Responding to the powerful myths and countermyths that had sprung up around Nietzsche, Kaufmann offered a patient, evenhanded account of his life and works, and of the uses and abuses to which subsequent generations had put his ideas. Without ignoring or downplaying the ugliness of many of Nietzsche's proclamations, he set them in the context of his work as a whole and of the counterexamples yielded by a responsible reading of his books. More positively, he presented Nietzsche's ideas about power as one of the great accomplishments of modern philosophy, arguing that his conception of the "will to power" was not a crude apology for ruthless self-assertion but must be linked to Nietzsche's equally profound ideas about sublimation. He also presented Nietzsche as a pioneer of modern psychology and argued that a key to understanding his overall philosophy is to see it as a reaction against Christianity.
Many scholars in the past half century have taken issue with some of Kaufmann's interpretations, but the book ranks as one of the most influential accounts ever written of any major Western thinker.
Walter Kaufmann was born in Freiburg, Germany in July 1, 1921. He arrived in the United States at the age of 17 and became a citizen in 1944. He received a B.A. degree from Williams College in 1941 and a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1947. During World War II, he served in the United States Army from 1943-1946. He was a member of the philosophy department at Princeton University from 1947-1980. He was a philosopher, translator, poet, and photographer. His first book, a critical study of Nietzsche, was published in 1950. His other works include Critique of Religion and Philosophy, From Shakespeare to Existentialism, The Faith of a Heretic, Tragedy and Philosophy, Without Guilt and Justice, Religions in Four Dimensions, and Man's Lot. He died on September 4, 1980 at the age of 59.