Review: Sue Prideaux’s I Am Dynamite! A Life of Nietzsche

Nietzsche is an often misunderstood philosopher. His complex and at times contradictory thought lends itself to a wide range of interpretations. The notion of will to power, for example. What does Nietzsche mean by power? Domination of others? Personal striving? The nuance of the 19th century philosopher’s thought is both his virtue and his curse.

I first read Nietzsche while I was in university. My copy of Walter Kaufmann’s translation of The Gay Science is probably the most read book in my library. Live dangerously!, Nietzsche proclaims.

In one of my philosophy classes that year, Nietzsche came up in discussion. To my surprise, and to the chagrin of the professor, a student in one of the back rows of the lecture hall scoffed, got up, and left the class. Huh? This was a common reaction to Nietzsche, explained the professor, largely as a result of confusion about his Nazi admirers.

One of the virtues of Sue Prideaux’s I Am Dynamite! A Life Of Nietzsche is the book’s effect of demystifying the often mysterious thinker. Prideaux paints a clear portrait of Nietzsche’s life, weaving together the philosophical preoccupations that tortured Nietzsche with biographical and historical colour. One begins to feel Nietzsche’s life and time come alive as the pages turn. The book reads like a novel; I couldn’t put it down.

Prideaux offers clear and informative synopses of Nietzsche’s major works. In doing so, she frames his books in the context of his life with mastery. Reading this book deepened my love for Nietzsche’s work and my admiration of the man himself.

Prideaux makes it clear that Nietzsche’s Nazi admirers had a fundamental misunderstanding of the man’s thought. This is largely a result of his sister Elizabeth Nietzsche’s sympathies with Nazism and her habit of cherry-picking her brother’s work to best suit her political agenda. After Nietzsche’s infamous break in Turin, he and his work fell under the control of his mother, and ultimately his anti-semitic sister.

It’s a tragic end to the life of a spiritual argonaut, a man who personally despised anti-semitism and idiotic militarism.

He who thinks most deeply knows that he is always in the wrong, however he may act and decide.

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