Time of the Magicians is worthy of the hype that enveloped it in Germany, where it has sold more than 100,000 copies — that is, a hundred times as many as any of Benjamin’s works in their first print run. It is a tremendous feat of scholarship, but more pertinently it is also a technical masterpiece, knitting together the four men’s love lives, money troubles, ontological anxieties and the wider ferment of the Weimar republic with uncommon dexterity ... My only substantial complaint is that Eilenberger does not always do as much as he might to untangle some of the more 14-dimensional knots of abstraction for a bonehead like me. At times I found myself oscillating between repeated futile assaults on Wittgenstein’s notion of the “statement as picture of reality” and staring helplessly for minutes on end at the pigeons nesting outside my window, thinking how nice it would be to be a pigeon and not to have to grapple with Wittgenstein.
Four intellectuals hash out puzzling new worldviews after WWI in this spirited yet murky historical study ... In Whiteside’s serviceable translation, Eilenberger gamely tries to elucidate his subjects’ famously knotty ideas, but the results...often confirm just how difficult to parse those concepts were. Still, this comprehensive and well-informed treatment deserves credit for bringing four major philosophers down from the heights of abstraction.
... smoothly translated ... argues compellingly ... Readers drawn to Sarah Bakewell’s best-selling At the Existentialist Café will appreciate this accessible and deeply human treatment of four thinkers who are notoriously incomprehensible ... To be clear: Eilenberger’s latest is not an easy read. It is, however, worth the difficulty. He patiently draws these four intellectual magi out of the shadows of their writings, which often tend toward complete opacity. The result is not a book of academic philosophy but rather an intellectual history that largely succeeds in bringing philosophy to life ... a timely and worthwhile read. Eilenberger’s 'magicians' are household names in Germany and much of Europe — which may partially account for the book’s success abroad — but they are relatively unknown in the United States. Eilenberger makes a good case for their familiarity even when the magic that they practiced veered toward the dark arts ... One of Eilenberger’s achievements is to explain Heidegger’s efforts to position himself as the hero and sorcerer of post-World War I Germany and therefore foreshadow his full-throated support of the Nazi regime as it came to power ... an invitation to philosophize, an activity of seeing the world a little more clearly by clarifying the language and thoughts that we use to describe it.