I Am Dynamite! — Sue Prideaux

Friedrich Nietzsche has been called the most influential philosopher of the 20th century. His life story is full of pain and frustration; it’s harrowing at times and does not end well for him personally. This detailed yet lively biography is pretty interesting despite, or maybe because of, the mountain of tangential minutiae in it.

Nietzsche was brilliant academically but had difficulty being taken seriously as a philosopher for a long time. He also had quite awful chronic health problems, which would have been managed much better if he were alive today. But of course, his work would have been different if his health had been better — his famous aphoristic writing style, so in tune with modern times, was partly necessitated by his increasingly frequent breakdowns. He could never write for long enough to put together a substantial and coherent piece of prose — all he could do was put down a few pithy and trenchant maxims before the blinding headaches would lay him low for days at a time.

The saddest thing about his story is the fact that his fame and success only started to happen as he began to lose his sanity. By the time he started to achieve critical attention and admiration and fame, he was living more and more in his own world, before long becoming completely incoherent and dependent on his sister Elisabeth. She had her own tumultuous career, largely as a charlatan, and as Nietzsche became more infirm she seems to have seized on the opportunity to appropriate his ideas and fame to her own ends.

I remember reading The Will to Power when I was a teenager, and noticing that it seemed more, well, fascist in tone than Nietzsche’s other books. I didn’t know then that it was Elisabeth who had edited that book to support her Nazi ideology. When reading I Am Dynamite I found myself wanting to boo Elisabeth as if she were some pantomime villain manipulating her innocent and naive brother.

I really enjoyed this book. It was good to get to know more of Nietzsche’s milieu and the circumstances behind his writing. I rarely re-read books, but this has made me want to jump back into two of my favourites: the spirited and poetic Thus Spoke Zarathustra and the trenchant, wry Beyond Good and Evil.

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