A philosopher’s journey into the life, writings, and mountains of Nietzsche—and ultimately into himself.
Nietzsche makes for a challenging hiking companion, not least for nonfiction writers, who risk having their own stories and prose overshadowed by comparison. Or, to follow this book’s central metaphor, it is a challenge, once you set off with him, not to let Nietzsche carry the load. Kaag (Philosophy/Univ. of Massachusetts Lowell; American Philosophy: A Love Story, 2016, etc.) succeeds on this account through his courage to approach Nietzsche, and philosophy in general, from a personal—and not just intellectual—perspective. This allows Nietzsche to play a supportive role in Kaag’s project of becoming. The author follows Nietzsche, for whom the “point of historical study was to enrich the present moment of experience.” The philosopher trekked the mountains “to tread on the edge of the void.” Kaag’s present consists of a return trip to Sils Maria, Switzerland, where he had spent an intense period in his youth hiking, fasting, and reading Nietzsche, this time with his wife and young daughter. At the time, it wasn’t clear exactly what he was hoping to find the second time around, but as he wandered the Alps and continued to read Nietzsche—he provides helpful summaries and analyses—he approached a significant psychic breaking point. The connection between philosophy and the author’s life is not as seamless as it is in American Philosophy, but this is due in part to a difficulty of his subject. More than any other philosopher, Nietzsche asks not to be read as much as confronted. His writing is a challenge to us to become our true selves. That Kaag meets this challenge by determining his own ideals is all the proof needed to confirm that he chose the right companion for his journey.
A meditative work full of self-understanding that will resonate with anyone who has ever been drawn toward the void.