Not long ago I was sharing with you my thoughts about “When Nietzsche Wept” by Irvin D. Yalom. Through a series of fortunate events (you can call it serendipity) I started reading another book written by the same author: “The Spinoza Problem”. Oh, how much I enjoyed it and I also started to appreciate “When Nietzsche Wept” even more!

spinoza yalom book review
Did you notice the profile is made of Nazis?

In a nutshell, the novel tells the stories of two men: Baruch Spinoza, Jewish Dutch philosopher who lived in the 1600s, and Alfred Rosenberg, German member of the Nazi Party who lived in the 1900s. With a time difference of 300 years one from another, you might wander what’s the connecting element between the two of them?

The novel was inspired by a curious event that happened during World War II, when the Nazis stole many treasures from Europe (eg: paintings, rare books). Among these invaluable treasures there was also a collection of books taken from the Spinoza Museum in Rijnsburg, Holland. Even if these books were not particularly valuable, the Nazi officer who carried this mission said the books were of “great importance for the exploration of the Spinoza problem”. What that means … nobody knows! But it was enough to kindle an intriguing thought into Yalom’s mind, a thought that grew into “The Spinoza Problem” novel.

spinoza gif book review

The novel has a balanced combination of action and philosophical discussions, which I found interesting and thought-provoking. Usually I’m not into philosophical ideas, but in this case it was an easy to grasp lesson about Spinoza and his pioneering ideas without any unnecessary blah blah. Just to give you a taste of what to expect, Yalom (2012) said about Spinoza that “he was possibly the greatest intellectual rebel in history“.

From another point of view, “The Spinoza Problem” can be considered a presentation of two psychological case studies – the solitary philosopher who was excluded from the Jewish society and the influential ideologue of the Nazi Party who promoted the racial theory and Jews’ persecution. To make things even more interesting, Yalom created some fictional characters to use them as psychological instruments in order to dive deep in his “patients’ minds”.

spinoza amsterdam book review
Statue of Spinoza in Amsterdam

Oh, and how rewarding is reading the author’s notes at the end of the novel, where you finally find out what is true and what is fiction … priceless! This short debriefing is like a wake-up call that sediments the knowledge gained and helps the reader come back to the real world.

To conclude, I must confess I might have become a fan of Yalom’s teaching novels 🙂 Combining elements of psychology with compelling historical characters, Yalom creates stories that will captivate you without even noticing it!

Have you ever read any books by Yalom (fiction or non-fiction)? Which ones would you recommend? 

‘Till next time … happy reading!

Georgiana

PS: Did you know that the Spinoza Prize, named after Baruch de Spinoza, is the highest scientific award in the Netherlands? It is sometimes referred to as the Dutch Nobel Prize 🙂 


Pictures from Wikipedia.org | Cokoladomebloj.tumblr.com | Vellant.ro | Dominicanu.ca

6 thoughts on “A teaching novel about an intellectual rebel: The Spinoza Problem by Irvin D. Yalom (book review)

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