Book Review: Theodor Adorno: Key Concepts

Dec 11, 2008 by

Theodor Adorno: Key Concepts could be called a brief “guide for the perplexed.” The perplexed include scholars in many disciplines who encounter Adorno’s ideas. They also include a larger public that confronts the issues he addressed: cultural segmentation, ecological destruction, democratic deficits, and paradoxes of globalization. Reading Adorno raises questions about the prospects for a world in which economic exploitation and political violence threaten to make life impossible.

Adorno experienced these threats in a visceral way. Driven from Germany during the Nazi regime and writing his first mature books in American exile, he returned to become a leading philosopher and social critic in post-war Germany. From there the influence of his ideas has spread to diverse fields around the world. Yet the center of his work lies in philosophy, and it is in philosophy that his most important contributions must be assessed.

The book under review reflects these patterns. It begins with surveys of Adorno’s thought and its genealogy written by the editor, Canadian philosopher Deborah Cook. The next four chapters, by British and Norwegian philosophers, are on Adorno’s reflections concerning logic, metaphysics, epistemology, and moral philosophy — arguably the canonical core of modern philosophy. The last five chapters, written by American, British, and Irish scholars in sociology, German studies, English literature, and philosophy, address Adorno’s social philosophy, political philosophy, aesthetics, philosophy of culture, and philosophy of history.

The rest of the review

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