The American philosophy professor John Kaag tries a different tack, aiming to use Nietzsche as a kind of elevated self-help guru, scattering discussions of the philosopher’s life and works through a memoir of the author’s own youth and romantic life. ... Unnecessarily, Kaag takes us through the airport as they set off on their trip, but the interest intensifies as we begin to breathe with his family the purer air of the mountains. They settle into a fine old hotel, and we hear about Nietzsche’s love affair with Lou Salomé, and accompany the author on a series of solitary hikes. “Christ, it was a long way to the bottom,” he remarks at one point. “Absolute certainty did not live up here.” We learn about his trousers and footwear, and there are good expository accounts of the major Nietzschean works, on tragedy, the genealogy of morals and so on. Kaag has a pleasingly wry, compact style, and is particularly interesting on thinkers that Nietzsche influenced heavily: Herman Hesse and Theodor Adorno.
When American philosopher John Kaag was 19, he nearly killed himself in the Swiss Alps in an attempt to ape Nietzsche and imagine himself above the “self- imposed constraints that quietly govern modern life”. Actually, he argues now, Nietzschean ideas are better suited to the conundrums of middle age, and Kaag reassesses them while pondering his own life journey. A thoughtful mix of biography and memoir, it confronts the predictability of adult life head-on.
What follows is, on one level, a fantastically well-written and engaging primer on Nietsche’s life and work, and, on another, a searingly honest odyssey into the author’s psyche, by turns fascinating and frustrating...Ultimately, this is the story of a man finally laying to rest his Nietzschean obsession and his Nietzschean impulses. Back at home in the United States, he writes: “I longed for another trip to Switzerland, if only to let Basel redeem itself.”
The result has remarkable coherence and momentum. Kaag, who teaches at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, writes extremely well for a philosophy professor: clearly and with scholarly responsibility, but also personally and stylishly. His synthesis of genres worked just fine in American Philosophy, but it comes more sharply into focus and yields a more distinctive narrative voice in Hiking with Nietzsche. The reading of Nietzsche constitutes a surprisingly complex engagement with the oeuvre, considering how quickly and comprehensibly Kaag’s journey and his book unfold. Indeed, the book amounts to an excellent introduction to Nietzsche’s big ideas: the genealogical method, the eternal recurrence, amor fati and the death of God, among others.