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The Spinoza Problem

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  8,585 ratings  ·  683 reviews
When sixteen-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 seventeenth-century philosopher Baru ...more
Hardcover, 321 pages
Published March 6th 2012 by Basic Books (AZ) (first published 2012)
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I should have known better.

I should have known that this would not be a book for me.

My interest was to learn more about Spinoza. Coward that I am, I thought that a semi-fictional approach to the Dutch thinker would be a smooth way to approach him. The book seemed also to offer an original angle. What would be the link between this 17C Dutch thinker, also Jewish, and a Nazi ideologue?

Dr. Yalom, (Emeritus in Psychiatry at Stanford), also seems to have a strong following of enthusiastic readers.

Sep 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Very Refuse of Thy Deeds

The ethical principles of justice and charity are the enduring legacy of Judaism. Through countless generations of the Jewish community, they have been transmitted to Christianity and Islam, and through them to the world, as the essential foundations of what most of us can agree is civilized society.

Yalom recognizes this Judaic contribution to human existence. He also recognizes that without the cultic and social loyalty of Jews throughout the centuries, such a contr
(Alfred Rosenberg talks to psychiatrist and friend, Friedrich Pfister)

"I have to confess that you're the first psychiatrist I've ever met. I know nothing about your field"

"Well, for centuries, psychiatrists have primarily been diagnosticians and custodians for hospitalized psychotic, almost incurable patients, but all that has changed in the last decade. The change began with Sigmund Freud in Vienna, who invented the talking treatment called psychoanalysis , which permits us to help patients ove
This is not my first book by Yalom and it will definitely not be the last. I love his style – it's fluid, it molds on every type of subject and it somehow incorporates scientific or historical information in such a way that you don't even realize anymore which is fact and which is fiction. I learned a lot from his books and he is a man to be listened to when it comes to psychological problems or philosophic questions about life. Unlike us, the rest of the human population that reads his books, t ...more
Andrew Pessin
Dec 28, 2012 rated it it was ok
I found this initially intriguing but ultimately tedious. In fact there is NOT much of a link to go on, between Rosenberg and Spinoza; it feels like a false or inflated premise. And also, pretty much, it's a novel in which nothing happens. There's a conversation; and then another conversation; and then another conversation where they talk about the previous conversation. If you want a very light fluffy summary of some of Spinoza's views, okay; and in fact the Rosenberg character is a pretty inte ...more
robin friedman
Feb 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A Novel About Spinoza

Novels about the life and philosophy of Spinoza (1632 -- 1677) are as difficult as they are rare. In 1837, the German novelist Berthold Auerbach (1812 -- 1884) wrote an unfortunately little-remembered novel, revised in 1854, about Spinoza which focused upon what the author portrayed as the philosopher's ambiguous relationship to Judaism. Much more recently, the renowned American psychotherapist and novelist Irvin Yalom has written a novel with Spinoza as its major figure: "T
Philippe Malzieu
I saw this book on GR. and I remembered the embarrassment that I had by reading it in when it had been published . To put in parallel Spinoza and the theorist anti-semite was a risky project. Spinoza seems a kind of Christ forgiving all, even the attempt of assassination. He is withdrawn as a hermit to polish glass.Rosenberg seems a mousy man neurotic between his admiration for Spinoza and his commitment Nazi. Embarrassment comes owing to the fact that the role of the bad guy is occupied by the ...more
Mar 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american
Wow. Spinoza applied uncompromising rationalism to life, ethics and beliefs. Educational and riveting. I am not smart enough to read Spinoza but this book has easy prose and is a nourishing subject for any atheist/rational thinking person. Astonishing insights into and for a 17th century autodidact.
Ron Charles
Among the innumerable treasures the Nazis stole from Europe during World War II was a collection of books displayed at the Spinoza Museum in Rijns­burg, Holland. Compared with the Rembrandts and Vermeers nearby, these antique volumes weren’t particularly valuable, but the Nazi officer assigned to carry out this little act of plunder said the books were of “great importance for the exploration of the Spinoza problem.”

The Spinoza problem? Was that a subset of the Jewish Question? Or was it some ot

I learned of this author through one of my friends on Goodreads. Yalom is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford, a practicing psychiatrist, and an author of nonfiction as well as novels. The Spinoza Problem is a philosophical novel and I chose to read it as an introduction to Yalom because I admire Spinoza.

