joy that Xmas morning, I handed her my thoughtful gift with a twinkle in my eye and love in my heart. She opened the small box and her eyes lit up and her mouth fell agape. "Gross!" she gagged. I told her that if she just tried the necklace and earrings on, maybe she'd like them. "If I put that on, I think I'll puke," she replied. From that day forth, I have sworn to never again order jewelry off of t ...more
David S. T.
Apr 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
My interest in philosophy started only a little over half a year ago; I read Durant's History of Philosophy and I've slowly read more in the months after. From Durant's book the philosopher I've been most interested in is Spinoza. Here was this renegade Jew whom questioned the bible and the faith of his fathers only to be excommunicated and later wrote a few political and religious texts. Eventually I'm going to attempt to tackle his Ethics, but the geometric style sort of scares me (furthermore ...more
Brad Lyerla
Jan 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Baruch Spinoza (1632-77) is regarded as one of the most original thinkers in western philosophy. A BOOK FORGED IN HELL is Stephen Nadler's account of Spinoza's TRACTATUS THEOLOGICO-POLITICUS (the 'Treatise'), which was published in 1670.

The Treatise was motivated by politics. Spinoza hoped to persuade influential people in the Dutch Republic to support greater freedom for the pursuit of philosophy and science. The Treatise failed to accomplish Spinoza's goal and instead provoked a backlash from
Sep 07, 2012 rated it it was ok
I have to dissent from other Goodreads reviewers of this book, I suppose partly because I was misled by the provocative title into thinking that it would be similar to the recent semi-bestseller The Swerve, by Stephen Greenblatt. But it is definitely not for the general reader: it is a scholarly book for a relatively narrow audience, lightly edited to make it seem more relevant to general interests. Spinoza's scandalous treatise was widely condemned for declaring that the Bible is not literally ...more
Robin Friedman
Jul 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
About 25 years ago, I was engaged in serious graduate study in philosophy and preparing to write a dissertation on Spinoza's Theological-Political Treatise (1670). I have had a lifelong interest in Spinoza and was interested in the Treatise because of the questions of how to interpret texts it raises in terms of its treatment of the Bible. Also, at the time, the Treatise was receiving far less attention than Spinoza's most famous work, the Ethics. I never completed the dissertation but retained ...more
Aug 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
The title makes it sound like Spinoza once played drums for Spinal Tap: Direct from Hell, it's the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus!, but the book itself is bound to disappoint those looking for a salacious story of Satan at the forge. Spinoza was a mundane character with a mundane point of view, which in a way is what caused all the fuss: he denied the historical reality of miracles in the Bible, and he suggested that Biblical stories should not be taken literally. That point of view still raises ...more
Jeff Rowe
Oct 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
First off, I'm not a big fan of pure philosophy, which oftentimes boils down to arguing about the semantics of words. I chose this initially because of the title. And it wasn't too thick. Turns out it was pretty good. I'm not going to quibble about Spinoza's philosophy. I mean he's writing from the 1600's so what do you expect. What this book really delivers is a clear explanation of what Spinoza was proposing. And a shocking proposal it must have been at the time too; that God isn't some being ...more
Lauren Albert
Mar 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
How was Spinoza's writing shocking and why was it? Those are the two questions Nadler answers. Having read a fair amount about Spinoza, I found the long passages explaining his philosophy a bit tedious. I found the cultural aspect more interesting--for instance, Nadler's take on why so many people who should have been sympathetic turned on Spinoza. I believe he is probably right that those less radical than Spinoza both did not want to be associated with him and felt that turning on him might sa ...more
Sam Schulman
Oct 23, 2012 rated it liked it
Sadly, a disappointment. Written in a slightly jokey style by the American expert on Spinoza, the book is of course informative and reliable about the Tractatus's argument and Spinoza's life. But as a non-expert and non-philosopher, I still found it rather limp and dull. Surely Nadler knows more than this, and he is talking down in a badly judged way to a popular audience. Actually, the Tractatus itself is more thrilling and un-put-downable. And I don't mean to be cruel with that remark - but th ...more
Brooke Salaz
May 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very clearly written and humanizing portrayal of the pioneering and courageous philosopher. Enjoyed the vivid and nuanced description of the philosophical/religious/political climate of the time and where the boundaries were being pushed by Spinoza and those who came before notably Hobbes’ Leviathan. Goes into just enough detail I thought about among other things: the revolutionary implications of debunking the notion of miracles, Spinoza’s implicit substitution of Nature for God, the relative f ...more
Meghan Davis strader
May 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
While I really enjoyed reading this book, and mulling over the thoughts introduced, I found each chapter to be about 60% too long. The point just kept being made over and over again and it got a little tiresome reading about every single person to whom Spinoza spoke.
Isaac Baker
Nov 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Nadler really knows his stuff, and this book is a thorough and scrupulous look at Baruch Spinoza's "Theological Political Treatise." Nadler has composed a scholarly work aimed largely at an audience well versed in religious history and philosophy, but he also breaks the information and arguments down in an accessible manner.
The book wasn't popular with authorities of the day, the 17th Century Dutch reformed religious establishment. The Treatise was printed anonymously and listed a foreign city
Suzanne Arcand
Sep 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
Ever since I read A Secular Age by Charles Taylor, I had wanted to know more about Spinoza. However I was not willing to tackle a hardcore philosophy book. That’s why I chose A Book Forged in Hell. I was not disappointed even though this book was a more difficult read than I expected.

