My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Some time ago I mentioned to my wife that I’d been experiencing strange existential crises, and I had just noticed and it was odd to me. She replied that perhaps I was having a ‘mid-life crisis’, and yep, because she’s smart and that sounds about right. She thought for a moment and asked if I had read any Nietzsche lately. I considered this wonderful advice as she is trained and degreed in philosophy and has a wonderful mind for such things and I respect her opinions greatly. It’s not like she would or could say ‘have you read your Bible lately?’, so I thought ‘read Nietzsche’ was a splendid suggestion worth exploration. So I hunted around for a work that appealed to me, and I settled on American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas. It appealed to me because of the American perspective and academic qualities. At first the reading was ponderous; dense and difficult. I had only vague recollection of ‘Nietzscheism’, a Will-Durant knowledge of his life and philosophy. I recalled that I thought we were in some agreement. He was an Existentialist, maybe a Nihilist, antireligious and smart. But reading American Nietzsche with that knowledge and recollection of the man and his philosophy was what was making the reading difficult and ponderous. I took a break for other books.
When I returned, first I elected to read the surprisingly great Nietzsche: A Very Short Introduction by Michael Tanner. It was an excellent read, great overview, nice balance, and not at all surprising given the good reviews. I thought this would be enough preparation but I became so interested to read Friedrich Nietzsche’s words (or at least a good approximation) I chose to read The Antichrist, as translated around 1920 by H.L. Mencken, whom I have always admired as a great American. This book The Antichrist blew me away and I will never forget it, I will revisit it again and again, and I with any luck I will search for other valuable translations of it to read later. I also was inspired to immediately acquire a version of Thus Spoke Zarathustra that I greatly anticipate consuming later.
So here the digression ends and I return to American Nietzsche, better-prepared for what it contained. I re-read the first 20% #Kindle or so that I had managed to get through and picked it up from there. I found myself consumed by its dense material, and I could barely put it down. I found it then to be a quick read (relatively) and marveled at the scholarship, the minutiae, the great attention paid to every detail and myriad angles. It’s fascinating really and as I understand it a new perspective on an essential philosopher. I loved the book, highlighted it galore and I will refer back to it from time-to-time. I feel like when I read Zarathustra it will be like I’m reading the Bible and it may spiritually fill a cold scientific atheist like myself. And all this to relate that at first, I did not understand my wife’s suggestion that I read Nietzsche of all things to address a midlife crisis. But in the end, I found a meaning and substance that surpassed any expectation I had. I learned about myself and the world we live in and it connected dots in my head that make me feel like a better and more evolved human. It’s like my wife told me to listen to Jesus, but said Nietzsche, because of course.
I’d recommend Nietzsche to anyone. This American Nietzsche book is interesting, certainly dense, academic, dwells on small things, repetitive, but it doesn’t create an outsized view as much as illuminates areas of study, ties in interesting and important figures and relates the explosion of Nietzscheism, not because of propaganda or enforcement but because of obviousness and inevitability. It’s an interesting read if you are into that sort of thing but I’d definitely suggest at least a minimal background or it may feel more a slough.