This has been a surprisingly interesting book. It is a mixture of historical facts and fiction that ‘might have actually happened’ as Yalom puts it.
The plot goes back and forth between life of influential jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza in Netherlands in the 17-th century and the life of Nazi ideologist Alfred Rosenberg in 20-th century.
Spinoza was a jew that was expelled from the jewish community as he refused to believe the religious stories and abide by the religious rituals. He disobeyed priests and often mocked people being superstitious. He held the opinion that people should rely on their reasoning instead. Spinoza wanted to make religions and ethnicity obsolete. He explained everything in a scientific way with causes, stimulus and results.
Rosenberg on the other hand was a dogmatic that hated jews and thought that they caused all evil in the world. He, however, was amazed how a jew as Spinoza could influence so many respected Germans as Goethe.
Apart from factology, Yalom builds very vivid personalities and you can easily see what these two men were like. Of course, there is much more fiction around Spinoza than around Rosenberg as not many traces are left from Spinoza.
Interesting fact takeaways from the book include:
– Spanish Inquisition chased jews as fervently as the Nazis. They also believed the absurd idea that their blood is tainted and that causes all trouble in the world.
– Spinoza is a big influencer of many modern thinkers. His views are very universal and hold ground even today. (Imagine we had no religions and all people reasoned freely and unbiased)
– Spinoza calls God everything that surrounds us and namely the nature which resembles very much the ideas of Petar Dunov.
– Spinoza’s museum was plundered by Nazis and all the books were taken away. They were restored after the war and could be seen today in the museum nowadays.
– There is an interesting idea in the book why jews are so hated throughout history – the author makes the point that they as a community are very isolated from other people through their complex traditions, rituals and diet so that they almost never mixed with other people. Their exclusion makes them so feared and hated.
– Netherlands has been one of the most free and open countries since medieval times. That’s why it is the only place in Europe that the jews find peace after the Spanish expulsion.
– Hitler was ‘found’ and influenced by a man called Dietrich Eckart.
– Alfred Rosenberg was also a big influencer of Hitler in the early days although Hitler neglected Alfred in the later years. Alfred’s book The Myth of the 20-th Century was the second best seller book during Nazi times only after Hitler’s Mein Kampf, although it was considered hard to understand.
– A big influencer of hard-line nazis was Houston Stewart Chemberlain. He was son-in-law of Richard Wagner and issued a book called The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century that was a pseudo-scientific racial-history.
I definitely recommend the book.