Spinoza, Life and Legacy

Jonathan Israel / Oxford University Press / september 2023

A biography of the boldest and most unsettling of the early modern philosophers, Spinoza, which examines the man’s life, relationships, writings, and career, while also forcing us to rethink how we previously understood Spinoza’s reception in his own time and in the years following his death.

The boldest and most unsettling of the major early modern philosophers, Spinoza, had a much greater, if often concealed, impact on the international intellectual scene and on the early Enlightenment than philosophers, historians, and political theorists have conventionally tended to recognize. Europe-wide efforts to prevent the reading public and university students learning about Spinoza, the man and his work, in the years immediately after his death in 1677, dominated much of his early reception owing to the revolutionary implications of his thought for philosophy, religion, practical ethics and lifestyle, Bible criticism, and political theory. Nevertheless, contrary to what has sometimes been maintained, his general impact was immediate, very widespread, and profound. One of the main objectives of the book is to show how early and how deeply Leibniz, Bayle, Arnauld, Henry More, Anne Conway, Richard Baxter, Robert Boyle, Henry Oldenburg, Pierre-Daniel Huet, Richard Simon, and Nicholas Steno, among many others, were affected by and led to wrestle with his principal ideas.

There have been surprisingly few biographies of Spinoza, given his fundamental importance in intellectual history and history of philosophy, Bible criticism, and political thought. Jonathan I. Israel has written a biography which provides more detail and context about Spinoza’s life, family, writings, circle of friends, highly unusual career and networking, and early reception than its predecessors. Weaving the circumstances of his life and thought into a detailed biography has also led to several notable instances of nuancing or revising our notions of how to interpret certain of his assertions and philosophical claims, and how to understand the complex international reaction to his work during his life-time and in the years immediately following his death.