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Hiking with Nietzsche

On Becoming Who You Are

John Kaag


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ISBN10: 1250234689
ISBN13: 9781250234681

Trade Paperback

272 Pages



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Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are is a tale of two philosophical journeys—one made by John Kaag as an introspective young man of nineteen, the other seventeen years later, in radically different circumstances: he is now a husband and father, and his wife and small child are in tow. Kaag sets off for the Swiss peaks above Sils Maria where Nietzsche wrote his landmark work Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Both of Kaag’s journeys are made in search of the wisdom at the core of Nietzsche’s philosophy, yet they deliver him to radically different interpretations and, more crucially, revelations about the human condition.

Just as Kaag’s acclaimed debut, American Philosophy: A Love Story, seamlessly wove together his philosophical discoveries with his search for meaning, Hiking with Nietzsche is a fascinating exploration not only of Nietzsche’s ideals but of how his experience of living relates to us as individuals in the twenty-first century. Bold, intimate, and rich with insight, Hiking with Nietzsche is about defeating complacency, balancing sanity and madness, and coming to grips with the unobtainable. As Kaag hikes, alone or with his family, but always with Nietzsche, he recognizes that even slipping can be instructive. It is in the process of climbing, and through the inevitable missteps, that one has the chance, in Nietzsche’s words, to “become who you are."


Praise for Hiking with Nietzsche

“Kaag is a lively storyteller who brings Nietzsche’s life into continual contact with his own . . . He succeeds quite well in maintaining a balance between Nietzsche’s life and thought and makes some nice connections to Emerson, Hesse, Mann and Adorno. I imagine he is an excellent teacher.”—Steven B. Smith, The New York Times

"Hiking with Nietzsche serves as a straightforward and even practical introduction to the German philosopher’s writings, and makes a convincing case for why they continue to matter. Even readers not necessarily tempted to descend into the Nietzschean abyss will surely find Kaag’s exploration of selfhood, decadence, companionship, and physical duress both invigorating and thought-provoking. Contrary to the how-to-live-your-life genre, and in keeping with Nietzsche’s explosive and discomforting ideas, Kaag manages to ask all the right questions without irritably reaching for any palliative answers or solutions."—Morten Høi Jensen, Los Angeles Review of Books

"[An] engagingly unacademic meditation . . . The question, ultimately, is whether Nietzsche’s philosophy, so attuned to lurking monstrous urges, can be of use in daily life. Kaag’s answer is both elliptical and profound, manifesting a deep understanding of his subject matter."—The New Yorker

"Not just an approachable introduction to Nietzsche’s thought. Kaag’s book is also . . . a confirmation that philosophy thrives when it provides an antidote to the wholesome doldrums of sanity . . . Kaag may have outgrown his youthful dramatics, but he continues to let philosophy upend him."—Becca Rothfeld, The Atlantic

"As in American Philosophy, Kaag deftly intertwines sympathetic biography, accessible philosophical analysis, and self-critical autobiography . . . Kaag extracts plenty of relevant ideas from Nietzsche and his followers in this stimulating book about combating despair and complacency with searching reflection."—Heller McAlpin, NPR

"John Kagg is the perfect guide for his bold trek, a journey from solitude and yearning to mature acceptance and, well, love. An elegant reckoning with the tough questions, a challenging lesson in philosophy, a deep pleasure to read."—James Carr, author of Constantine's Sword and The Cloister

"Kaag succeeds . . . through his courage to approach Nietzsche, and philosophy in general, from a personal—and not just intellectual—perspective . . . A meditative work full of self-understanding that will resonate with anyone who has ever been drawn toward the void."—Kirkus Reviews

"A wonderful introduction to Nietzsche set against the unique backdrop of the landscape and cities he experienced. The tone and writing style make it accessible to general readers, while the content will reward those familiar with Nietzsche as well."—Library Journal

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt


He who has attained to only some degree of freedom of mind cannot feel other than a wanderer on the earth— though not as a traveler to a final destination: for this destination does not exist.


About the author

John Kaag

John Kaag is a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. He is the author of American Philosophy: A Love Story, which was an NPR Best Book of 2016 and a New York Times Editors’ Choice. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, and many other publications. He lives near Boston with his wife and daughter.

Jill Goldman Photography

John Kaag

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