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Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil Hardcover – April 20, 1998

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Heidegger towers above this century as a thinker able to wrest insights from ancient texts (Plato, Heraclitus, and Parmenides) while simultaneously opening distinctively modern perspectives for contemporaries (Sartre, Tillich, and Arendt). With admirable erudition and sophistication, Safranski recounts the evolution of this giant from a cautious Catholic seminarian to a daring explorer of the depths of anxiety and alienation. A different kind of subtlety--more psychological than philosophical--comes into play in the analysis of why Heidegger veered from his quest for truth to serve Adolf Hitler. While refusing to exculpate him for supporting an evil movement, Safranski shows how philosophical reasoning belatedly helped Heidegger distance himself from Nazism, so opening the way to a fruitful postwar investigation of the human place in a technological world. As the well-told story of a life that combined, as few have, a heroic rage for truth with a tragic vulnerability to error, this biography will make a valuable addition to larger public libraries. Bryce Christensen

From Kirkus Reviews

The author sheds light on the varieties of darkness that shade the life and thought of, arguably, Germany's most influential 20th-century philosopher. Safranski (Schopenhauer and the Wild Years of Philosophy, not reviewed) presents Heidegger in the context of what Osers, the book's translator, so brilliantly calls ``that German specialty for extravagant wretchedness.'' More than most German philosophers, Heidegger, in quest of Being, pushes to the brink of incomprehensibility. The author comforts us with the knowledge that even so distinguished a friend of Heidegger's as Karl Jaspers, missed what Heidegger meant by ``Being.'' But the darkness of incomprehension was itself a principle of Heidegger's thought. Instead of the active, determining mind that Kant had posited, Heidegger found an intractable resistance to human reason--Being itself--of which we first become aware in amazement over the sheer fact that anything exists at all. We do not so much shape the world as find ourselves ``being there,'' or in German, Dasein. Against this cognitive darkness, Safranski sets the moral obscurity of Heidegger's Nazi involvement and tries to unravel the connections there between the philosopher's thought and life. The picture that emerges is, appropriately, darkly unfocused. When Safranski observes at the end of his book that Heidegger's ``brusqueness and severity'' mellowed with age, readers will wonder whether they've missed something: Brusqueness is already too defined a quality for what Hannah Arendt called Heidegger's ``lack of character, in the sense that he literally has none, certainly not a particularly bad one.'' Safranski suggests that the real Heidegger hovers between two self-portraits: modern tower of philosophy and modest attendant in the museum of philosophy's history, taking care that the works on display there are properly illuminated. Safranski's own take--both critical and appreciative--on Heidegger mirrors the complexity of his subject, and provides a welcome entre to a difficult thought world. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1st edition (April 20, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674387090
  • ISBN-13: 978-0067438701
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.7 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #528,893 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Felix Gonzalez on June 30, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Safranski's book makes an excellent case for the idea of an intellectual biography. It demonstrates that something material is left out when we consider a thinker's work entirely outside the life and context that produced it. For instance, Safranski's account allows one to discern the peculiarly performative aspect of this philosophy. Heidegger is revealed as a thinker who early on was quite conscious both of his great ambitions and of precisely what--in the feverish intellectual climate of the Weimar republic--was needed to fulfill them. Thus the overwhelming success of Being and Time upon its publication can be appreciated as not only a philosophic achievement, but also as a coup of intellectual self-promotion.

Another virtue of the work is the detached, and at times bemused distance Safranski adopts toward his subject. Given the gravity of the issues at stake, one might object that detachment is hardly called for; yet Safranski's relative coolness permits the damning facts to speak for themselves with that much more force. And none does so more loudly than the matter-of-fact, almost inevitable way in which Heidegger embraced National Socialism. Behind the grotesque intellectual irresponsibility of someone who must have known better we can make out--disturbingly--only a diffuse, tepid banality.

In order for this shock to hit home, Safranski must of course first convince us of Heidegger's genius, and he does not disappoint here. The chapter on Being and Time alone makes the book worth buying. Unlike other English-language expositions--especially some highly sympathetic ones--the work never produces the disagreable feeling that Heidegger's words are being "translated" for our consumption.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Michael Russell on June 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book is an excellent introduction to the thought and life of Martin Heidegger. The author strikes a remarkably satisfying balance between biographical detail, historical events, and Heidegger's own philosophical writings. I found it to be a pleasure to read and I consumed it very quickly once I got started. Safranski used an economy of space to graft the details of Heidegger's beginnings, his early education and the choices he had to make. The author is wise enough to demostrate where real life events may have impacted on the subject's later views. Safranski has done research to add hitherto unknown (at least to this reviewer) facts that shed a slightly different light on Heidegger and on those he knew. I think the obvious, but not unimportant relationship is with Ardent. Safranski gives the details and relates how Ardent viewed, and later came to view, her association with the married Professor. (There is nothing all that scandolous about the story, except perhaps for its banality and "fallenness of everyday life"-likeness. Safranski is good enough to craft some quotes by Ardent into drole comments on Heidegger's legendary stiff upper lip. Heidegger comes across as a pardox in many chapters and Safranski is wise enough to not try to settle the confusions or demystify the man. It is a thorough and deliberate accounting of the philosopher's life which can catalyze readers to return to Heidegger's philosophy and take their own measure of it. Somehow by reading about a man's birth, life, death and some of the banal commonalities, or fallenness, of his life- like he has an interesting brother- it makes the bewilderment engendered by philosophy less discouraging.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Stein's Object a on February 28, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Rüdiger Safranskis biography on Heidegger combines a profound understanding of Heidegger's philosophy with a wealth of anecdotes and perceptive analysis of Heidegger the man and his relationships. In particular, Heidegger's affiliation with National Socialism is well covered.

Overall, the book is very impressive and well worth time and effort. As I am quite familiar with the young Heidegger via Theodor Kisiel's "The Genesis of heidegger's Being & Time" and the work of Scandinavian philosophers on the subject, my only regret is that Safranski didn't write more about the "thinking" of the late Heidegger.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 1, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Heidegger's writings are turgid and difficult, and a layperson who approaches them in order to gain an idea of how the author influenced twentieth century thought is likely to be frustrated by their impenetrability. Safranski's biography is a valuable resource, providing an accessible and actually rather detailed account of the evolution of Heidegger's ideas. He also does an excellent job at elucidating the tricky topic of the relationship between his philosophy and his Nazi sympathies before and during World War II. He treats the philosopher fairly and with a detachedness that fits the subject very well.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Strum N. Drang on September 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book's richness is quite impossible to adequately convey. Safranski not only conjures up the circumstances surrounding Heidegger and his work, but also touches on the zeitgeist surrounding that which surrounded Heidegger. One of the most exciting things I've read in recent years is the portion of the book explicating the 'life philosophy' movement of the late-19th c./early 20th c. and how this played out among the professional and academic class. Fascinating book, and I find myself still able to continue to mine nuggets through the many re-readings of it I have done this past year. By the way, I initially purchased a soft cover copy at Borders and, when I discovered I had accidentally left it behind in a coffee shop somewhere, I had to re-purchase the book again (this time via Amazon, and a hard-back copy now, since it has become a 'lifetime book' for me - one to which I return, over and over again.) Beautifully written and well-translated, this book is Safranski's major achievement, his genuine tour de force. Yes, I profited from his Nietzsche book as well, but that book does not convey the care and - one is tempted to use the word 'love' - that he put into this Heidegger biography. An unqualified masterpiece!
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