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A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age Paperback – November 24, 2013
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"Steven Nadler has written a delightfully lucid and philosophically thorough account of the Treatise that helps to explain how and why this singular text became the object of such opprobrium and why we should see its appearance as the 'the birth of the secular age.'. . . What makes Nadler's so welcome a contribution is the care and the clarity of his philosophical exposition, and his restraint when tracing the wider implications of Spinoza's work."---Peter Gordon, TNR.com's, The Book
"In this clearly written and accessible book, Nadler offers up a historical and philosophical analysis of Spinoza's Theological-Political Treatise. . . . Each chapter not only focuses on sections of the Treatise but also explains the historical context of the Treatise and why many saw it as such a dangerous and corrupting book. . . . [Nadler] has definitely succeeded in writing an extremely rewarding and engaging book.", Library Journal
"[L]ucid. . . . Nadler does an excellent job of summarizing Spinoza's sometimes convoluted arguments.", Weekly Standard
"Without comparison the best among the available books on Spinoza in this category.", British Journal for the History of Philosophy
"[A]ccomplished. . . . Few have accepted Spinoza's equation of God with Nature or his determinism. Yet his deconstruction of the Bible remains a towering achievement, a triumph of reason over ecclesiastical obfuscation. Nadler is to be applauded for making this achievement so accessible. God knows, the world still needs such enlightenment.", Jewish Chronicle
"Steven Nadler's new study of the Treatise, A Book Forged in Hell, succeeds. . . . While his tasks are primarily expository and contextual, Nadler, who is the author of the standard biography of Spinoza, puts forward a substantive thesis as well. . . . Guided by this set of claims, Nadler takes us through the Treatise in a detailed but seamless account of Spinoza's arguments and aims. One measure of his integrity, indeed, is that while endorsing the common portrayal of Spinoza as a founder of modern secularism, Nadler is sensitive to some of the ways in which Spinoza is not to be taken as the harbinger of the secular mindset. In fact, A Book Forged in Hell raises the important question of how appropriate it is to view Spinoza as a philosophical founder of contemporary secularism and especially of contemporary liberalism. It also raises the question of whether Spinoza should be understood as a Jewish thinker, if so, to what extent."---Zachary Micah Gartenberg, Jewish Review of Books
"In this highly readable study, Steven Nadler persuasively shows that this scandalous work of modern philosophy deserves far more attention than it has actually received from scholars."---Grant Havers, European Legacy
"[T]his is a groundbreaking analysis of an incendiary text.", Booklist
"Philosophy professor Steven Nadler tells the story of the book that scandalized early modern Europe--and laid the groundwork for modern republican, anticlerical, and anti-sectarian movements--in his readable A Book Forged in Hell.", Reason
"If there is a single theme that runs throughout Spinoza's writings, Steven Nadler says, 'it is the liberation from bondage, whether psychological, political, or religious.' Spinoza's importance as a philosopher―maybe as the philosopher of modernity―hinges on that. This Amsterdam Jew was one of the grandest and boldest mold-breakers of all time. Nadler gives us a clean, crisp, indispensable account of what made Spinoza's Treatise so revolutionary."―Russell Shorto, author of Descartes' Bones
"A Book Forged in Hell is more than just an excellent and highly readable introduction to one of the most important texts of philosophy and political thought. Steven Nadler provides an eloquent portrait of Spinoza's Treatise, placing it firmly in its historical, religious, political, and philosophical setting."―Jonathan Israel, author of A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy
"This is an excellent book. Steven Nadler's wonderfully elegant and fluid writing style makes difficult ideas accessible and exciting without watering them down. A prime virtue of the book is that it provides just enough biographical and historical background to make the philosophy come alive and to reveal what a dramatic work Spinoza's Treatise is."―Michael Della Rocca, Yale University
- Paperback : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 069116018X
- Item Weight : 0.988 ounces
- ISBN-13 : 978-0691160184
- Dimensions : 5.56 x 0.84 x 8.56 inches
- Publisher : Princeton University Press; Reprint edition (November 24, 2013)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #85,592 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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First, he denied the divinity of the Bible, arguing instead that it was a book written by men to address problems specific to their time, hence limited in its applicability. As such, it should be studied as a literary and historical document and most certainly was not the infallible word of God. He also questioned the motives of the learned men who wished to wield "the word" for their own purposes, interpreting the Bible in order to fit their own agendas. All of this was scandalously bold for its time, perhaps only possible to appear in the tolerant culture of early Enlightenment Holland. However, it also took great courage, as an intimate friend of Spinoza was imprisoned for advocating similar views and died in custody.
Second, Spinoza identified God not as an anthropomorphic being that intervened "to set things right", but as nature itself, inseparable from necessity and immutable. Since God was all powerful in this formulation, everything occurred for a reason and was foreordained, there was nothing wrong that needed correction, however unfair the results may have appeared to those who suffered. Among other things, this meant that there were no miracles, no autonomous force of evil as embodied in the devil, etc. Not even prophets and their revelations were of exceptional or metaphysical value. Again, radical notions that threatened many, including denunciations from those Spinoza had assumed would support him.
Third, he argued, the value of religion was to be found in a kind of popular presentation of a moral code, which could be arrived at just as well by reason alone, particularly by the educated. In his schema, the highest moral achievement was to live by reason rather than passion; to understand nature was to achieve harmony with God. (He had an extremely negative idea of organized religion, preferring a spiritual journey of the individual mind.) This was both a precursor to deism and the separation of church and state.
However, Nadler is very clear that Spinoza did not hold the views of the writer of, say, the American Declaration of Independence. According to Spinoza, the sovereign executive was responsible for the maintenance of peace and security. To do so, he was mandated to preside over religious matters, eliminating dissent when it threatened the status quo. There were also right and wrong answers that could be arrived at by reason, rather than differing points of view and interests that might be equally valid.
This is a wonderful and dense reasoning experience, opening onto a world of the early Enlightenment. I would have wanted a bit more context, in particular much more on how Spinoza differentiated himself from those with similar ideas. But all in all, highly recommended.
Top reviews from other countries
this very readable book will do. For, although the theme is the
"Theological-political treatise", the philosophical framework given (re: Spinoza
masterpiece, "Ethics" in particular), in addition to the historical one,
is very clearly spelled out.
Highly recommended for people interested in the root of the freedom of speech from the 17th century tp our days.
In summary it is well worth the read and leaves the reader with a better understanding of religious life in Holland during the 17th century..
I found that it left me with the feeling that I will explore further into Spinoza's life and times.