I have mentioned before, in my ranting about books and reading, my life long difficulties with studying philosophy. My only real success in this endeavor came when I read The Story of Philosop
Jan 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
It's been years since I've read any Spinoza, but that wasn't a problem here - Yalom's historical faction includes long passages where Spinoza himself explains his rational process. Told in alternating chapters, we meet Spinoza at the time of his excommunication (cherem) from the Sephardic community in Amesterdam and a young Alfred Rosenberg, ultimately Hitler's publisher and the man who stole Jewish (and other) artworks for the Reich.

So, what is the Spinoza problem? Spinoza was a Jew of Portuges
Feb 28, 2014 rated it it was ok
For once I'm surprised by how much I *dis*liked a book. *The Spinoza Problem* has so many of the elements that I usually adore: historical fiction drawn around real and important historical figures, settings and themes of personal significance to me, and a core political/philosophical dimension. Yet I never connected with this book.

Though it does provide an accessible introduction to Spinoza's complex and sometimes obtuse philosophy, I found its presentation so simplified that it sometimes felt
Nov 18, 2017 rated it really liked it

In The Spinoza Problem, Irvin Yalom contrasts the courage and confidence of Spinoza with the insecurity and pettiness of Alfred Rosenberg. Spinoza’s curiosity took him beyond his cultural and customs, and even his community when he was ex-communicated. Yet, his freedom to think his own thoughts brought him joy unspeakable. On the other hand, Rosenberg, through he sought to create a ideology of the master race, of which he was a member, his emotions rose and falls through others’ view of h
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, bio-memoir
This has instantly become one of my all time favourite books. I think Spinoza is one of the greatest human beings to have ever walked this earth and the way in which Yalom described his thoughts, ideas and struggles was absolutely fascinating. The parallel story was also very interesting, it definitely kept my attention and it was a good exercise into a twisted mind, to put it mildly.
Jul 29, 2013 rated it liked it
I picked this up because my mother's book club had their last meeting centered around it. She said it was a pleasant read with a nice flow so I thought I'd give it a go for a light summer read, one that wasn't the typical YA that I go for when I don't want to overcomplicate things.

Yalom is known to write novels strongly rooted in psychoanalysis, obviously originating from his background as a psychologist. The techniques used in psychoanalysis are thus easily detectable in The Spinoza Problem, es
Jun 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
I am fascinated by how Yalom puts together two personalities that have never met and how he makes use of the psychiatry and psychoanalysis to make his point. Intrigued by some of the most beautiful or devilish minds in the history, I think he loves to imagine how it would have been to have them as patients. After reading "When Nietzsche wept", and having loved it, I can read just about anything by Yalom and know that I wouldn't be disappointed.
In this book he alternates the stories of one of th
Nika Zahedi
Apr 24, 2016 rated it liked it
"when Nietzsche wept" being my most favorite book of Yalom, "the schopenhauer cure" is the seconde most and this one the least. Interestingly that's the sequence I read these books as well, but I'm not sure if there is any relation between them. I do know that how much you like a book has a lot to do with who are "now". Thus how much you enjoyed a certain book can be a good measure of who you've become and who you will be.
Apr 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
I find Yalom's ability to breath new life into understanding past philosophers remarkable. While I enjoyed "When Nietzsche Wept" far more, it stems more from the fact that I find Nietzsche more interesting then Spinoza. His introduction of therapists to create fictional dialogue to flesh out the thoughts of different protagonists is believable and efficient.

For this particular book, his blending of Nazi racism and Spinoza's thought was fascinating. While this novel cannot, nor I imagine claim t
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Highly instructive: I learned a lot about Spinoza, the rise (and fall) of Hitler, the Jewish customs, not to mention Alfred Rosenberg, whom I had known nothing about. I enjoy this kind of fictionalised history because it manages to make history known and appreciated by means of one or more interesting stories. I guess this would be enough to recommend the book to anyone interested in history, philosophy, religion, psychiatry, etc., even though the style is not one of Yalom's strong suits and mos ...more
Ioana Badicioiu
Apr 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Risky business.
I found Irvin after digging through hard layers of history, philosophy, religion. And I love him, so...
A fine intellectual novel that brought back the bit I remember about Spinoza from college and added to it. Alternating chapters deal with Spinoza's life and the life of Alfred Rosenberg, Hitler's primary ideologue dealing with racial purity and the "Jewish problem." While educating himself, Rosenberg became fascinated and deeply impressed with Spinoza's thought, and plagued by the conflict created in his mind by these great ideas springing from a Jew. He tried but never succeeded into resolving ...more
Marloes Baren
Jan 18, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: america
I decided to give Yalom a second chance, after having put down When Nietzsche Wept a few years ago halfway through and finding myself too disappointed to pick it back up. That's rare. Normally I tend to finish the books I start regardless.

