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Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  751 ratings  ·  103 reviews
A revelatory Alpine journey in the spirit of the great Romantic thinker Friedrich Nietzsche

Hiking with Nietzsche: Becoming Who You Are is a tale of two philosophical journeys--one made by John Kaag as an introspective young man of nineteen, the other seventeen years later, in radically different circumstances: he is now a husband and father, and his wife and small child ar
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published September 25th 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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John It would help because the author does make the occasional reference to Nietzsche's writings without directly stating that he has done so--so if you're…moreIt would help because the author does make the occasional reference to Nietzsche's writings without directly stating that he has done so--so if you're familiar with his work, you won't miss these moments. (less)

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M. Sarki
May 27, 2018 rated it really liked it

A really wonderful book. Very much enjoyed reading it. Here are some notes lifted from the text:

…At nineteen, on the summit of Corvatsch, I had no idea how dull the world could sometimes be. How easy it would be to remain in the valleys, to be satisfied with mediocrity. Or how difficult it would be to stay alert to life…

… The project of the Übermensch—is not to arrive at any fixed destination or to find some permanent room with a view.

…Nietzsche insists, “
While reading this book I had the very uncomfortable feeling that I was being taken on a ride by the author. In his American Philosophy (which I haven’t read) Mr. Kaag seemed to have hit upon a winning formula that meshed autobiography with the lives and ideas of Transcendentalist philosophers. Perhaps his agent thought this home run was worth repeating. And so they zoomed in on Nietzsche, a thinker about whom Kaag had been writing a thesis as a student and on which he had been teaching to under ...more
May 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Yesterday I was in the mood to read about philosophy and think DEEP THOUGHTS about our existence, so I downloaded this book and finished it in one day. I had read and liked John Kaag's previous book, "American Philosophy: A Love Story," so I already had a sense of his narrative style.

Kaag, who is a philosophy professor in Massachusetts, does a nice job of explaining the basics of the great philosophers to a layperson. Which is to say that you don't need to be a philosophy major to enjoy his boo
Feb 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
‘Set for yourself goals, high and noble goals, and perish in pursuit of them! I know of no better life purpose than to perish in pursuing the great and the impossible: animae magnae prodigus.’
—Friedrich Nietzsche, Notebook, 1873
‘I came to rest on a well-worn slab of granite and appreciated how far I’d come....
...Nietzsche was, for most of his life, in search of the highest, routinely bent on mastering the physical and philosophical landscape. “Behold,” he gestures, “I teach you the Übermensch.”
Scriptor Ignotus
Oct 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
This was a surprisingly pleasant read. It is essentially a long personal essay on how the author, John Kaag, grappled with Nietzsche’s thought and applied it to his own life during two separate trips to the trails and villages of the Swiss Alps where Nietzsche did most of his walking, writing, and ruminating.

On the first trip, Kaag was an angst-filled nineteen-year-old: the embodiment of the prototypical teenaged devotee of Nietzsche’s independent and iconoclastic Übermensch ideal. The second t
Nov 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'm drawn to philosophy but have been burnt by this weakness in the past. After all, when philosophers get talking (or writing), before you know it you feel like they're saying the same thing in different ways with different words. Or perhaps they're not using clear English (or fill in the native language here). Or maybe they're thinking in circles or whatever.

The word it all comes down to: Huh?

So it was refreshing to read a "memoir-ish" exploration of a philosopher, in this case Nietzsche, by
May 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Biographical sketches of both the author and his obsession Nietzsche. Astute analysis of many of Nietzsche's works, and the information gained by learning more about one of the more misunderstood and misrepresented philosophers in history made this a worthy read. I would recommend this to those interested in philosophy, the outdoors, and mental instability.
Thank you to the publisher for providing me with this arc available through netgalley.
Ryan Boissonneault
Oct 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Hiking with Nietzsche is, on the one hand, a creative way to present the ideas of Nietzsche to those less familiar with them, from an author that in many ways shares a similar pessimistic disposition. John Kaag seems especially well-suited to tell the story, and by telling it in the context of Nietzsche’s original environment and travels, he makes Nietzsche’s core ideas of eternal recurrence, the Overman, and master-slave morality more memorable and understandable.

On the other hand, Kaag is exc
Phillip Lecheminant
Jan 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Hiking with Nietzsche was a fascinating look into both Nietzsche's and John Kaag's life. John describes two different personal journeys to the alps where Nietzsche wrote Zarathustra. The first was when John was an angsty teenager and the second was in his mid-thirties with his wife and young daughter. He interweaves biographical information and the basics of Nietzche's philosophy throughout the book as he examines Nietzsche philosophy through the lens of his personal experience.

