cover image The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: A Tyranny of Truth

The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: A Tyranny of Truth

Ken Krimstein. Bloomsbury, $28 (256p) ISBN 978-1-63557-188-2

Krimstein’s fascinating if cluttered biographical portrait divides political theorist Hannah Arendt’s extraordinary life into a loose triptych. In Germany, she is a curly-haired scribble of a girl (a smudge of green in a black-and-white landscape) and a precocious scholar among a who’s-who of 20th-century thinkers. Martin Heidegger is her lover and foil. As the Nazis rise, she flees to France and, later, New York. The footnote-heavy primer suffers by being more intent on recording names, faces, and historical details than on quality storytelling. Krimstein’s use of the first person, adopting Arendt’s voice, is sporadic and jarring. Yet his love for his subject is undeniable, as he argues that Arendt’s struggles as a Jew and a woman enabled her to transcend the work of traditional truth seekers. His tribute is at its most tender when Arendt speaks to the ghost of Walter Benjamin, who appears to her as a water stain on her ceiling. When Arendt says about captured SS officer Adolf Eichmann, “If we turn [him] into a demonic monster, we somehow absolve him of his crime, and all of us our potential crime,” she roils under backlash that evokes today’s woker-than-thou Twitter pile-ons. This is a complicated, moving, uneven story that resonates in just such times. Agent: Jennifer Lyons, Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency (Sept.)