ESSAYS IN UNDERSTANDING by Hannah Arendt

ESSAYS IN UNDERSTANDING

1930-1954

KIRKUS REVIEW

Compiled, edited, and briefly annotated by Hannah Arendt's longtime assistant Jerome Kohn (Political and Social Science/New School), this first of two projected volumes collecting Arendt's (1906-75) essays, addresses, and reviews up to 1954 contains two previously unpublished essays: "On the Nature of Totalitarianism" (1953) and "The Concern with Politics in Contemporary European Philosophical Thought" (1954). The personal, affectionate, and slightly apologetic introduction places these mostly fugitive pieces in context, but it is still difficult to see evidence here of the seminal role Arendt was to play in modern political theory, especially in analyzing the nature and dangers of totalitarianism and the mercurial nature of justice, which she explored in her popular, controversial, and, she believed, misunderstood Eichmann in Jerusalem. Kohn's collection opens with Arendt's defense of that study and some personal reminiscences expressed in a 1964 interview with Gunter Gaus. The volume also offers commemorative addresses on St. Augustine, Kierkegaard, Kafka, and Karl Jaspers as well as reevaluations of the forgotten, such as Friedrich von Gentz (1764-1832), and of the fleeting, the Berlin Salon from 1789-1806. There are book reviews ranging from the anachronistic 1933 German monograph On the Emancipation of Women and Karl Mannheim's heady Ideology and Utopia to Denis De Rougement's unlikely history of Satan, The Devil's Share. Included too are essays on the foreign-language press in America, on postwar Germany, fascism, communism, the atom bomb, McCarthyism, more characteristic ethical reflections on guilt and responsibility, and concise histories of French and German existentialism. Largely "residual reflections," according to Kohn, these pieces appear to be quaint, irrelevant, and narrowly focused exercises, only faintly foreshadowing the "bleak pessimism" of the "terrible century" Arendt was later to dissect.
Pub Date: Feb. 27th, 1994
ISBN: 0-15-172817-8
Page count: 608pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1994




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