Praise for my books

Advance praise for Socrates: A Life Worth Living

“A thorough study of the brilliant, timeless, entertainingly abrasive thinker.

As in her outstanding Spinoza: The Outcast Thinker (2014), Lehmann doesn’t present an encyclopedic analysis of Socrates’s life and thought, focusing instead on themes and ideas that will (or should, anyway) provoke immediate responses from today’s readers. Here, then, she steers (more or less) clear of esoteric philosophical topics to describe her subject’s lifelong quest for clarity on ethical issues, on how to conduct a meaningful life, and on the nature of true virtue. In retracing the course of his life, she also explores his adversarial relationship with the polis of Athens as soldier, public figure, and ultimately political victim. Along with describing his trains of reason in clear, simple language, she brings him to life as a “modest but arrogant, ugly but alluring, sensuous but ascetic, mocking but earnest” force of nature who considered himself not a teacher but a sort of intellectual midwife, asking thorny questions to confound the supposedly wise but leaving it to others (us, for instance) to work out answers. This account is based on judicious use of source material and massive research and further livened throughout by frequent photos or diagrams of major Athenian buildings, sexually suggestive images on artifacts, and even an illustration of a hemlock plant. Women do get rare but occasional mentions.

A vivid, perceptive portrait aimed at spurring readers to take up the quest.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“What a welcome book! Socrates — relentless in the pursuit of truth, champion of the Socratic method, fearless prisoner of conscience — went willingly to his death upon the verdict of an Athenian jury. Why? He lived almost 2,500 years ago, and yet the questions he raised and the controversies he generated are disputed as heatedly now as they were then. Lehmann weaves into Socrates’s story the details of daily life and politics, historical context, and scenes from the comic stage that bring passages from Plato’s dialogues to life. The resulting animation of philosophy is as imaginative as it is realistic.”

Debra Nails, Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Michigan State University; author of The People of Plato

Praise for Spinoza: The Outcast Thinker

“Part biography, part history, part exploration of Spinoza’s philosophy: wholly engaging.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“This is a highly readable, engaging and illuminating portrait of one of history’s most important philosophers. It is especially pleasing to see a book that introduces Spinoza and his thought to young readers without over-simplification and condescension, one that takes seriously the ideas and their continued relevance.”

Steven Nadler, Professor of Philosophy, University of Wisconsin-Madison;
author of Spinoza: A Life, A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza’s Scandalous Treatise, and The Birth of the Secular Age

“Beautifully described. If I were a young person reading this it would come as a revelation to me.”

Jonathan Israel, Professor, School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University; author of Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 and Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre

“Devra Lehmann does such an admirable job of telling the story of Baruch Spinoza’s life and ideas that I expect grownup readers will enjoy the book just as much as her intended younger readers. Even more importantly, Lehmann’s treatment of Spinoza will inspire her readers with one of the most important lessons they can learn: Truth matters.”

Rebecca Goldstein, Professor of Philosophy, New College of the Humanities, London; author of Plato at the Googleplex and Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity

“In this lucid introduction to Spinoza’s life and thought, Lehmann walks readers through the contexts that led Spinoza to his belief that man’s chief responsibilities are to think for himself and follow the dictates of reason wherever they lead…. [H]er clear prose and short chapters make this an accessible historical biography for young adults; her exploration of Spinoza’s relationship with Judaism gives the book particular interest for many collections.”

The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (recommended review)

Spinoza: The Outcast Thinker flows elegantly and offers a compelling portrait of Spinoza both as a person and as a philosopher. In both respects, Spinoza exhibited a characteristic combination of fearlessness and caution, a duality wonderfully presented by Lehmann’s gripping narrative and her accessible engagement with Spinoza’s religious and political thought. The target audience of the book — young adults — will be struck by the way in which Spinoza honestly and unflinchingly faced the conflicting demands of tradition, authority, politics, and reason and, in so doing, developed into ‘a passionately religious man without a religion.’ The many illustrations in the book are a most welcome feature that brings Spinoza’s life to life.”

Michael Della Rocca, Professor of Philosophy, Yale University;
author of Spinoza

“Lehmann’s prose is clear and friendly and manages to make a complicated and dense topic readable and even entertaining…. [A] model of what intelligent, young adult non-fiction ought to look like.”

Yoel Finkelman, Lookstein Center for Jewish Education,
Bar-Ilan University

Spinoza: The Outcast Thinker is certain to inform and inspire not just young adults, but their parents as well. Devra Lehmann’s sympathetic treatment and lucid prose provide an outstanding introduction to this seventeenth-century intellectual giant. But her book does far more than present the man and his times: it prompts readers to ponder questions of religion and history, and to reconsider their own place in a world forever indebted to someone unafraid to think for himself.”

Geoff Bakewell, Professor of Greek and Roman Studies; Director of the Search for Values in Light of Western History and Religion Program, Rhodes College

“This insightful biography describes how Spinoza challenged traditional thinking of the time and racked up enemies as he wondered and wrote about the nature of God, the human constructs of good and evil, and the pursuit of reason…. Budding philosophers…will find a life worth examining.”

Booklist Online

“No one of good will can take exception to the simple and honest way in which Spinoza lived; he may truly be the first (and last) philosopher since Socrates to live according to his stated principles…. Spinoza: The Outcast Thinker impressed me with its clear style, strong attention to historical and intellectual context, and accessible explanations. Intellectual young adults will find much to appreciate in the book, as will teachers interested in providing students with supplementary reading materials…. Spinoza: The Outcast Thinker is highly recommended.”

Chris Freiler, Hinsdale Central High School, Hinsdale IL;
PLATO (Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization: Engaging Young Philosophers)

“Spinoza comes alive for young (and less young) readers alike in Devra Lehmann’s Spinoza: The Outcast Thinker. Lehmann deftly interweaves Spinoza’s philosophy with the story of his life and times, explaining how his thinking evolved against the backdrop of his society and his upbringing, and spins it into a seamless narrative. Most illuminating is to see how his writings, radical in his day, remain radical in ours even as we have incorporated many of his beliefs into our modern thinking. But mostly this is the story of a man who had the courage of his convictions, and who thought deeply about the issues that continue to compel us all today, and who struggled against mighty odds to remain true to himself.”

Roberta Israeloff, Executive Director, The Squire Family Foundation (Advancing Philosophy Education); author of Kindling the Flame: Reflections on Ritual, Faith and Family