Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Nietzsche by Stefan Zweig

Nietzsche by Stefan Zweig
First published in German as one of a trilogy, Der Kampf mit dem Dämon: Hölderlin, Kleist, Nietzsche, in 1925. English language translation by Will Stone published by Pushkin Press in September 2020.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this vivid biography, Zweig eschews traditional academic discussion and focuses on Nietzsche’s habits, passions and obsessions. Concentrating on the man rather than the work, on the tragedy of his existence and his apartness from the world in which he moved in enforced isolation, Zweig draws the reader inexorably into Nietzsche’s tragic life.

This edition is illustrated with numerous photographs relating to Nietzsche and his European locations, in a superb translation by Will Stone.

I think it's a safe bet to say that Stefan Zweig was quite the fan of Nietzsche! This novella-length work is less a biography in the accepted sense, although I did get to find out some of the facts of Nietzsche's life, and more an extended rapturous essay which frequently tips over into giddy fanboying. I hadn't got that idea of Zweig as an author from the previous book of his I read, a traditionally styled biography of Marie Antoinette, so I was entertained by it this time around. Zweig does have a flowery turn of phrase and loves showing off his vocabulary - 'dithyramb', anyone? I had to look it up! - and I loved the contrast of this obviously learned scholar being so effusive. Admittedly, it works better in this shorter format. I was starting to feel that the book had outstayed its welcome shortly before I came to the end.

Zweig focuses on Nietzsche in the incarnation of a tortured artist, rather than as a philosopher. He demonstrates how the great thinker differed from his contemporaries and predecessors within the German philosophy field - being bitchily dismissive of several famous names. I finished reading feeling that I hadn't really gained any particular insights into what Nietzsche thought, but I had a far greater understanding of how he did so and the physical malaises which drove him. I could also empathise with his minimalist peripatetic existence. I'm delighted to have discovered this unusual biography and hope Pushkin have published others in the series in equally as accessible English translations. 

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Stefan Zweig / Biography and memoir / Books from Austria


  1. That is one heavy subject matter, but I'm glad the author didn't focus on Nietzsche's philosophy, because that would've been a heavier undertaking.

  2. This might be one that I would enjoy, as I feel like Nietzsche's actual work is quite heavy for me.