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Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt is one of the most renowned political thinkers of the twentieth century, and her work has never been more relevant than it is today. Born in Germany in 1906, Arendt published her first book at the age of twenty-three, before turning away from the world of academic philosophy to reckon with the rise of the Third Reich. After World War II, Arendt became one of the most prominent—and controversial—public intellectuals of her time, publishing influential works such as The Origins of Totalitarianism, The Human Condition, and Eichmann in Jerusalem. Samantha Rose Hill weaves together new biographical detail, archival documents, poems, and correspondence to reveal a woman whose passion for the life of the mind was nourished by her love of the world.

224 pages | 30 halftones | 5 x 7 3/4

Critical Lives

Biography and Letters


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Reviews

"Hill quickly cuts to the core of Arendt’s principal talent: the formulation of trenchant categories and definitions that, for all their certitude, take from the past only what is necessary, looking otherwise to the present and future... Hill spares us the clichéd, tabloid-ish critiques that make up a sizable chunk of Arendtian lore... Instead, she calmly—and quietly, but without truckling—applies her close readings of Arendt’s most controversial ideas to our own oftentimes taut and illiberal social atmosphere."

Los Angeles Review of Books

"As Hill points out in Hannah Arendt, even in works such as The Origins of Totalitarianism—surprise bestseller of the Trump era—the political is invariably brought back to the personal." 

Prospect

"In Hannah Arendt, Hill explains that Arendt was more interested in the process of thought—of reconciling ourselves to the world so that we can properly deal with it—than in articulating transcendent truths (which, according to her, did not exist). Along the way, Hill illuminates a warmer, more personal side of Arendt than we’ve seen in op-eds and think pieces over the past few years. It’s an image that complicates the idea of Arendt as an unsentimental thinker. . ."

Guernica

"This slim, accessible book walks the reader through Arendt’s life while introducing her major works and ideas. . . . Most intellectual biographies emphasize ideas over personal details, which is generally the correct approach. But Arendt is different. Her work, as Hill repeatedly shows, was influenced by the events of her life."

Washington Examiner

"While the aim of this biography might be to serve as a brief, lively introduction to Arendt, Hill accomplishes something richer. In introducing us to Arendt’s life and thought, what emerges is an example of thinking as a dynamic activity. . . . Hill says that Arendt’s gift to us is the call to 'think the world anew.' While thinking is a solitary activity, it also has relational dimensions. If friends can be traveling companions, so too can some thinkers who came before us, thinkers who continue to provoke us. Hill does not present Arendt as a banister to hold up our thinking. Rather, she aptly shows that Arendt is someone to read now because Arendt is someone worth thinking with."

Women's Review of Books

"Hill recovers what is perhaps Arendt's main message for our time: the importance of learning to think for ourselves from our experiences in a shared world."

Folha de São Paulo (translated from Portuguese)

"In light of the potential pitfalls in reading Arendt’s work, Hill’s biography provides a vital service' . . . Each chapter provides a lucid introduction to the key points of each work. For those interested in Arendt’s work—and anyone curious about political ideas should be—Hill’s work is an excellent primer."

Spiked

Hannah Arendt by Samantha Rose Hill could hardly appear more opportunely. Arendt's way of thinking, though quick to the point of being difficult to follow, appeals to an increasing number of men and women who question the meaning of their lives in the world we share. Arendt's own writings and the books and essays analyzing them may seem exhaustive, yet Hill's work does something new: Without simplifying Arendt's thinking, she opens it to contemporary readers who, in the darkness of our times, will find a friend, a woman, who lived through the darkest of all times. It becomes clear to the reader that among Arendt's gifts to the world was the welcome she gave to those distinct from herself as passengers aboard her bullet-trains of thought. “

Jerome Kohn, trustee, Hannah Arendt Bluecher Literary Trust

Excerpt

In many ways Hannah Arendt’s work is about thinking. In her Denktagebuch (thinking journals) she asks: ‘Gibt es ein Denken das nicht Tyrannisches ist?’ (Is there a way of thinking that is not tyrannical?) At the beginning of The Human Condition, she posits: ‘What I propose, therefore, is very simple: it is nothing more than to think what we are doing. When she covered the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem for the New Yorker, she found Eichmann lacked the capacity to engage in self-reflective thinking, to imagine the world from the perspective of another. Arendt’s final work, The Life of the Mind, begins with a treatise on ‘Thinking’.
 
In many respects Arendt became a writer by accident. She said she wrote to remember what she thought, to record what was worth remembering, and that writing was an integral part of the process of understanding. This is evidenced throughout her journals and published work, where she engaged in what she called ‘thinking exercises’. In her preface to Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought, she wrote ‘thought itself arises out of incidents of living experience and must remain bound to them as the only guidepost by which to take its bearings.’ For Arendt, thinking exercises were a way to engage in the work of understanding, and they were a way to break free from her education in the tradition of German philosophy.
 
For Arendt, the work of thinking and understanding requires solitude. She drew a sharp distinction between the four walls of the private realm and the public space of appearances. And from an early age, there was a tension between her appetite for solitude and her desire for recognition. Even the reading of a book, she reflected, requires some degree of isolation. In order to engage in the activity of thinking, one must retreat from the harsh light of the public in order to experience the silent dialogue of thought. Arendt called this dialogue the ‘two-in-one’: the conversation one has with one’s self.
 
In recent years, many people have turned to the work of Hannah Arendt to try to understand the political crises faced today – the decline of liberal democracy, the spread of fake news, the rise of the social sphere, the triumph of technology, the loss of the private realm and the experience of mass loneliness, to name a few. What is it about Arendt’s writing that resonates with so many today? Why do we keep turning to her to understand the political conditions of the twenty-first century? Arendt’s work has now become a part of our inheritance, something that we can look to in order to help us in the work of understanding, but she would have protested the use of her work today as an analogy for our present political crises. In an interview shortly before her death, she said, ‘To look to the past in order to find analogies by which to solve our present problems is, in my opinion, a mythological error.’
 
Arendt’s passion for understanding and hunger for life are just as important as her ability to engage in self-reflective critical thinking. I do not think the two can be untied, because one must really love the world in order to care for it as deeply as she did. In the darkest hour of her life, when she was in an internment camp with no sense of the future, contemplating suicide, she decided that she loved life too much to give it up. She decided to live and found laughter in doing so. I hope that her courage in the face of such dark times inspires us to have the courage we need to fight the darkness we face today in this ‘none too beautiful world of ours.
 

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