Distributed for Reaktion Books
Drawing upon a wealth of journal writings and personal correspondence, Esther Leslie presents a uniquely intimate portrait of one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century, Walter Benjamin. She sets his life in the context of his middle-class upbringing; explores the social, political, and economic upheaval in Germany during and after World War I; and recounts Benjamin’s eccentric love of toys, trick-books, travel, and ships. From the Frankfurt School and his influential friendships with Theodore Adorno, Gershom Scholem, and Bertolt Brecht, to his travels across Europe, Walter Benjamin traces out the roots of Benjamin’s groundbreaking writings and their far-reaching impact in his own time. Leslie argues that Benjamin’s life challenges the stereotypical narrative of the tragic and lonely intellectual figure—instead positioning him as a man who relished the fierce combat of competing theories and ideas.
Closing with his death at the Spanish-French border in a desperate flight from the Nazis and Stalin, Walter Benjamin is a concise and concentrated account of a capacious intellect trapped by hostile circumstances.
"Leslie has inhaled the author of The Arcades Project as Kazin inhaled Blake. Benjamin, in fact, seems more coherent in her page than in his own. . . . It is as if, by evoking the tactile vitality of all that he touched with his thought, Leslie brings him back alive and kicking from the last border he crossed. Argue if you wish with his idea of ’aura,’ his ’hierarchies of meaning,’ or whether mechanical reproduction is good for the masses. But the mind that put Kafka and Chaplin into the same conceptual frame is his very own Klee painting, an Angelus Novus--the angel of history."
John Leonard | Harper's Magazine
"Clear and welcome. . . . Leslie records some of the many conjectures about [his death] and some of the fantasies about his survival and purported later life. So much about this man feels unfinished that we cannot let him go."
Simon Kuper | Financial Times Magazine
Table of Contents
1 Benjamin’s Remnants
2 Youth Culture, 1892-1916
3 Making a Mark, 1917-24
4 Books after Books, 1925-9
5 Man of Letters, 1930-32
6 Noms de Plume, 1933-7
7 Writer’s Block, 1938-40