I knew nothing a
David Rubenstein
Feb 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: book-club
I was quite moved by Hiking with Nietzsche, the selection of my book club. I have a sense we read a bit of Nietzsche in a college philosophy class, but my memory was limited to the idea that special people, the Overmen, were not obligated to follow society’s rules. I heard vague accusations that this was the philosophical underpinning and justification of the Nazi regime.

After the first couple of chapters, I believe I would have set this down if not for the obligation to the book club. The autho
Feb 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I’ve been interested in learning a bit of philosophy since I neglected to take any classes on it in college. It is one of those subjects that felt fairly inaccessible to me without an instructor as a guide. This book gave me a starting point without being as dry as an intro class. I love memoirs, especially those involving travel so this seemed tailor made for me. I can’t comment on the quality of the author’s analysis of Nietsche’s works, but I can say it has opened my eyes to a new area of stu ...more
James (JD) Dittes
Jan 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019, manhood
Philosophy is meant to be experienced, not debated. Eaten, not tasted.

That's the idea in John Kaag's writing, and he follows up his experience of falling in love (in his first book, American Philosophy: A Love Story) with a reflection on 'how to be a man'--in marriage, in fatherhood, approaching middle age.

In the book, Kaag revisits a sojourn he made as a 19-year-old college student, when he journeyed to the Swiss hamlet of Sils Maria to walk in the footsteps of Friedrich Nietzsche and live at "
Mar 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
I stressed a lot about how many stars to give this one: really 3.5 is rather generous but I rounded it up to 4 because...every author deserves that benefit, I believe. And in the end, I was glad I'd read this semi-biographical, semi-memoir, semi-philosophy summary.

The author is a philosopher and a devotee of Nietzsche. He discovered Nietzsche, as I suspect most of us do, in his late teens. He seems to have been a rather unhappy teenager who went on to struggle with an eating disorder that he sti
Pete Wung
May 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I awaited the publication date of this book with great anticipation, I even pre-ordered it. I thoroughly enjoyed John Kaag’s previous book, American Philosophy: A Love StoryAmerican Philosophy: A Love Story. What drew me in was that it was a fantastic blend of the American philosophical history that I was unaware of, a very nice love story, and a story of self-discovery. It was a brave and honest narrative of Kaag’s adventures in rediscovering some American philosophers. His rediscovery was my d ...more
James Murphy
Jul 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
John Kaag begins by telling the story of himself as a 19-year old undergraduate fortuitously given a trip to Switzerland in order to research Friedrich Nietzsche's years living in the Alps near Sils Maria and how it impacted his ideas and writing. Eighteen years later, now a philosophy professor, he returns with his wife Carol and small daughter Becca. He's still learning what Nietzsche has to tell him.

The return is a key concept of Nietzsche's work, and Kaag uses it to great effect as he tells
Donna Hines
Feb 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What if you could go back in time, transform the ideals of the past and present them today in the 21st century, and do it with your loved ones by your side?
Sounds like a perfect trip to me and yes the human evolution is on guard.
I love this quote," what was once done for the love of god is now done for the love of money."
Is there anything more truthful than this ....
The challenge is of course to embrace life with all its suffering.
Revolution of values is the greatest contribution to history of
Nov 12, 2018 rated it it was ok
The title of the book says it all. It is mostly about hiking in the Alps, and about Kaag. So if you were looking to understand Nietzsche's philosophy, this is not your book.

Kaag notes his and Nietzsche's similarities: both their fathers were suicides; both took fasting and asceticism to extremes; both had difficulty in social relationships; both had control needs; both preferred solitary lives. At least, when Kaag was nineteen, he felt those similarities keenly.

The glaring difference between t
William Milks
Oct 23, 2018 rated it liked it
Definitely will inspire most readers to learn more about Nietzsche and many of his fellow German philosophers.

The author of this book - and professor of philosophy - recounts his efforts to know Nietzsche and his thoughts by visiting and hiking in the very places Nietzsche formulated those thoughts. Tough to buy in to this, at times, but one does learn a lot.

I think if I knew more and was more familiar with philosophy, this book would have spoken to me more deeply. A lot of it went over my head
Paul Ataua
Dec 31, 2018 rated it liked it
The author, a philosophy professor who was fascinated by Nietzsche at University, undertook two trips into the Swiss alps hiking through the places where Nietzsche lived and produced most of his work. Not really a book about hiking, nor a meaningful intro to Nietzsche’s work, but a gentle, easy read that has its moments.
Feb 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
kaag writes like an asshole but i think he's struggling
Oct 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
Story of a philosophy professor intrigued enough by Nietzsche in grad school that he spent a summer traveling in the Swiss Alps where the old philosopher did his great work. Later in life he repeats the trip, this time with his wife and daughter.

You could think of this as a more readable version of Nietzsche, as told in the style of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which if you liked you’d probably like this too.

