Nietzsche biography


I Am Dynamite! A Life of Friedrich Nietzsche

By Sue Prideaux


“And beware of the good and the righteous! They love to crucify those who make for themselves their own virtues—they hate the solitary man.”

            Friedrich Nietzsche, from Thus Spoke Zarathustra



It feels like Nietzsche has been following me around for years—he’s quoted everywhere I turn. However, reading his collected works would require more time and focus than I’m willing to spend at the moment, so I thought I’d start with a biography, and I’m glad I did.



I Am Dynamite! by Sue Prideaux gives a good sense of the times and places Nietzsche lived in. He spent most of his life basically as a vagabond, living at the houses of family or friends or staying at pensions in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and France. He even had his own room in Wagner’s house. Yet he was both solitary much of the time, spending hours upon hours hiking in the mountains alone and this is when he came up with many of his ideas. He also suffered debilitating ailments that kept him bed-ridden for days, sometimes weeks on end.


I got the impression that Nietzsche was very bold and sure of himself regarding his thoughts and ideas, but that this confidence did not extend to his relations with women. He never married, although twice he did make somewhat spur of the moment proposals— and was rejected both times. (“And beware also of the grip of your own love! The solitary man extends his hand too quickly to those he encounters.” Thus Spoke Zarathustra)


But he was also riddled with doubt and anxiety at times. And no wonder, considering that he attacked many (most?) of the morals and ideas of the times—people don’t really like that, do they? Still, his confidence in his own ideas was so great, that even though his books hardly sold, he wrote that he would be understood at some point in the future—which is exactly what happened.


I pretty much tore through the book in a few days because it was so well written and because Nietzsche was such an extraordinary character. His sister Elisabeth horrified me though, and reading about her was like being in the middle of a soap opera. A rabid anti-Semite, she manipulated, schemed, and told the most outrageous lies.


Sadly, it wasn’t until after he went mad that he became popular and his books began to sell, so he never reaped the benefits. Elisabeth did though, in a frightening manner.  It was heartbreaking to read about his last years when he was kept locked up, first in an asylum, and then in an upstairs room in his family’s house.


Nietzsche influenced a great many artists, writers, and intellectuals in Europe in the 1890’s—and here I had to stop reading and look up Edvard Munch’s painting of both Nietzsche and Elisabeth. Apparently, “The Scream” was also inspired by Nietzsche’s writings.


Many bits and pieces of Nietzsche’s writings and letters are included in the book and you get a good sense of the themes that occupied his thoughts. But as far as I can tell, it seems difficult to order Nietzsche’s philosophy into a neat and clear package, because his writings appear to go all over the place. So for the time being, I will content myself with the aphorisms and short but profound commentary taken from various books. That’s enough food for thought for a very long time.



See also: When Nietzsche Wept, a novel by Irvin D. Yalom


More great biographies:


Leonardo da Vinci


Vivienne Westwood


Catherine the Great


Janet Frame


Tove Jansson


Jack London


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