I have been meaning for weeks to write a review of Hannah Arendt, and… The excuses don’t matter. What matters is that this film is important, an absolute must-see if you have any interest in understanding evil in the modern world.

*Spoiler Alert*

If you don’t know anything about the life and work of Hannah Arendt, and you intend to see the film, stop reading here. Then come back if you’re interested in recommended reading.

Hannah Arendt is a drama about a few years in the 1950s when Hannah Arendt was sent by the New Yorker to cover the Jerusalem trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. As a Jewish survivor of a concentration camp and a political theorist, the trial was extremely important for Arendt, and her experience in Jerusalem not only influenced her future work but changed our understanding of evil.

Before Arendt, the worst evil was assumed to be the work of a mustache twirling no-goodnik, but she dared to claim that much worse was the quiet evil perpetuated by nobodies without thought or interest or anything to gain. Eichmann was responsible for the deaths of millions, and he never had to leave his desk.

Reading Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt was a student of Martin Heidegger, and apparently his density was contagious. Somehow, she managed to produce work that is gripping and incredibly dense. Expect a slow read.

That said, I began with Essays in Understanding, a collection of her unpublished essays, and I found it to be a nice intermediary between the film and her larger works.

As of this writing, I’m about halfway through The Human Condition and The Life of the Mindand I recommend them both.

The Human Condition will be interesting for those who are curious about how the position of work and labor in the West has changed since Ancient Greece.

The Life of the Mind will be interesting for anyone who is into the philosophy of thought or queer theory. Though the only connection I’ve been able to find* is an article in The Guardian by Judith Butler, Arendt’s work on appearances in the first chapter seems to predate the work on performance and gender that was being done a few years ago.

Disclosure: I recently remembered that I signed up for an Amazon Associate account years ago, and the links to the books above are affiliate links, which means that Amazon may give me a few pennies if you decide to order after clicking one of those links. If that offends you, support your local bookstore or Powell’s.

Incidentally, I accidentally ordered an extra copy of The Human Condition, so the first person who is local and interested can have my extra copy for free.

*I haven’t looked very hard.