Published: December 2017
The Frankfurt Institute of Social Research, founded in 1923, but later moving to the US during the war, were a group of thinkers whose lives and philosophies profoundly, sometimes tragically, reflected and shaped the shattering events of the 20th century. Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, Jurgen Habermas and others have changed not just how we think but what we think about. Stuart Jeffries tells a gripping narrative that bring these thinkers to life, showing how their ideas developed out of their times- from the terrors of Nazi Germany to the blissed-out California of the 1960s.
Grand Hotel Abyss shows us how culture - ideas, music, film, shopping - became the battleground for political struggle. Combining biography, philosophy and storytelling we discover the day to day goings-on in the Institute, how Benjamin had to flee Paris from Nazi soldiers and eventually committed suicide on the Spanish border; the travails of exile for the other thinkers who fled to the United States; what happened when Adorno met Charlie Chaplin in Hollywood; and how Marcuse's The One Dimensional Man become the hippy bible in the 1960s. Both a fascinating portrait of intellectual Europe and a call to revisit a fascinating body of thought that still has much to tell us in an age of social media and consumerism.