The Spinoza Problem
In The Spinoza Problem, Irvin Yalom spins fact and fiction into an unforgettable psycho-philosophical novel.
In The Spinoza Problem, Irvin Yalom spins fact and fiction into an unforgettable psycho-philosophical novel. A psychiatrist with a deep interest in philosophical issues, Yalom jointly tells the story of the seventeenth-century thinker Baruch Spinoza, his philosophy and subsequent excommunication from the Jewish community, and his apparent influence on the Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg, whose einsatzgruppe was dispatched during the Second World War to investigate a mysterious “Spinoza Problem.” Seamlessly alternating between Golden Age Amsterdam and Nazi Germany, Yalom investigates the inner lives of these two enigmatic men in a tale of influence and anxiety, the origins of good and evil, and the philosophy of freedom and the tyranny of terror.
Spinoza has long intrigued me, and for years I've wanted to write about this valiant seventeenth-century thinker, so alone in the world—without a family, without a community—who authored books that truly changed the world. He anticipated secularization, the liberal democratic political state, and the rise of natural science, and he paved the way for the Enlightenment. The fact that he was excommunicated by the Jews at the age of twenty-four and censored for the rest of his life by the Christians had always fascinated me, perhaps because of my own iconoclastic proclivities. And this strange sense of kinship with Spinoza was strengthened by the knowledge that Einstein, one of my first heroes, was a Spinozist. When Einstein spoke of God, he spoke of Spinoza's God—a God entirely equivalent to nature, a God that includes all substance, and a God "that doesn't play dice with the universe"—by which he means that everything that happens, without exception, follows the orderly laws of nature.
I also believe that Spinoza, like Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, on whose lives and philosophy I have based two earlier novels, wrote...
This is a work of fiction that, as the author says, could have happened. He tells the story of Spinoza's philosophy and expulsion from the Jewish community, interspersed with the story of Nazi party official Alfred Rosenberg who admired Spinoza's ideas while hating his race. This is a novel driven by ideas more than plot or character, and provides insight into philosophical thought, religion, and the extremes of intolerance.
Review by LynnB (LibraryThing)
Sir Anthony Hopkins, actor
"This is the most intriguing novel I've read in many a year. Irvin Yalom has created a taut, deeply informative page turner. I enthusiastically recommend The Spinoza Problem."
Martin E. P. Seligman, author of Flourish
"Irvin Yalom is the most significant writer of psychological fiction in the world today. I didn't think he could top When Nietzsche Wept or The Schopenhauer Cure, but he has. The Spinoza Problem is a masterpiece."