There are books out there that you can read in an afternoon and feel as though you took your time. There are also books out there that you can spend nearly two weeks reading and feel as though you blazed through them. Nietzsche always falls into the latter category. I enjoy reading Nietzsche for the same reason I enjoy running in the mornings– I know that the shakiness and the exhaustion of today will become the strength and stamina of tomorrow. Reading Nietzsche can be a laborious task, but is always a rewarding one.
Beyond Good and Evil was Nietzsche’s first book after Thus Spoke Zarathustra and contains a similar effort to spell out the author’s philosophy in its entirety. While Zarathustra is written as a novel and presents Nietzsche’s thinking in a more poetic light, Beyond Good and Evil is more systematic and less literary. The two make for an excellent exposition of the mature Nietzsche. Beyond Good and Evil touches on a wide variety of themes, but the predominant issue addressed by Nietzsche is morality. In his view, philosophers throughout history have been too willing to accept the established definition of morality (largely based on Christianity) and are therefore limited in their philosophical potential. What mankind needs is a new breed of thinker willing to move beyond the traditional concepts of good and evil.
Clearly that is a very compact and abbreviated summary. Nietzsche is one of those authors whose work is so laden with profundity that any review will be necessarily lacking in detail. Rather than write pages and pages of summary and analysis, I have opted for brevity. I cannot overstate the depth of thinking involved in this book. Some sections can be read five times in immediate succession and generate a different understanding each time. I do not agree with everything Nietzsche says (particularly his thoughts about women), but everything he writes demands consideration. He has the rare power to force a level of self-examination that is often uncomfortable but certainly worth the effort. For a lighter look at Nietzsche, check out the Nietzsche Family Circus, which pairs a random quote from Nietzsche with a scene from the Family Circus cartoon strip to very humorous effect.
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