The Portable Hannah Arendt (Viking Portable Library)

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9780140269741: The Portable Hannah Arendt (Viking Portable Library)

A comprehensive collection of writings by one of the twentieth-century's most important philosophers and political thinkers.

Amid the confusion of the twentieth century, Hannah Arendt was perhaps our most searching and sane thinker. Born into a Jewish family in Germany at the beginning of the century, Arendt studied under Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers. She later fled the Nazi terror and established herself as a preeminent political and philosophical writer at New York's famed New School for Social Research.

The Portable Hannah Arendt, the first comprehensive volume of her writings, includes generous selections from her masterworks: The Origins of Totalitarianism, The Human Condition, and her controversial Eichmann in Jerusalem. Also featured is a selection of Arendt's letters to other formative thinkers of the century, including Jaspers and Mary McCarthy. This Viking Portable volume powerfully displays the ideas of this formidable post-modern intellectual.

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Review:

Peter Baehr's anthology is a gem made up of 33 selections supplemented by his highly competent introduction, a chronology covering the major events in Hannah Arendt's life, and a basic bibliography. Arendt's erudition and incisive brilliance are well represented throughout. Passages include lengthy excerpts from her major books (The Origins of Totalitarianism, The Human Condition, On Revolution, and Eichmann in Jerusalem), shorter excerpts from Rahel Varnhagen and The Life of the Mind, eight essays (four from Between Past and Future, one from Men in Dark Times, and two not previously available in book form), a University of Chicago lecture, her famous television interview with Guenter Gaus, four letters (two to Karl Jaspers, others to Mary McCarthy and Gershom Scholem), and a brief journal entry (on Heidegger "the fox"). Ever sensitive to the limitations of anthologies, particularly for the work of thinkers like Arendt, Baehr has managed to effectively convey the feel of Arendt's conscientious yet combative thinking through his selections and arrangements.

Arendt burst upon the world literary stage in 1951 with The Origins of Totalitarianism and a Saturday Review cover photo. She understood totalitarianism as an unprecedented phenomenon, identifying several elements that fused into it and analyzing totalitarian movements and rule. The success of Origins led to prestigious lectureships and 25 years of fiercely independent writing and teaching. She proved knowledgeable about philosophy as well as history and politics, fluent not only in English and German (her beloved "mother tongue") but also in French, Greek, and Latin. This precocious German Jewess had devoted her college years to studying philosophy, theology, and Greek (with Heidegger, Jaspers, Husserl, and Bultmann!), but the Nazi rise to power compelled Arendt to focus on politics, especially the Jewish question. From the '50s until her death in 1975, Arendt developed and publicly defended controversial views, including her report on the Eichmann trial and her coinage "the banality of evil"; her opposition to integrationist busing and to affirmative action hiring in universities; and her version of (classical) republicanism, rooted in her radical understandings of human action and the dignity of politics. All these views and more find expression in this collection. Of late, Arendt's fame has been rekindled by revelations of her love affair with Heidegger. Now, as we approach her birth centenary (2006), this Portable provides newcomers and faithful admirers alike a marvelous package of Arendt's writings. --Richard Kenney

About the Author:

Hannnah Arendt (1906--1975) was for many years University Professor of Political Philosophy in the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research and a Visiting Fellow of the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. She is also the author of Eichmann in Jerusalem, On Revolution, and Between Past and Future (all available from Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics).

Peter Baehr is Professor of Sociology at the Memorial University of Newfoundland and the author of Caesar and the Fading of the Roman World. A Study in Republicanism and Caesarism.

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