Philosophical Biographies

I love biographies, and I find that they often serve my thinking by way of grounding the world of the philosopher in which their concepts grow.

  • Descartes: A Biography by Desmond Clarke (2006)
    • Clarke’s biography is very thorough, and Descartes is a hilarious figure to read about.
  • Spinoza: A Life by Steven Nadler (1999)
    • Nadler takes great care to describe the history of the Jewish populations of Portugal, Spain, and Amsterdam with regard to Spinoza’s family and cultural context. There’s a historian’s level of acumen in this book, though Nadler is a philosopher who has published philosophical works on Spinoza. Haven’t finished it yet.
  • Hegel: A Biography by Terry Pinkard (2000)
    • Pinkard is a legendary American scholar of Hegel who recently published a new translation of the Phenomenology of Spirit. There are few people better disposed to publish an English-language biography of Hegel, and the writing itself is wonderful.
  • Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography by Rüdiger Safranski (2000; translation in 2002)
    • Safranski’s is the currently reigning biography of Nietzsche, to my knowledge. Safranski’s writing is wonderful, and it pairs well with his other biography on a German thinker.
  • Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil by Rüdiger Safranski (1994; translation in 1998)
    • Safranski takes great care to lay out the philosophical currents that Heidegger is responding to, and takes up Heidegger’s membership in the Nazi party.
  • Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari: Intersecting Lives by François Dosse (2007; translation in 2010)
    • Dosse’s book takes the unorthodox approach of giving both Deleuze and Guattari’s biographies, speaking to their childhoods, relationships to their parents, and deaths. Dosse has done other historical work on philosophy in France, and the book lays out the larger philosophical scene–sometimes at the cost to the subjects of his book. Currently the only biography on either philosopher as of April 2020.
  • Jacques Lacan by Elisabeth Roudinesco (1993; translation in 1997)