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A Book Forged in Hell:
Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age
Steven Nadler

Honorable Mention for the 2011 PROSE Award in Philosophy, Association of American Publishers

Paperback | 2013 | $17.95 / £12.50 | ISBN: 9780691160184
Hardcover | 2011 | $29.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691139890
304 pp. | 6 x 9 | 1 halftone. | Shopping Cart

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When it appeared in 1670, Baruch Spinoza's Theological-Political Treatise was denounced as the most dangerous book ever published--"godless," "full of abominations," "a book forged in hell . . . by the devil himself." Religious and secular authorities saw it as a threat to faith, social and political harmony, and everyday morality, and its author was almost universally regarded as a religious subversive and political radical who sought to spread atheism throughout Europe. Yet Spinoza's book has contributed as much as the Declaration of Independence or Thomas Paine's Common Sense to modern liberal, secular, and democratic thinking. In A Book Forged in Hell, Steven Nadler tells the fascinating story of this extraordinary book: its radical claims and their background in the philosophical, religious, and political tensions of the Dutch Golden Age, as well as the vitriolic reaction these ideas inspired.

It is not hard to see why Spinoza's Treatise was so important or so controversial, or why the uproar it caused is one of the most significant events in European intellectual history. In the book, Spinoza became the first to argue that the Bible is not literally the word of God but rather a work of human literature; that true religion has nothing to do with theology, liturgical ceremonies, or sectarian dogma; and that religious authorities should have no role in governing a modern state. He also denied the reality of miracles and divine providence, reinterpreted the nature of prophecy, and made an eloquent plea for toleration and democracy.

A vivid story of incendiary ideas and vicious backlash, A Book Forged in Hell will interest anyone who is curious about the origin of some of our most cherished modern beliefs.

Steven Nadler is the William H. Hay II Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His books include Rembrandt's Jews, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; Spinoza: A Life, which won the Koret Jewish Book Award; and The Best of All Possible Worlds: A Story of Philosophers, God, and Evil in the Age of Reason (Princeton).

Review:

"In this clearly written and accessible book, Nadler offers up a historical and philosophical analysis of Spinoza's Theological-Political Treatise. . . . Each chapter not only focuses on sections of the Treatise but also explains the historical context of the Treatise and why many saw it as such a dangerous and corrupting book. . . . [Nadler] has definitely succeeded in writing an extremely rewarding and engaging book."--Library Journal (starred review)

"[T]his is a groundbreaking analysis of an incendiary text."--Booklist

"Steven Nadler's new study of the Treatise, A Book Forged in Hell, succeeds. . . . While his tasks are primarily expository and contextual, Nadler, who is the author of the standard biography of Spinoza, puts forward a substantive thesis as well. . . . Guided by this set of claims, Nadler takes us through the Treatise in a detailed but seamless account of Spinoza's arguments and aims. One measure of his integrity, indeed, is that while endorsing the common portrayal of Spinoza as a founder of modern secularism, Nadler is sensitive to some of the ways in which Spinoza is not to be taken as the harbinger of the secular mindset. In fact, A Book Forged in Hell raises the important question of how appropriate it is to view Spinoza as a philosophical founder of contemporary secularism and especially of contemporary liberalism. It also raises the question of whether Spinoza should be understood as a Jewish thinker, if so, to what extent."--Zachary Micah Gartenberg, Jewish Review of Books

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Table of Contents:

Preface xi
Acknowledgments xvii
Chapter 1: Prologue 1
Chapter 2: The Theological-Political Problem 17
Chapter 3: Rasphuis 36
Chapter 4: Gods and Prophets 52
Chapter 5: Miracles 76
Chapter 6: Scripture 104
Chapter 7: Judaism, Christianity, and True Religion 143
Chapter 8: Faith, Reason, and the State 176
Chapter 9: Libertas philosophandi 200
Chapter 10: The Onslaught 215
A Note on Texts and Translations 241
Abbreviations 243
Notes 245
Bibliography 267
Index 277

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