Staff Pick

The backstory to Elaine Pagels’s The Origin of Satan, Revelations, and groundbreaking studies of the Gnostic gospels is as much emotional as scholarly. As she realized when she was asked Why Religion? (Ecco, $27.99) her own life illuminates both why she’s made a career of studying religious texts as well as why religion itself still exists in the supposedly secular 21st-century. The daughter and wife of scientists, Pagels was taught early on to trust the rational, despite her biologist father’s unpredictable bouts of rage. At fifteen she went with friends to a Billy Graham crusade and was astonished, hearing Graham preach about nuclear weapons, to learn that science wasn’t always trustworthy. She was also intrigued by the shared spectacle of music and ritual, and craved experiences that would similarly “engage the imagination.” Pagels fell away from evangelicalism soon after finding it, but she continued to look for, and discover, experiences that could only be called spiritual. Then in 1987 Pagels’s five-year old son died, followed in July 1988 by the death of her husband, the physicist Heinz Pagels. Struggling to face these incomprehensible losses, Pagels plunged into the Gnostic gospels once again, she discovered other ways to shape grief and to interpret the problem of suffering in the world.

Why Religion?: A Personal Story Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062368539
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Ecco - November 6th, 2018

Staff Pick

When he was nineteen, John Kaag was so devoted to Nietzsche that he nearly killed himself following in his footsteps on an Alpine trek. Nearly twenty years later, Kaag is still drawn to that ascetic ideal. Though he understands things in Nietzsche that he didn’t before, he makes a second pilgrimage to Sils Maria, the village where Nietzsche lived from 1883 to 1888. In Hiking With Nietzsche (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, $26) he's still hoping to reach the heights, but this time, he brings a wife and four-year-old daughter, as well as a more mature perspective that finds Zarathustra not a guide to the unalloyed truth, but a work by a dissatisfied, imperfect individual. Kaag largely maintains this clear-eyed, unromantic view throughout this refreshing and insightful book that, like the wonderful American Philosophy, is as much memoir as it is biography and history of ideas.

Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374170011
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - September 25th, 2018

Staff Pick

If Friedrich Nietzsche kept his “gaze … fixed beyond all that is ephemeral,” seeing himself as “untimely,” Sue Prideaux’s I Am Dynamite! (Tim Duggan, $30) shows how very timely the “philosopher of perhaps” remains. Prideaux looks closely at the thinker’s family, friendships, health, and travels, tracing the development of his ideas within larger personal and cultural contexts. So rich are these contexts that at times they threaten to overwhelm the ideas. Prideaux gives generous selections from Nietzsche’s letters as well as the letters and journals of his sister Elisabeth, Cosima Wagner, Paul Rée, Jacob Burckhardt, and others; combined with her often witty and always sharp comments, these actual voices bring even the secondary characters to life. The narrative is also full of telling and indelible details, like the “Renaissance painter outfit” Richard Wagner wore for his first meeting with Nietzsche. Prideaux’s accounts of Nietzsche’s life-long ill health, when he was incapacitated for weeks with headaches, nausea, and sensitivity to light, reveal him as a courageous and vulnerable man as well as a formidable thinker. But when he was incapacitated mentally and physically for the last years of his life, he was at the mercy of his sister Elisabeth, who recreated her brother in the image of proto-Nazi. Prideaux untangles her distortions from Nietzsche’s rejection of systems, restoring his “blazing if baffling vision that challenges us to think for ourselves.”

I Am Dynamite!: A Life of Nietzsche Cover Image
ISBN: 9781524760823
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Tim Duggan Books - October 30th, 2018