Of course I learned about Spinoza and his Theological-Political Treatise but I also learned about life and politics in Holland in the 17th century where the freedom to philosophize was greater than I expected. Where
Craig Evans
Aug 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, philosopy
I’ve a passing familiarity with the 17th century from my education in the sciences; Biology major in college which entailed chemistry and physics and an introduction to the history of those pursuits. Over time I’ve developed a building fascination with how those ideas came about, the personages involved, and the ramifications of the Scientific Revolution.
Author Steven Nadler’s book delves into the political, social, and theological environment in western Europe in the 1600’s at the midpoint of t
Kamran Swanson
Summary: Written by 17th century philosophy scholar Steven Nadler, "A Book Forged in Hell" aims to couch Spinoza's controversial book, "The Theological-Political Treatise," in its social, political, and intellectual history. The book does, obviously, summarize some of the TTP's main and most controversial arguments, but its main virtue is to trace Spinoza's intellectual predecessors and contemporaries, the status of political philosophy and politics in 17th century Europe, and to illustrate the ...more
Joe Stack
Mar 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
I find it remarkable how relevant the ideas of Baruch Spinoza, a 17th Century philosopher, on religion, and maybe politics for some readers, is to contemporary issues. I think his criticism of religion is still on the mark. The author does a fine job of explaining the key parts of Spinoza's treatises in a clear manner. If the reader is a borderline atheist and is just questioning the validity of their religious beliefs, this is a good resource. The criticisms of Spinoza's ideas by those who disa ...more
Charles Gonzalez
May 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
How is it possible that I have not , in over 35 years of reading and study of western knowledge, read or been exposed to the thinking and writing of this great man? Chalk it up to a less than adequate general education and curiosity on my part....saying that, I have just received a copy of the the Treatise to study in the original, so that Spinoza's own words find their way into my experience. I, we , owe a profound debt to this remarkably intelligent, courageous and gifted thinker and writer. I ...more
Neil Novesky
May 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Excellent. Portrays Spinoza as the rational and consistent thinker he was. It is very helpful to read as much about the life of the individual as the substance of his (or her) thinking. Cite the high quality biography on Marx; Love and Capital (also highly recommended) as another example. If more people actually read Spinoza there might be more astute discussion in regard to religious tradition and dogma. The section of this book related to his view of miracles (or lack thereof) and the role the ...more
Mar 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Despite the somewhat dry subject matter, this is still a very timely topic. Nadler does a deep annotation on Baruch Spinoza's 1670 Theological-Political Treatise which advanced the scandalous notion that the Old Testament was written by a variety of people not named in the titles of the books, that millenia-old reports of prophecy and miracles should be looked at skeptically, and that there should be real limits to what the church allows free men to think and free states to do. Nadler breaks dow ...more
Feb 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Nadler looks at the publication and history of Spinoza's Theological-Political Treatise and how it was condemned in tolerant 17th-century Holland.

"The end of philosophy is truth and knowledge, the end of religion is pious behaviour, and or "obedience." 20

"The theological-political treatise is, in many respects, a distinctly early modern (i.e., post medieval) product. This. Is because the problem it addresses-the theological-political problem-arises in Europe with the greatest urgency at the pol
Tamara Jaffe-Notier
Mar 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I have to say that this text might give me enough courage to read the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. For a philosopher, Nadler is an exquisite writer. I enjoyed his biography of Spinoza more than this "biography of a book," but maybe that's because Spinoza's life is even more compelling than his ideas. Spinoza thought that civil authorities ought to appoint religious curators. That's interesting. Would he really trust a king more than a theologian? If so, is that because the compromises require ...more
Ron Bloom
Apr 25, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book about freedom of thought and speech

Nadler's book on spinoza's ideas is not an easy read but was at the top of my list after Russell Shorto's book on Dutch liberalism before I travelled to Holland. Too often, we seem to have a superficial understanding of the ideas behind our liberal western values. Nadler does a good job of breaking down the basic concepts behind Spinoza's concepts of God/nature, the Bible and our inherent right to our own opinions and puts it in the context of the 17th c
Apr 16, 2012 rated it liked it
I was very interested in this book because I really enjoyed Greenblatt's book on the rediscovery of Lucretius' "De Rerum Natura". I thought this would be as accessible, however I was mistaken. I enjoyed it but it was a slog. Nadler wrote a lot about Spinoza's era but not about how the treatise influenced secularism thruout the time since.
Mar 06, 2015 rated it it was ok
Boring, repetitive, not too well-written.
Also, from the description I had expected an intellectual history with a bit of Spinoza's philosophy. The emphasis was on the philosophy, which I really was not interested in to the level of detail given. In addition, most was on the theological philosophy and not much on the political.
Jun 14, 2012 rated it really liked it

A scholarly work that I read a chapter at a time. It is very thought provoking and makes one realize that the conflicts between religions and political systems are inherent. The discourse in the 17th century sounds just like the discourse today.
Dr Zorlak
Mar 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
A straightforward discussion of Spinoza's Theological-Political Treatise. No new ground has been broken here. Yet, this book is another opportunity to confirm that Baruch Spinoza was a thinker way ahead of his time.
Mar 30, 2013 rated it liked it
Good review of Spinoza's time and how his books had an effect on our secular age. However, at times it became somewhat repetitious - as if the author wasn't sure the message on religion was getting through. That being said - still a book I would recommend.
Eric Sbar
Mar 18, 2015 rated it it was ok
I had a tough time with this book. It was interesting until halfway through where it became redundant. I am disappointed as Spinoza is an interesting individual who was instrumental in the Enlightenment.
Jan 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
A page-turner about an important (and contemporarily relevant) 17th century work on theology and politics. How many books can you say that about? Another tremendous work from one of Spinoza's most respected modern champions.
Ned Leffingwell
Apr 23, 2013 rated it liked it
I would not have chosen to read this book on my own. I read it for a class on the Renaissance. Spinoza was a man I would have enjoyed talking to. The author does a good job of explaining Spinoza's works but he could of done a better job explaining the modern influences that Spinoza's works had.
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