“Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life” by Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings— An Elusive Intellectual

Eiland, Howard and Michael W. Jennings. “Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life”, Belknap, 2018.

An Elusive Intellectual

Amos Lassen

Walter Benjamin was perhaps the twentieth century’s most elusive intellectual. His writings cannot be categorized and his improvised existence provides food for thought. In this new biography, Howard Eiland and Michael Jennings give us a comprehensive portrait of the man and his times

This is a compelling, well-written, and accessible biography of an uncompromising and enigmatic writer and public intellectual. In the work I have done on Hannah Arendt, I could not help but notice that she was especially fond of Benjamin and took his death very badly.

The book provides excellent background on the influences and background to Benjamin’s works such as Critique of Violence and the Arcades Project.  It draws on a multitude of sources, including his correspondence with dear friends. This biography offers surprising details and welcome nuances to the basic outline that many readers may already know.

This 800 plus page book teaches about modernity through the eyes of Walter Benjamin as well as the history of the early and mid-twentieth century as seen through the eyes of intellectuals who had the courage to comment on society.

Benjamin was the son of a well-to-do family who could be described as a geek as well as a charismatic and courageous man. Howard Eiland and Michael Jennings have produced a classic. A Critical Life is an essential companion to Benjamin’s works and a literary work in its own right.


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