Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Schopenhauer Cure
by Irvin D. Yalom

This is a novel of ideas by Irvin D. Yalom. Given its' title the publisher decided that it would be useful to add the words "a novel" at the top of the front cover; presumably so that it would not be confused with self-help psychology or philosophy texts.

The "novel" portrays the operation of group therapy under the direction of Julius Hertzfeld, an experienced therapist, at the center of the novel. But it also contains contrasting chapters highlighting the life and thought of Arthur Schopenhauer (along with epigraphs from Schopenhauer at the beginning of every chapter). It is moderately successful with this combination; however I was disappointed with the therapy group portion of the novel - particularly the two other main characters, Philip and Pam.

The presentation of ideas provides the reader with plenty of "food for thought". However, if you seriously want to learn about Schopenhauer you should read his work, starting with his essays, for he is one of the most lucid and readable of all philosophers. And he is worth reading, for he had significant influence on subsequent thought, although this was more pronounced in the musical and literary realm than academic philosophy. You cannot listen to late Wagner (Tristan and beyond) or read Thomas Mann's novels without encountering the influence of Schopenhauer. In the philosophic realm his greatest influence was on Friedrich Nietzsche, who even wrote an essay about his debt to Schopenhauer (Schopenhauer as Educator).

The Schopenhauer Cure succeeds as a novel of ideas in its presentation and will appeal to all who enjoy this type of book; but it is best in suggesting a direction for further reading (Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Freud) for those who are interested.

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