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American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas Hardcover – November 30, 2011

4.2 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Today's inescapable and perplexing Nietzsche is not necessarily the same Nietzsche who inspired readers in the past; and it's the achievement of American Nietzsche to show how that is the case."

(Alexander Star New York Times Book Review)

"This is a superb book, widely and imaginatively researched, boldly argued, and vigorously written. The story it tells is compelling and populated by a fascinating array of characters, including almost everyone of importance in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American intellectual history: including Emerson, William James, Santayana, Mencken, and a host of lesser folk."

(Jackson Lears)

"More than any other European thinker, Nietzsche is alive in our cultural bloodstream. . . . What does our use and abuse of Nietzsche's thinking say about us? This is the interesting question that Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen sets out to answer in her elegant and revealing account of America's reckoning with the German thinker."
(Thomas Meaney Wall Street Journal)

"[A] lively history. . . . With vigor and intelligence, American Nietzsche covers a great deal of ground. . . . Ratner-Rosenhagen is a superb listener."—Nation

"The major lesson of Ratner-Rosenhagen’s book, and its comedy, lies in her demonstration of how deftly the American genius has drawn on Nietzsche but cushioned and contained his challenge to democracy, religion, and humanitarianism in general."

(Adam Kirsch Prospect)

"Ratner-Rosenhagen's book, while technically the work of an intellectual historian, . . should be made compulsory reading for philosophers."
(Times Higher Education)

"American Nietzsche is an original contribution to trans-Atlantic intellectual history. Imaginatively conceived, it sheds considerable light on the still neglected influence of German thought on American thought and culture from Emerson down to the present. On top of that, Ratner-Rosenhagen deals with her surprisingly fresh topic in a lively, sharp, and often witty prose that is a pleasure to read."

(Richard King, University of Nottingham)

"A luminous and wide-ranging story of the depth and passion of American readers' attraction to Nietzsche. This is transnational intellectual history at its very best."

(Daniel T. Rodgers, Princeton University)

"An exquisitely and exhaustively researched work. . . . American Nietzsche argues that all appropriation [of Nietzsche] get the man wrong—or, at least, that none get him entirely right—but that the error is sort of beside the point, because each misappropriation is put to use in the grand, century-long project of helping America understand itself."
(National Review)

"Friedrich Nietzsche and America, how does this go together?  At first glance not at all. . . . But America eagerly soaked up the ideas of the German demolisher, who attacked last truth with a hammer."

(Die Welt)

"American Nietzsche bills itself as a capacious history of the American reception of the philosophy of Nietzsche. But as she takes us through a cacophonous century of readers, hostile and generous alike, Ratner-Rosenhagen also tells the story of an America that cannot but see itself through European eyes—one European's in particular. . . . Ironic, then, this American passion for Nietzsche, who himself lamented the American fetish for Europe—even in his beloved Emerson, whom he faulted for drinking too much from the 'milk glass' of German philosophy. Nietzsche wished Emerson would instead be, as Ratner-Rosenhagen puts it, 'perhaps a little more American.' "

“This is an outstanding book, exceptional in its density of data, sweep of coverage, interpretative skill, and multi-leveled significance. . . . The style is elegant and subtle, the interpretative stance insightful and phenomenologically disciplined, and the coverage of Nietzsche's twentieth century American interpreters who wrestled with his thought, life, and reception in the United States is varied. . . .  It offers a wealth of data with empathetic understanding, impeccable scholarship, and engaging insight.”
(Yearbook of German-American Studies)

