Time of the Magicians
AN ECONOMIST, GUARDIAN AND NEW STATESMAN BOOK OF THE YEAR 2020
A gripping narrative of the intertwined lives of the four philosophers whose ideas reshaped the twentieth century
The year is 1919. Walter Benjamin flees his overbearing father to scrape a living as a critic. Ludwig Wittgenstein, scion of one of Europe’s wealthiest families, signs away his inheritance, seeking spiritual clarity. Martin Heidegger renounces his faith and aligns his fortunes with Husserl’s phenomenological school. Ernst Cassirer sketches a new schema of human culture on a cramped Berlin tram. The stage is set for a great intellectual drama. Over the next decade the lives and thought of this quartet will converge and intertwine, as each gains world-historical significance, between them remaking philosophy.
Time of the Magicians brings to life this miraculous burst of intellectual creativity, unparalleled in philosophy’s history, and with it an entire era, from post-war exuberance to economic crisis and the emergence of National Socialism. With great art, Wolfram Eilenberger traces the paths of these titanic figures through the tumult. He captures their personalities as well as their achievements, and illuminates with singular clarity the philosophies each embodied as well as espoused. It becomes an intellectual adventure story, a captivating journey through the greatest revolution in Western thought told through its four protagonists, each with their own penetrating gaze and answer to the question which has animated philosophy from the very beginning: What are we?
A tour de force. Eilenberger unfolds new paths for philosophy itself -- Susan Neiman Recalls an age when philosophers reinvented a world in full meltdown - one that needed to be remade down to its very punctuation - and turns famous names into all too human characters -- Benjamin Moser Fluently blending biography with intellectual history, Time of the Magicians reveals catastrophe as the mother of modern philosophy. It is hard to imagine a more bracing way to reflect on our own times -- Pankaj Mishra Packed with personal stories as well as erudition, this is a book that teaches us both how to live through a time of crisis, and how to think about it - skills we now need once again -- Anne Applebaum A fascinating tour through the lives and thought of some of the most challenging philosophers of the twentieth century: Benjamin, Cassirer, and those two matching gnomic magi, Wittgenstein and Heidegger. It is a book of riches - full of stories as well as ideas, all brought together with a fine light touch -- Sarah Bakewell A group portrait of four brilliant young philosophers in the aftermath of the first world war ... Eilenberger tells it with free-wheeling gusto -- Jonathan Ree * Guardian * A tremendous feat of scholarship, but more pertinently it is also a technical masterpiece, knitting together the four men's love lives, money troubles, ontological anxieties and the wider ferment of the Weimar republic with uncommon dexterity -- Oliver Moody * The Times *
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