The Spinoza Problem: A Novel by Irvin D. Yalom
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It's been years since I've read any Spinoza, but that wasn't a problem here - Yalom's historical faction includes long passages where Spinoza himself explains his rational process. Told in alternating chapters, we meet Spinoza at the time of his excommunication (cherem) from the Sephardic community in Amesterdam and a young Alfred Rosenberg, ultimately Hitler's publisher and the man who stole Jewish (and other) artworks for the Reich.
So, what is the Spinoza problem? Spinoza was a Jew of Portugese descent, a member of the "corrupt, inferior, poisonous" race - how could he possibly have influenced Goethe? The author posits that Rosenberg, convinced of the superiority of the Aryan race and the need to cleanse Europe of the Jewish plague, is obsessed with finding those Aryans Spinoza stole his ideas from.
At times this is a difficult book to read, particularly the parts where Rosenberg is going on about his racial superiority ideas (if one didn't know about the rise of the Reich and the Final Solution, it would seem implausible that these ideas could actually take over a political system). The same could be said for the reactions of the Amsterdam Jews to outside ideas and influences (pronouncing a cherem on someone who used an Ashkenazic butcher rather than a Sephardic one?). The philosophical ideas are far easier to digest, as Spinoza (or his 1920s interpreter, Dr. Pfister) walks Franco/Rosenberg (and, by extension, us) through them.
ARC provided by publisher.