It's well-written, with many useful and followup-worthy references to othe
Nov 04, 2018 rated it it was ok
This is a very personal story. I think it is mostly of interest to Kaag himself, and perhaps his family. Kaag's reminiscences were not very interesting to me. Reading about Kaag's hikes with his wife and kid is about as exciting as that sounds. Those stories are filled out with room-by-room descriptions of the hotels Kaag stayed in. I didn't learn much about Nietzsche, or philosophy, except that in my opinion Kaag should read him more critically.
Simon deVeer
Jan 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Hiking with Nietzsche played all the right notes for me. Like John Kaag, I too was taken by Nietzsche in my youth. I remember pulling a copy of "Beyond Good and Evil" from one of the shelves in one of my marketing classes. I found it far more interesting than whatever we covered in class that day. Dog eared, highlighted, I retain the stolen copy to this day, but like the author, had moved on from Nietzsche & left him in my past. In the intervening years, I left college, moved three thousand ...more
Dec 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Why this book: I’ve studied Nietzsche off and on since I was in college. Much in his philosophy appeals to me. I have recently listened to a 24 lecture series in the Great Courses on his philosophy and I continue to be inspired by his “joyful wisdom.” This book looked like an enjoyable way to explore another approach to Nietzsche through the eyes of a young philosopher who shares his fascination with Nietzsche, while looking at his own life through the lens of Nietzsche’s life and philosophy.

Shu Lindsey
Dec 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was a book that kept me awake in the wee hours, reflecting upon my own experiences...

… as an angsty teen who idolized the Übermensch:
“Life is often painful or bothersome, but the hiker, at the very least, gets to determine how he or she is meant to suffer.”

… as a mountain lover who longs a chance to scramble again:
“When you read Nietzsche in a library or a coffee shop, it is possible to misinterpret this as hyperbole or the ravings of a madman. But not here. There is no such thing as hyperb
Karen Adkins
Nov 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really enjoy Kaag's writing; he writes about philosophers for a general audience without condescending to readers OR oversimplifying the theories. Because he integrates how philosophers are relevant for his own thinking, values and life choices, he reminds us that philosophy at its best should be deeply relevant for our lives. And Nietzsche, who is such a polarizing figure in philosophy, is a great example. Kaags reflects on his first deep engagement with Nietzsche as a young man hiking Nietzs ...more
Jun 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Relating Nietzsche's life and philosophy to his own neuroses, Kaag makes the abstract tangible and thus digestible. I don't think I would understand the bare source material without this translation from such a devoted expert on the subject. He covers the breadth of Nietzsche's life in as much detail as a 234 page book can, and sparingly covers his philosophy. The writing style was engaging enough to make the read a quick and enjoyable one. I am pleased to have learned about Nietszche in a memor ...more
John Cooper
Dec 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Eager to expand my shallow perception of Nietzsche as a grandiose, progressively insane anti-Semite--he was not an anti-Semite--I picked up this book as an accessible, approachable way of learning more. Sadly, the book only confirmed Nietzsche as the avatar of modern self-absorption and the godfather of the Ayn Rand types who see most ordinary human beings, as Nietzsche did, as "sheep." I write this with regret, as I really wanted my negative opinion to be overturned, and to learn to admire Niet ...more
Michael Shockley
Jul 17, 2019 rated it did not like it
This book is less Nietzsche than I would have liked; capsule-sized explanations of Nietzsche's bigger ideas and important biographical details are provided to the readers in between the author's tedious musings about his family and the Swiss Alps. He comes across as even more self-absorbed than Nietzsche, but has no particularly deep thoughts to show for it; consequently, his assorted rumblings appear to be the product of an over-educated man undergoing a mid-life crisis, with this book having a ...more
May 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a well written book that taught me a lot about Nietzsche’s philosophy by blending Nietzsche’s biography and writing with the author’s personal quest to understand Nietzsche by climbing literal and figurative mountains. Kaag was very explicit about his own personal challenges, including OCD, bulimia, and trying to succeed in a second marriage.

Some of the lessons Kaag learned from his quest were:

Life is lived in both experiences and dreams

Life is a series of births and deaths

It is difficu
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John Kaag is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and author of American Philosophy: A Love Story. It is a story of lost library, a lost American intellectual tradition and a lost person--and their simultaneous recovery.

Kaag is a dispirited young philosopher at sea in his marriage and his career when he stumbles upon West Wind, a ruin of an estate in the hinterlands
“Walking is among the most life-affirming of human activities. It is the way we organize space and orient ourselves to the world at large. It is the living proof that repetition—placing one foot in front of the other—can in fact allow a person to make meaningful progress.” 1 likes
“Become what you are”:” 1 likes
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