Time of the Magicians: Masterclass on four giants of Germanic thought

Wolfram Eilenberger adeptly explores Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Cassirer and Benjamin

Cover design for Einbahnstraße (One-Way Street) by Walter Benjamin, 1928. Photograph: Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty

Cover design for Einbahnstraße (One-Way Street) by Walter Benjamin, 1928. Photograph: Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty

There are a handful of works so forbidding, so notorious for the demands they place on the reader, that few people outside of literature and philosophy faculties dare approach them. Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921) is one. Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time (1927) is another. The works of Ernst Cassirer fall into this category, as do the more abstruse writings of Walter Benjamin.

Communicating the work and significance of any of these writers to a casual reader is a daunting challenge. To simultaneously expound on the works of all four while drawing connections between their thought and providing a brisk and entertaining narrative of the lives and epoch is a Herculean task. And yet this, miraculously, is Wolfram Eilenberger’s achievement in Time of the Magicians: The Invention of Modern Thought, 1919-29.

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