Friday, 21 March 2014

Book Review - Nietzsche by Gerald Abraham

Nietzsche by Gerald Abraham  (Great Lives series)

London: Duckworth, 1933

These types of books are, in their presentation at least, things of the past. Publishers produced such series for the edification of the "average" person, as almost a cheat-sheet for readers to bone up on people or a subject. They were bread-and-butter titles for publishers back in the pre-war era. The title under review is number 23 in the Duckworth "Great Lives" series - number one was Shakespeare, number two Queen get the picture....quite British, and quite old-school. Others to make the Duckworth list include Blake, H.M. Stanley, Robert Burns, Edward VII (!!), Nelson.....standard stuff you would think for a mid '30s English publisher. But there are some interesting ones in the list, perhaps not quite to be expected then, but seemingly normal now - Strindberg, Van Gogh and the book under review being examples.

This book is exactly what you might expect it to be a short (140p) exposition of Nietzsche's life, touching on the major events, listing his achievements, and not going too much into the nitty-gritty of his philosophy, although there is enough information here to enable a reader to get started with his works in the right way.

The book is very British, with the faint (but never explicit) feeling throughout the text that the Germans are all a dashed rum lot, with some mighty strange ideas. In fact Nietzsche is treated here as not really a philosopher at all, but a German literary stylist who was showing signs of madness before his final breakdown. Of course one must bear in mind that this book was published the year Hitler ascended to power, so the connection of Nietzsche's thought to the Nazis had not yet been exposed fully. In fact one thing Abraham does point out is that far from being Anti-Semitic, Nietzsche abhorred such views - the beginnings of the fatal influence Nietzche's sister Elisabeth had on his legacy are mapped out here in the descriptions of Nietzche's torturous relationship with her.

Abraham spends a fair proportion of the text on Nietzche's musical achievements, as well as his relationship with Wagner. This comes as no surprise given that Abraham is more noted as a musicologist than a scholar of philosophy.

As a starting point into the milieu of Nietzsche, I guess this wouldn't be bad, but there are better texts around to do that job.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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