Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School

Stuart Jeffries. Verso, $26.95 (448p) ISBN 978-1-78478-568-0
In his erudite group biography of the thinkers who formed the core of the Frankfurt Institute of Social Research, English journalist Jeffries alternates between revealing the lives of these men and recounting the development of critical theory, the Frankfurt School’s most notable contribution to philosophy. Dividing the history of the Frankfurt Institute into decades, Jeffries effectively demonstrates how the school responded to the historical challenges of the 20th century. The school was founded in 1923 as an institute devoted to the application of Marxism as a scientific methodology, and it soon turned its critical eye to the rise of fascism. Although ostensibly Marxist, its members were heterodox and had little faith in the workers’ revolution. With few exceptions, they were also pessimists who did little to put their theories into action. After WWII, its thinkers—Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, et. al.—began to challenge the culture of denial in Germany and the hegemony of post-war capitalism, an effort that, under Jürgen Habermas’s direction, turned the Frankfurt Institute into a startlingly pro-democratic institution towards the end of the century. Jeffries writes in lucid prose and offers frequent asides situating these thinkers in modern contexts and issues, but the relevance of these men’s work often speaks for itself. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 01/16/2017
Release date: 09/01/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-1-78478-569-7
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