Spinoza: The Outcast Thinker by Devra Lehmann
Serious. Sad. Informative. First-time author Devra Lehmann produces an outstanding explanation of the once-shocking philosophy of the now-revered Benedict de Spinoza. The detailed, chronological biography opens with a flashback to the most dramatic event in his life, also one of the most incredible in the history of Judaism: his 1656 excommunication in a staged synagogue ceremony replete with black candles, tolling bells, and curses. A lifelong Jew who could never again associate with family, friends, or community, Spinoza survives this trauma to create. After that he is a shadow, more mind than touchable person, ever in the background as the book parses his radical ideas. The trappings of his sad life, satisfied only by his thoughts and writings, are a meager existence as a lens grinder, a boarder in strangers’ houses, combined living and working quarters, which provide fertile fuel for his lung disease as his fertile mind grinds out books of new concepts, centuries ahead of their time.