Hannah Arendt: A Life in Dark Times by Anne C Heller

Hannah Arendt: A Life in Dark Times by Anne C HellerSummary: Brief (140 page) biography of the philosopher and public intellectual Hannah Arendt. 

Like way too many books, I picked this up when I stumbled across it while looking for something else. It was a Kindle Deal of the Day last week, and it is also included, with audiobook in Kindle Unlimited. I am currently in a trial for Kindle Unlimited and I have been using too many Audible credits and my library has a long backlog on the audiobooks.

But it is this point where I admit that I picked this up having confused Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil. Both were of the same approximate generation. Both were Jewish and impacted by World War II. Both became Christians, while retaining a hold of their Jewishness. Both were philosophers that have had significant impact through their writing. Weil died young, only 34, during World War II. Arendt died in 1975 after having lived in the US for 35 years. (I think I also mixed up Johnathan Arndt, the 15th century German Pietist in there too.) Weil was one of the thinkers that Alan Jacobs focused on in his The Year of Our Lord 1943.

Arendt is best known for her phrase ‘the banality of evil’. And it is there the book opens with the controversy of the Eichmann trial toward the end of her life where she used the phrase.

This is a very brief book. The basics of her life is covered. She grew up in a secular Jewish family, with a very sick father. She was brilliant and received a PhD in philosophy at 23. It was during her work on her PhD that she met and had an affair with Martin Heidegger. It is hard not to think about the ways that common sexism impacted her life. Heidegger kept her as a lover but kept her detached. Both of her husbands seem to have taken advantage of her in some ways. She worked and supported herself, but at least at times both of her husbands when they were not working. Affairs seem to have been common among the men in her life.

Antisemitism also impacted her. Heidegger joined the Nazi party not long after their affair ended. Arendt was blocked from being able to teach in Germany after she received her PhD. And then moving around several times before coming to Paris for several years working to settle Jewish refugees escaping Germany.

Eventually she and her second husband Heinrich Blucher moved to the US in 1941 where she had to start all over again. Within a year of coming to the US she was writing in English and German scratching out a living. Her 1951 book, The Origins of Totalitarianism brought recognition and enough work to be comfortable at roughly the same time that her husband was able to find work as well.

I am not going to attempt at trying to deal with her philosophy or public intellectual pursuits, other than the say that she was significantly impacted by her separation, both because she was Jewish, but also because she was an independent thinker.

The impact of the Holocaust, while theoretically understood, comes out in the book and is helpful to see how individuals dealt with the impact. Arendt was briefly jailed in Germany before she left.

Thinking about Arendt and hearing or reading several remembrances of Bonhoeffer the past couple of days because of the anniversary of his death, I am reminded how little what really talk about an pay attention to the horrors of World War II.

This is not by any means a definitive biography. But it is an introduction. And I did separate a few people in my head that I previously had merged. It was brief and worth reading. Especially if you pick it up from free as I did.

Hannah Arendt: A Life in Dark Times by Anne C Heller Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook 

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