Alex Ross at The New Yorker:
To read the biographies of Benjamin and Adorno side by side—Eiland and Jennings’s new book, seven hundred and sixty-eight pages long, takes a place on the shelf next to Stefan Müller-Doohm’s hardly less massive 2003 life of Adorno—is to see the fraying of the grand old European bourgeoisie. Benjamin was born in Berlin in 1892; his father, Emil Benjamin, was an increasingly successful entrepreneur, his mother something of a grande dame. “Berlin Childhood Around 1900,” the most lyrical of Benjamin’s works, conjures the sumptuousness of his family home, although his all-seeing eye pierces its burnished surface: “As I gazed at the long, long rows of coffee spoons and knife rests, fruit knives and oyster forks, my pleasure in this abundance was tinged with anxiety, lest the guests we had invited would turn out to be identical to one another, like our cutlery.”
Adorno was born in Frankfurt in 1903, in conditions of comparable ease. His father, Oscar Wiesengrund, ran a wine-merchant business, and his mother, Maria Calvelli-Adorno, had sung opera. From earliest childhood, Adorno, as he chose to call himself on leaving Germany, swam in music, forming ambitions to become a composer. “Early on, I learned to disguise myself in words,” Benjamin wrote. Adorno hid in sounds.