“Hannah Arendt: A Life in Dark Times” by Anne C. Heller— A Woman of Contradictions

Hannah arendt a life

Heller, Anne C. “Hannah Arendt: A Life in Dark Times”, (Icons), 2015.

A Woman of Contradictions

Amos Lassen

Hannah Arendt was one an intellectual and one of “the most gifted and provocative voices of her era” but she was also “a polarizing cultural theorist”. Many saw her as a visionary while other saw her as a poseur and a fraud. Arendt was born in Prussia to assimilated Jewish parents. She escaped from Hitler’s Germany in 1933 and is now perhaps best remembered for the controversy after the publication of her 1963 New Yorker series on the trial of the kidnapped Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Nonetheless, her seminal “The Origins of Totalitarianism” remains one of the most influential texts that is still used on college campuses today.

She was a woman of many contradictions. She was brilliant, beautiful when young, and men found her irresistible. She began writing in English at the age of thirty-six, and yet her first book on totalitarianism changed the way generations of Americans and Europeans viewed fascism and genocide. Her most famous and most divisive work, “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil” caused controversy that continues to do so even today and the fact that it was discovered after she died that

she had been the lover of the great romantic philosopher and Nazi sympathizer Martin Heidegger provided even more controversy. Anne C. Heller, in this new biography, looks at the source of Arendt’s apparent contradictions and her greatest achievements and follows the thought of the time to see why she was considered by some to be, what she called, a “conscious pariah”. She did not “lose confidence in ourselves if society does not approve us” and will not “pay any price” to gain the acceptance of others. She will always be remembered as an individual who marched to her own drummer.

 This is an excellent introduction to her writings; as well as an extremely readable description of her lifetime. The book begins with an introduction to her writings about the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. She saw Eichmann as a normal person who was basically stupid, and who never had a thought of his own.

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