About the Author

Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen is the Merle Curti Associate Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1St Edition edition (November 30, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226705811
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226705811
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #457,171 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen's book, "American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and his Ideas" (2011) examines the reception of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 - 1900) in the United States and Americans' ongoing and continuted fascination with his writings and character. Ratner-Rosenhagen, the Merle Curti Associate Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin -- Madison, also discusses the influence of American thought on Nietzsche. In particular the book comes full circle by beginning and ending with the thought of Ralph Waldo Emerson. As a student, Nietzsche became enamored with Emerson, read his works assiduously for many years, and made extensive marginal notes on his books, which he read in German translation. Scholars over the years have recognized Emerson's influence on Nietzsche, but Ratner-Rosenhagen explores their similarities in detail. The study also ends with Nietsche and Emerson, as Ratner-Rosenhagen discusses their related conception of philosophy and its purpose. Both thinkers see philosophy as non-foundational and without absolutes or certainties. Both Emerson and Nietzsche tend to deny that philosophy is a study with a separate subject matter or "fach". Rather it is a search to find meaning in a world of risk, uncertainty, and lack of transcendental mooring. For Ratner-Rosenhagen and for the subjects of her study, philosophy is meant to be a provocation to thought rather than a doctrine.

The scholarship and learning of this book are prodigious as Ratner-Rosenhagen discusses the engagement of many important American thinkers with Nietzsche. I was pleased with her detailed discussion of the American idealist philosopher Josiah Royce and his understanding of Nietzsche's importance.
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Format: Hardcover
Nietzsche was one of mankind's most illustrious and controversial philosophers. The man declared war on common intellectual wisdom was extremely popular in Europe and his star started shining in the USA as well. This continues to these days and this book is a most fascinating study which combines historical research and philosophical wrtings and articles, books and other tomes, thus creating a magnificent intellectual history spanning from the late seventies in Germany to 2010.
Nietzsche was only seventeen when he began reading the writings of the great Emerson. In his library one could find annotated volumes of Emerson's essays and works, full of marginalia where one can read Nietzsche's comments of praise or agreement with Emerson.
This part of the current book opens Professor Ratner-Rosenhagen's intriguing study. But make no mistake about it: Nietzsche never repeated Emerson's ideas, although the latter's influence on the German thinker was tremendous.
The other parts of the book discuss in detail how Nietzsche was accepted or disregarded by both Protestants and Catholics. In fact, some of them considered Nietzsche as a kind of biblical prophet, an iconoclast who did not hesitate to shatter religious beliefs, Enlightenment ideas or democratic principles.
In the beginning of the twentieth century Will Durant, who fell in love with Nietzsche's writings, wrote that "there is a bit of Nietzsche in everyone of us".
Others followed Durant's steps and wrote many more interesting things about Nietzsche. Professor Rosenhagen also writes about the way the writings of Nietzsche were accepted or dismissed by various intellectuals in the USA. One major difficulty was in translating terms which seemed to be unique in the German language, among them the famous "Ubermentsch".
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Format: Hardcover
Nietzsche is a Rorschach blot for Americans: blue collar workers, housewives, Christians, political activists, artists, intellectuals. Americans see in Nietzsche what they most desire--freedom from the dead morals of a corrupt and decadent consumer society. And they see in Nietzsche what they most fear--a world without ultimate justification other than what the self can justify to itself, by itself. Ratner-Rosenhagen documents America's wide-ranging, disparate fascinations with Nietzsche in a fluent, fast paced, transfixing intellectual history that falters only a little at the end.

Nietzsche was barely noticed during his lifetime. What also has gone unnoticed is the influence of Emerson on him. As an avid and lifelong reader of Emerson's Essays Nietzsche arrived at his concept of the "sovereign self."From Emerson Nietzsche learned to become a self-reliant, intellectual provocateur. It may have been the Emerson in Nietzsche that struck such a resonant chord in Nietzsche's American audience. Whatever the reason, Americans enthusiastically thought through Nietzsche to think about themselves as Americans in a modern America.

Many Americans remembered where they were when they first read Nietzsche, such was the effect of his words on them. For many, Nietzsche represented deliverance from the reigning--and competing--material/Christian world views. For political radicals, more in tune with European thought currents than most of their fellow citizens, Nietzsche represented a philosophical dawn that they hoped would break in America. In any case, Nietzsche represented a successful challenge to existing authority. Notwithstanding Nietzsche's diverse appeal, however, the American mainstream media either ignored him or downplayed him.
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