Time of the Magicians

Time of the Magicians

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“[A] fascinating and accessible account . . . In his entertaining book, Mr. Eilenberger shows that his magicians’ thoughts are still worth collecting, even if, with hindsight, we can see that some performed too many intellectual conjuring tricks.” —Wall Street Journal

A grand narrative of the intertwining lives of Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Ernst Cassirer, major philosophers whose ideas shaped the twentieth century


The year is 1919. The horror of the First World War is fresh for the protagonists of Time of the Magicians, each of whom finds himself at a crucial juncture. Benjamin is trying to flee his overbearing father and floundering in his academic career, living hand to mouth as a critic. Wittgenstein, by contrast, has dramatically decided to divest himself of the monumental fortune he stands to inherit, in search of spiritual clarity. Meanwhile, Heidegger, having managed to avoid combat in war by serving as a meteorologist, is carefully cultivating his career. Finally, Cassirer is working furiously on the margins of academia, applying himself to his writing and the possibility of a career at Hamburg University. The stage is set for a great intellectual drama, which will unfold across the next decade. The lives and ideas of this extraordinary philosophical quartet will converge as they become world historical figures. But as the Second World War looms on the horizon, their fates will be very different.
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