Adjusted expectations and the fact that the story combines a WWII and a Dutch Golden age setting, two historical periods that interest me a lot, made this a more pleasant read.

However, I will probably never become a fan of Yalom. If you hope to find a deep, cr
Jan 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I immensely enjoyed this book. The writing is in sync with the topic of the book, which is something I never experienced before. Spinoza is portrayed as a person who puts reason on the foreground in every aspect of his life. While some doubt the truth value of this (we do not know if Spinoza actually resembled his philosophy in every aspect) I enjoyed it because this way, Spinoza and his search for the unity of everything in nature as well as his rational way of arguing shines through the entire ...more
Jul 25, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book is more about the problem between "the God's chosen people" and "the self proclaimed superior race" than the Spinoza problem. However, Spinoza does have a problem. His denial of the spirit world and his idea that God is Nature is probably not everyone's cup of tea. In short, it is a mixture of historical facts and fiction albeit unsuccessful so Yalom should write about what he knows better and that probably being psychoanalysis.
Tugrul Okay
May 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book genuinly changed my look at life
May 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Once again, Yalom manages to weave a fine web of a story that intertwines historically accurate figures and events (in two eras this time, centuries apart) with psychological analysis and philosophy.

Spinoza and his radical, pantheistic approach to religion, and his devotion to reason and rational argument, form the pivotal argument of the story, and two story arcs - one during Spinoza's own time and the other during the time of Hitler's rise in Germany - develop around it, evolving into a clash
Dec 09, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy
I must say that I do not like writing negative reviews. It is always much easier to stress the negative than to see the positive. And one should never forget all the work and energy an author has to put into writing a book, even if the book is not brilliant.

This novel had everything to blow me away. First, it is written by Irvin Yalom, a renowned psychiatrist whose book, "Staring at the Sun" (about fear of death), I devoured in a couple of hours. Second, it's about Spinoza, a philosopher I disco
Elena Papadopoulou
Apr 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
"When a man is prey to his emotions, he is not his own master, but lies at the mercy of fortune"
Jun 29, 2012 rated it liked it
A biography less of historical events and more a story of fears, anxieties, and passions; as you'd expect from an author whose day job is psychoanalysis. That takes some getting used to, and I don't think I ever got comfortable with this medium.

Yalom's Spinoza is quasi-autistic. A placid pool of rationality who blinks his deep soulful eyes at the crises in his life. Yalom's Rosenberg has more flesh to him only because he actually has a flaw. However at-one with the universe Spinoza's philosophy
There is very little that we know about the personal life of Spinoza. Of course this is perfect to give a writer the freedom of how his life could have been. Irvin Yalom uses this white space in history and his insight from his psychological work to give us an account about the life of Spinoza and Alfred Rosenberg, a Nazi-figure who ran an antisemitic newspaper.

This results in a good story with lots of psychoanalytic conversations. This is something that you must be able to relate to, but when y
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Irvin David Yalom, M.D., is an author of fiction and nonfiction, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University, an existentialist, and accomplished psychotherapist.

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“If Epicurus were speaking to you at this moment, he would urge you to simplify life. Here's how he might put it if he were standing here today : " Lads,your needs are few, they are easily attained, and any necessary suffering can be easily tolerated. Don't complicate your life with such trivial goals as riches and fame: they are the enemy of ATARAXIA. Fame,for example,consist of the opinions of
others and requires that we must live our life as other wish. To achieve and maintain fame, we must like what others like and shun whatever it is that they shun. Hence, a life of fame or a life in politics? Flee from it. And wealth? Avoid it! It is a trap. The more we acquire the more we crave, and the deeper our sadness when our yearning is not satisfied. Lads, listen to me: If you crave happiness, do not waste your life struggling for that which you really do not need.”
“Psychiatry is a strange field because, unlike any other field of medicine, you never really finish. Your greatest instrument is you, yourself, and the work of self-understanding is endless. I'm still learning.” 75 likes
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