Adam Kirsch reviews The Courtier and the Heretic by Matthew Stewart, in the New York Sun:
“It has gradually become clear to me what every great philosophy has hitherto been,” Nietzsche wrote in “Beyond Good and Evil”: “a confession on the part of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir.” In “The Courtier and the Heretic” (W.W. Norton, 320 pages, $25.95), Matthew Stewart takes Nietzsche’s principle to its logical conclusion. If what really matters about a philosophy is the personal experience behind it, then it makes sense to be curious about that experience. What private and public events, what cultural and religious influences, made a thinker think the way he did? In this double study of Spinoza and Leibniz, accordingly, Mr. Stewart focuses less on their philosophy than on what he calls their “philosophy of philosophy,” examining how their utterly different lives defined the purpose and style of their work.
Mr. Stewart’s decision to pair Spinoza and Leibniz allows his biographical method to shine. These two men, who met only once over a few days in 1676, divided the empire of European thought between them, and they could not have ruled their provinces more differently.
More here. [Leibniz on left, Spinoza on right.]