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Friedrich Nietzsche Biography: New!

Who2 has a new biography of German philosopher-slash-crazyguy Friedrich Nietzsche.

Make that a long overdue biography of Friedrich Nietzsche. Not only is he a major figure in western philosophy, he was idiosyncratic as all get-out and, naturally, misunderstood.

Maybe he was too smart or too fragile for his own good, but his is a sad story. Always plagued with illness, real or imagined, he died at the age of 55, after having been out of it for more than a decade. Friedrich Nietzsche died in 1900, but he had one of the world's most famous mental breakdowns in 1889 and was never the same.

The story, probably apocryphal, is that Nietzsche was walking down the street and saw a horse in distress. Or was it a camel? A combination unicorn-manatee? Anyway, he broke down in apparent sympathy, hugging the animal while busily going nuts.

Fortunately, he'd already written a whole lot of terrific stuff, most of it during his decade-long roaming through Francy and Italy and Switzerland. Living on the cheap in Europe has a way of making you ponder whether there's a God and whether there's any meaning to life, so it seems.

By all accounts, Nietzsche was brainy. A student of classical and Biblical texts, he was a full professor at an early age, which in those days was rare. He had a friendship with Richard Wagner, who served as some sort of father figure to Nietzsche for a time. Nietsche's own father had died when when Friedrich was five years old.

They shared a love of music -- Nietzsche was a semi-accomplished musician himself, and considered music to be the highest form of art -- and a deep interest in German culture. Wagner wrote operas and whatnot about it, Nietzsche wrote volumes of books about it.

But Nietzsche didn't think there was a God, and Wagner was kinda religious. And Wagner was anti-Semitic and nationalistic, and by 1876 or so, Nietsche was so peeved at Wagner that he published a couple of anti-Wagner screeds. So, a psychologist might say, Wagner really WAS a father figure to Nietzsche.

Nietsche was obviously personally ambitious, with a certainty that his ideas would someday be exalted. He didn't like the idea that the Judeo-Christian tradition exalted the lame and the weak -- he thought what separated us from the animal kingdom was that the strong pushed the weak out of existence. It's not too hard to see why the Nazis under Adolf Hitler thought this was a cool idea, especially since Nietzsche was a homeboy.

Nietzsche's long-standing health problems are a grey area. He was wounded while in the military, but he also had a reputation for being a hypochondriac. Most scholars have concluded that he contracted syphilis, which ultimately led to his mental breakdown. Those with a more generous bent will tell you that Friedrich Nietzsche thought so darn hard about the Meaning of Life, it eventually drove him crazy.

Whatever his personal story, there's no doubt he was a major influence on 20th century philosophy.

Read the Who2 biography of Friedrich Nietzsche.