In 1909, sixteen-year-old Alfred Rosenberg is called into his headmaster’s office for making anti-Semitic remarks. He is punished by having to memorise passages from the autobiography of Goethe — and is stunned to discover that his idol was a great admirer of the seventeenth-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza.
Spinoza himself was no stranger to punishment: accused of heresy, he was excommunicated from the Jewish community and banished from the only world he had ever known. Nevertheless, he became one of the most influential philosophers of his age.
Long after graduation, Rosenberg is possessed by the ‘Spinoza problem’: how could Goethe, the great German poet, have been inspired by a member of a race that Rosenberg considers inferior to his own? A race that, as he developed from anti-Semitic schoolboy to Nazi propagandist, he would become determined to destroy?
In his brilliant re-creation of the inner worlds of two men separated by 300 years — one dedicated to fashioning a moral philosophy, the other obsessed with the superiority of the Aryan race — internationally bestselling novelist Irvin D. Yalom explores the thin psychological line that separates genius and evil, and the lives of two men who changed the course of history.
'Yalom has written another intriguing novel that sheds light on what it means to be human. As in When Nietzsche Wept and The Schopenhauer Cure, Yalom weaves psychoanalytic knowledge with brilliant storytelling ability. The result is a warmly intelligent novel of ideas which is utterly absorbing.'
Mary Philip, Courier Mail
View all reviews
'Spinoza had no ‘real life’ outside his reading and writing: he lived in his brilliant mind. So how do you write about a philosopher — a writer beloved of Goethe, Schopenhauer, and so many other thinkers — who spent most of his time in thought? And how do you regard Spinoza — a Jew whose work helped to usher in the Enlightenment — if, indeed, you’re a Nazi? Irvin Yalom is just the writer to take on such a problem, and he solves it, with his own novelistic brilliance, in this vibrant book. In my view, Yalom is one of the most eclectic, wide-ranging, and dazzling writers of our time.'
Jay Parini author of The Last Station and The Passages of H.M.
'[The Spinoza Problem] is yet another example of how a psychiatrist’s stock in trade — the secrets spoken only in the therapist’s office — can be spun into gold by a gifted storyteller. And, like his previous work, The Spinoza Problem offers us a face-to-face encounter with a distant and lofty historical figure.'
Jonathan Kirsch, JewishJournal.com
'More than anything else, this is a book about the irresistible power of ideas.'
Joseph Sampson, Law Society Journal
'This is a book that is fascinating in its detail, as it is in its reimagining of such iconic moments in Western history. Yalom recreates the atmosphere of 17th century Amsterdam beautifully, and he depicts Rosenberg’s psychological state and the Nazi rise to power with incredible insight. If you like your historical fiction to be peopled with vividly drawn characters, do read this.'
Kabita Dhara, Readings
'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.'
Sir Anthony Hopkins
'How do you tackle a subject when so little is really known about his life? ... [Yalom] has not been nonplussed, he's sailed on courageously and the result is a novel which I think you'll love.'