Spinoza: The Outcast Thinker

Devra Lehmann

A brilliant schoolboy in Amsterdam quickly learns to keep his ideas to himself. When he is twenty-three years old, those ideas prove so shocking and scandalous to his Jewish community that he is publicly denounced and expelled from his synagogue and neighborhood. The scandal shows no sign of waning as his ideas spread throughout seventeenth-century Europe, where he is almost universally reviled as an instrument of the devil. At the center of the storm, he lives the simplest of lives, quietly devoted to his work as a lens grinder and to his steadfast search for truth—an endeavor that paves the way for all that is best in modern democracies. He does not live to see the results of his efforts, but his ideas change the world.

Devra Lehmann offers young adults a clear-sighted introduction to Spinoza, the Dutch philosopher who developed some of the most radical ideas in history. Many of Spinoza’s ideas seem familiar today, but an understanding of their explosive impact in the 1600s casts them in an entirely new light.

For more information go to devralehmann.com

  • Ages: 12 and up
  • Grades: 8 up
  • Pages: 286
  • Hardcover: $22.95
  • Softcover: $14.95
  • E-book: $9.95

Recent Reviews

7Serious. Sad. Informative. First-time author Devra Lehmann produces an out­standing explanation of the once-shocking philosophy of the now-revered Benedict de Spinoza. The detailed, chronological biography opens with a flashback to the most dramatic event in his life, also one of the most incredible in the history of Judaism: his 1656 excommunica­tion in a staged synagogue ceremony replete with black candles, tolling bells, and curses. ...Lehmann’s thoughtful clarity validates Spinoza’s explosive impact on authority, tradition and religion.

—Jewish Book World, starred review

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, Bookjed Digest, Lookstein Center for Jewish Education, Bar-Ilan University

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

7Part biography, part history, part exploration of Spinoza's philosophy: wholly engaging. . . . Throughout this ambitious and thorough narrative, Lehmann does an outstanding job of illuminating Spinoza's concepts in a clear, concise and logical manner and gives them contextual relevance by illuminating the pertinent political and social upheavals of the time. . . . Clarity, accessibility and spot-on relevance to issues facing modern society make this a must-read.

—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

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

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….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….Outcast Thinker is highly recommended.

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

Honors for Spinoza: The Outcast Thinker

  • Winner, 2014 National Jewish Book Award, Children's and Young Adult Literature